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Five years on, Yormark reflects on Nets move to Brooklyn

Brooklyn Nets

The fifth anniversary of the Nets first game in Brooklyn is fast approaching. After Superstorm Sandy delayed opening night —and flooded the Nets training center in East Rutherford— the Brooklyn Nets first took to the floor at Barclays Center on November 3, 2012 vs. the Raptors. It was nine years after the move had first been proposed.

Brett Yormark, in an extensive interview with Pollstar Pro, an entertainment venue magazine, reflected on the big move, offering up both an assessment of how the long delay hurt the Nets in their final years in New Jersey and the sense of accomplishment he felt on arrival in Brooklyn.

He admits the Nets decision to divorce themselves from New Jersey after Bruce Ratner bought the team in 2004 was a mistake. The Nets kept having to push back the date of the move, from 2006 to 2009 to finally 2012 as legal challenges, then the Great Recession, took their toll.

“We were in a challenging state,” he said the Nets’ last years in New Jersey. “We had declared to the New Jersey community that we were leaving the state. Looking back, we may have done that prematurely but it was something I inherited. It was part of the narrative.

“So, while the team was in Jersey you had an eroding fan base because the fans were no longer invested; they knew we were leaving to Brooklyn. It took a lot longer to get to Brooklyn than anticipated, so that fan base really started to erode and, in the later years in Jersey, it surely showed.”

It wasn’t helped, Yormark admitted by the product on the floor. They too were disappointing, “not up to the caliber we had hoped.” That in turn he said hurt the Nets in trying to recruit free agents to Brooklyn.

“It was tough to time the arrival in Brooklyn, strategically, while building the team and attracting the right players. Being a team in flux, it was very challenging,” he noted. “So that was one part of it – maintaining the business and being somewhat relevant in New Jersey even though you declared you were leaving.”

Of course, even before the team announced its move, the Nets had trouble attracting fans. In their two Eastern Conference championship years, attendance ranked 28th and 23rd. (In comparison, the Knicks who were woeful ranked eighth and fifth). The Nets couldn’t even sell out all their home Finals games in 2004.

Yormark said the delay did offer him and the Nets opportunities.

“We needed to seed the brand in Brooklyn to create the anticipation for our hopeful arrival which, again, took a little longer than expected. But we finally arrived here in 2012, which was almost seven years after I hired.

“But I’m a guy who likes to look at things as half-full so, even though it took us longer to get here than anticipated, it also gave us a chance to seed the brand, seed the business, create the right narrative for our eventual move and, when we finally arrived here in Brooklyn, we did it in a way that was truly grand,” Yormark said. “And it was built up over the years so when we got here, the fans truly embraced us.

“So, despite some of the challenges we had in Jersey, given the delays in getting to Brooklyn, in some respects those delays helped us build a greater moment when we ultimately arrived.”

However, the team has yet to make a profit in the borough, losing $44 million last year and $145 million in 2013-14, the year the Nets paid a $90.6 million luxury tax bill, the first big problem that emerged as a result of the Paul Pierce - Kevin Garnett trade.

In other parts of the interview, Yormark talks about the venue business that Brooklyn Sports & Entertainment has taken on, how the renovation of Brooklyn’s Paramount Theatre will finally get underway in December. He also hinted again that Mikhail Prokhorov’s company wants to get a piece of the London entertainment market.

“Yes. We’re very interested in that market. We think there are opportunities there. When we think about our next stop, that is certainly high on our radar screen,” he said of London.

While Prokhorov didn’t mention the current issues with Islander ownership, he did suggest that that the New York venue market is saturated, a less than subtle dig at the Islanders’ plan to build an arena of their own next to Belmont Park.

“I think New York is in a good place right now from an entertainment perspective,” he said in closing. “There's vibrant venues, big and small, that appeal to all different types of artists, and fans have incredible access. I think we're in a great place. I do not think we need another venue nor do I think the market can support another venue.”