In a wide-ranging interview with L'Equipe, France's most important sports publication, Mikhail Prokhorov says for the first time that he thinks the Nets, "with luck", can become the NBA's most profitable franchise. He did not set a date, but he has told a Russian magazine that he expects his $260 million investment in the Nets and Barclays Center to be worth a billion dollars by 2015. By some reports, it's currently worth an estimated $600 million.
"If the planets are in alignment," said the Nets owner when asked about becoming the NBA's biggest money maker. "From our side, work has to be done to build the team and develop the brand. At the same time, we must also have luck."
The Lakers and Knicks are currently the NBA's biggest moneymakers, making an annual profit of between $30 million and $40 million on average over the last five years, according to Forbes.
In the interview, out Wednesday, Prokhorov talks as well about how he bought the Nets to take advantage of opportunities in Brooklyn.
"It was an obvious choice," he told Yann Ohnona of L'Equipe. "Brooklyn has become a booming area. We wanted to be part of this revival, which also changes the landscape of the sport in New York, establishing a rivalry with the Knicks." He added that the Nets must become a going business, that he did not buy the franchise solely as a basketball fan. " It must be a profitable business model. The market is largely untapped in Brooklyn. But also as a fan of basketball, this is something that excites me a lot."
As for his objectives for the team, he is sticking with his three year timetable, although his answer, as machine translated, talks about being a "credible championship candidate."
Christophe Charlier, the French banker who is chairman of the Nets, seems to leave no doubt the Nets are financially viable. In a separate interview with L'Equipe, he says "If we sold it [the Nets] today, we would already have made a huge gain."
Charlier, who describes his role as everything marketing, including "making Jay-Z the face of the franchise," says his role is simple:"transform this dream into reality and build a financially viable project."
"The idea fascinates me. Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Michael Jordan were my heroes. I could never imagine being here and experiencing this emerging rivalry between two teams from New York.
Here are some excerpts of the feature, which also includes interviews with critics of the arena...
You are the first foreign owner of a U.S. sports franchise. What does this say about the evolution of the NBA?
--For me, this is part of the logic of an evolution that has always been desired by the commissioner of the NBA, David Stern. Twenty years ago, to have a Russian owner in the NBA, it would have been unthinkable!
Tell us about your relationship with France. You often see, you were given the Legion of Honor ...
--There is much that binds me to France. The head of the Board of Directors of the Brooklyn Nets is French, Christophe Charlier. My foundation has made numerous investments in France, including Lyon cultural projects. Personally, I like to spend time skiing in France. There is a special energy in your country, something that is both refined and light which makes it very endearing. There is nothing original in saying that you have exceptional wine and gastronomy, but I've always said that my priorities in life are work, sport and food.
You ran in the Russian presidential election against Vladimir Putin, collecting 8% of the votes (63% for Putin). What place does politics have in your life today?
--I spend my life today, and my future too, [in politics]. I publicly announced that I will manage my various businesses less day-to-day. Russia is at a crossroads between progress and stagnation, conservative and liberal. I give my vote to the party that wants change and modernization.
How do you change your country? And how is it realistic?
--Key is to introduce competition at all levels. We need to privatize large state companies, open all spheres of society - including politics - a free and fair competition. in order to open the voice with the best ideas, the best people and the best companies. This is a view shared by 25% of Russian citizens today. The challenge is to deliver the message to the rest of the people. "
What was your initial idea when you decided to buy a NBA franchise?
--It was great to seize opportunities: buy a team that was the worst in the league and reconstruct it. Of course, relocation to Brooklyn has played since the beginning a decisive role.
--If Brooklyn was an independent city, it would be the FOURTH largest in the United States, with more than 2.5 million inhabitants. Here, there was no professional sports team since the Dodgers in 1957. It was an obvious choice. Brooklyn has become a booming area. We wanted to be part of this revival, which also changes the landscape of the sport in New York, establishing a rivalry with the Knicks.
You only saw a financial opportunity or is it the realization of a basketball fan's dream?
--Both. I do not watch my investment as a fan. It must be a profitable business model. The market is largely untapped in Brooklyn. But also as a basketball fan, this is something that excites me a lot.
The Nets, can they become the most profitable team in the NBA?
--If the planets are in alignment, From our side, work has to be done to build the team and develop the brand. At the same time, we must also have luck.
What are your sports objectives?
--We want to be a credible championship candidate in the next three years.
Are you sensitive to the arguments of those opposed to the construction of the Barclays Center?
--I understand that and it is up to us to show them that in the long term, there will be profit for the community. Any project that is changing the landscape of a city raises normal resistance. And you look in the past, when the Eiffel Tower was built, [French writer] Guy de Maupassant was campaigning against it and was publicly against his construction. Today we can not imagine Paris without it. I hope that this truth will be the same, here in Brooklyn, the Barclays Center.
How has your life changed since you own a NBA franchise?
--The biggest change for me is how people look at Russia and Russians. It was an opportunity to show, in a public way that we are like other people, we can be a positive force. There are too many stereotypes about Russians and the only way to fight it is by example.