If Allan Houston forsakes the Knicks for the Nets, it won't be the first time Bruce Ratner's team has stolen a top performer from the Garden in the past few years and competition between the two teams is likely to heat up even more this fall as the Nets begin selling luxury suites in Barclays Center, their proposed Brooklyn arena.
Since Brett Yormark, president and chief executive of the Nets, took over nearly three years ago, the Nets have recruited several key executives from Madison Square Garden to join New Jersey's operation.
--Petra Pope, Nets' vice president entertainment and event marketing, the creator of the Knicks City Dancers;
--Kimberlee Garris, the Nets' entertainment manager who danced for Pope at the Garden;
--Neil Davis, chief revenue officer, of Brooklyn Sports & Entertainment and a former Executive Vice President, Advertising Sales, at Madison Square Garden.
--Joe Stetson, senior marketing director for Brooklyn Sports & Entertainment.
BS&E will market the Barclays Center for events other than basketball, like concerts. This too will put Yormark's team directly in competition with the Garden's entertainment operations..
It's part of Yormark's overall upgrade at the Nets offices in East Rutherford. Sports Buiness Journal reports that Yormark has nearly doubled the franchise’s staff since taking over in January 2005, going from 75 then to 138 now. The team has also more than doubled its sales staff to 30 employees. Some of those also once sold tickets for the Knicks.
"When I came on board, we didn’t have a partnership marketing department, we didn’t have an events department, and we didn’t have a business communications department," Yormark told SBJ. "We wanted to be aggressive in marketing, and in order to do that we needed human capital. We wanted to grow our business in New Jersey, but we also wanted to increase our trading area in the tri-state area."
Thus, the decision to recruit operations people from the Garden. For the Garden in general and the Knicks specifically, that will mean new competition for an organization not used to it. The Barclays Center is only three subway stops from Madison Square Garden and as close to the financial district as the world's most famous arena. The Nets are beefing up staff now to sell directly in Brooklyn. The team will have 12 front office staff members dedicated for Brooklyn sales and marketing efforts by October.
The two most high profile Garden hires, Pope and Garris, are typical of the kinds of people Yormark has taken away from the Dolan family that runs the Garden: experienced and known to the media.
Pope was the first to arrive, joining Yormark in early 2005, later bringing Garris over. She told USA Today then that she didn't hesitate to jump across the river after Yormark called her. "They're shaking things up," said Pope. "Brett brings such passion. His goal is to create an experience for fans from the moment they leave their car to leaving the game."
USA Today, which in 2004 called the Continental Airlines Arena experience the worst in the NBA, was duly impressed by the hire. Calling Pope "the Michael Jordan of NBA dance teams" the newspaper noted that Pope was manager of the Laker Girls and the team's on-court entertainment during Laker "Showtime" from 1983-89, then created the Knick City Dancers during a similar 14-year run in New York. (Pope figures in the Anucha Browne Sanders lawsuit against the Garden. According to Browne Sanders, Isiah Thomas asked Pope to flirt with NBA referees before a 2004 Knicks game with the Nets. Pope did not testify in Browne Sanders' case.)
Garris, whose Knick nickname was "Harvard", came shortly after Pope. One of the more popular, if not the most popular, of the Knick City Dancers, she didn't fit the mold of an NBA "cheerleader". Garris may in fact be the most academically qualified person in the team's front office. She holds a B.A. in Psychology from Harvard, summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa. Her undergraduate focus was in "Cognition/Brain/Behavior"...which could come in handy managing Sly, one of her responsibilities.
With the Nets she has been responsible for the success of the NetSational Dancers, the 60+ group that is both a fan and media favorite. She has also been highly visible in that role.
The success of the Nets' women also cannot hurt when one of their former colleagues at the Garden is locked in a vicious war with the Dolans and Thomas.
But the biggest hire may have been Davis. He worked for the Dolans for nearly 20 years until joining the Nets two years ago. As EVP of advertising sales, Davis oversaw the advertising sales for MSG Networks, the Knicks, Rangers and Liberty, Radio City Entertainment, arena signage and radio properties. Here's how the Nets describe his career at the Garden: "Davis created new partnerships for MSG that grew its business over 50 percent in 10 years. Davis also negotiated the largest sponsorship agreements in the history of the MSG Regional Sports Network."
But the biggest in-your-face moment in the Net/Knick battle is expected to take place shortly after the season begins. The Nets will open a showroom in midtown Manhattan to help the franchise sell 130 suites in the Barclays Center. The 10,000-square-foot business center will be called the Barclays Suite Showroom, reports SBJ, and will be located on the 39th floor in The New York Times Building in Manhattan, just off of Times Square. More importantly perhaps, the showroom will be only seven blocks north of the Garden.