Imagine a Nets game in the not too distant future: there’s a sports book located near the main entrance and at the seats, individualized sports betting is available. The concessions —and in effect all transactions— are cashless. And all of it supported by 5G, the fifth generation mobile network that will allow all of that and more.
That’s how the arena experience was described by David Levy, CEO of the Nets, Barclays Center and J Tsai Sports, in an interview with WFAN’s Mike Francesa at the Brooklyn arena Friday. Although Levy praised the job Sean Marks and Kenny Atkinson have done with the team, bringing in Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant, much of the interview was shaped by Levy’s —and Tsai’s— vision of a digital future.
“Joe knows the opportunities around digital and the opportunities around social. and this where we are going to build the team,” said Levy who formerly ran Turner Media. “[That’s] how he’s focused on where he’s building his company Alibaba and where he thinks he can take the Nets, not just on a domestic, but even on a global basis... build this brand not just domestically here but build it on a national and global basis.”
In talking about how the brand will grow, Levy essentially painted the arena as the white board for the organization’s big plans, Do it at Barclays first, then move it out. Proof of concept to sale.
“I’m also a part of Joe Tsai Sports and Blue Pool Capital where we’re doing investments in media and entertainment,” Levy noted. “So the investment side by using this infrastructure we can invest in technology that we can actually expose in this building, prove that it works and then use in arenas across this country.”
The two big aspects of that growth model, Levy argued, will be sports betting and streaming. He also disclosed that Tsai is looking at adding an e sports team to his sports portfolio. Tsai already owns the Nets NBA2K e-sports franchise, part of the August agreement to buy the Nets and Barclays Center for a whopping $3.5 billion, the largest price tag ever for a North American sports franchise.
“We’re looking at e-sports from the Joe Tsai sports perspective —we’re looking at a team as we speak. There hasn’t been a monetization strategy that has worked in the e-sports space right now. That doesn’t mean that it’s not going to happen.” Levy told Franscesa.
“In fact, I actually believe that there are four sports businesses that if you take a look from a global perspective what’s going to expand and grow. I think soccer is going to be one, NBA is going to be one and I think e-sports is going to be one and probably combat sports - MMA, boxing and things like that. I think from a global perspective.”
Asked by Francesa specifically if he sees a sports book and mobile betting at Barclays — assuming New York State ultimately approves, it, Levy replied, “sports books at the arena, individual betting at the seats. 5G in the arena has to come in. Quicker, faster.”
So does that mean betting in the arenas, Levy responded, “100 percent.”
“You’re going to have quality 5G in the arena so you can bet right from your seat, mobile betting,” he added.
As for New York’s continuing prohibition on sports gambling, Levy said fans are finding ways around it.
“You know what happens now. You know you can’t bet in New York you to go mobile to the Jersey side. A lot of people on Sunday morning get in their cars in the morning and cross the bridge, place their bet and come back.”
If the gambling is at sports arenas and stadiums, it will enhance the customer experience, Levy said.
“Aren’t you going to feel better that you’re going to bet in a crowd, be in a crowd, have a good consumer experience in your building?” Levy asked.
Talking in general about consumer experience in the arena, Levy added that “food and beverage has got to get better. paying for food and beverage with a cash-less system. All these things are going to have take place in these arenas.”
Generally speaking, Levy and Francesa agreed that with TV and digital viewing available whenever and wherever a fan wants, the arena experience must improve. “These professional teams have to figure out how they’re going to make money long-term but I think peer-to-peer betting is going to be a big opportunity,” he argued.
Bottom line, he said, that “consumer experience is No. 1.”
Talking about the team specifically, said his decision to join the Nets, like so much of what has propelled the Nets (and gave it such a huge valuation) was based on “what Sean and Kenny have done here, building the team” as well as Tsai’s vision ... and willingness to provide the resources, the people, the infrastructure for growth both domestically and globally.
So far, so good, Levy said.
“We anticipate we’ll make the playoffs this year and then you have Kevin Durant the following year. From a sales perspective when you talk about tickets, we’re like 72 percent ahead of where we were last year at this point. That’s a huge increase.”
Levy didn’t step back from the idea of the Nets sharing the New York stage with the Knicks, which as Francesa said, has had a “generations” lead in the city.
“You know what, it’s easy to get to the Barclays Center. subway systems, things of that nature. We’re drawing fans from everywhere, he said, saying most fans are not from Brooklyn but that Brooklyn and Manhattan are the biggest draws along with Long Island and Westchester.
“There’s no real problem being the second team in the second market. Look what going to go with the Clippers and the Lakers. That’s going to be a great rivalry forever. I think the Knicks and Brooklyn is going to be a great rivalry and there’s going to be enough people in this city, in these towns and these boroughs to root for both teams.”
The arena is healthy, too, he said, even without the enhancements Tsai’s planning.
When Francesa asked how many nights is the building active, Levy quickly spit out the number 285, of which he said “120 of the nights are major major nights.”
“We’ve hope to make the playoffs and there’s more NBA games. and then you’ve got concerts and other venues and conventions and we have the NCAA, the A10 tournament, There’s a lot of things that go on in this building,” he told the WFAN host.
Levy said he had met Tsai not through his basketball connections but through a deal Turner had with the National Lacrosse League. Tsai owns the San Diego Sharks. That was two years ago, he said, and the two kept in touch. Levy left Turner last March and he and Tsai spent some time during the summer discussing him joining Tsai’s growing sports empire.
“There were three things that I looked at before I take this job: one was whether I was going to have a passion for what I was going to do next and I have a passion for the NBA. I’ve been involved with Adam Silver before he became commissioner when he was deputy commissioner and kind of grew up with a lot of the owners. and presidents so I love the sport itself.
“Number two, I wanted to make sure I worked with somebody who I thought I could work with and I spent a lot of time knowing Joe and sometime with him over the summer talking about his philosophy and where he wanted to build this team for and of course getting KD and KI was huge and then lastly, were we set up for success? Was Joe going to give us the resources, the people, the infrastructure and the answer’s yes. “
Now, after a month in the job — including one week in China that as Francesa said “lasted a lifetime,” — “We’re kind of learning this thing together.”
Francesa also spoke to Kenny Atkinson on Friday, his first visit to Barclays, discussing what it’s like to have a “Maserati” like Durant parked in the garage ... and how the injury impacted the 10-time All Star.
”Sometimes I think you want to put that Maserati in a glass case,” Atkinson said. ”He’s great. He has a good demeanor. He’s just a really nice guy. Great spirit. It’s hard (for him not to play). They want to play. That’s how he expresses himself. He’s around the team all the time. He was in film session yesterday, talking and made some great points. I don’t want to say he’s an assistant coach but we’re using him. He’s talking to our young guys and the presence, that’s important. It makes you feel good.”
And when he comes back?
“I just think he’s going to be the perfect complement to this team and a perfect complement to Kyrie because Kyrie is a downhill guy. Kyrie shoots the heck out of it, which makes him unique but what Kevin is going to give us is that shot. Right now, if you say there’s a weakness - we don’t have great perimeter shooting. It’s ok, but now it’s how are you going to guard - I think he’s improved defensively over the years. And we’re going to challenge him to really defend for us.”