Brett Yormark helped bring big-time sports and entertainment to Brooklyn. (Courtesy BSE Global)

Outgoing BSE Global CEO reflects on Barclays Center’s meaning to Brooklyn

Brett Yormark, CEO of BSE Global, parent company of Barclays Center and the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets, is leaving the organization this month. The timing coincides with Mikhail Prokhorov’s sale of the remaining 51 percent of the team, plus the arena that he owned, to Joseph Tsai, executive vice chairman of Alibaba Group Holding, a Chinese company specializing in retail technologies. Tsai paid a reported $1.35 billion for the balance of the team after paying Prokhorov $1 billion last year to purchase 49 percent. Separately, Tsai will pay about $1 billion for the arena, according to published reports. Yormark reflected on his 14-year tenure with the Nets, dating to their days as a New Jersey team.

What’s your next move?
I’m not going to announce it yet. I knew there was going to be an end to one chapter and the beginning of another. Ownership effectively told me last spring that (selling the majority share to Tsai) was something they were contemplating. I extended my deal through December to provide oversight of the transaction. There was always a plan to leave with ownership. I’ve become very close to Mikhail Prokhorov and (board chairman) Dmitry Razumov. It would have been very tough for me to leave the company, knowing that ownership was going to stay on board. The transaction is expected to close in late September and my goal is to announce where I’m heading in mid-September, assuming everything works out. I’m going to stay in sports and entertainment and look forward to build something and create value. 

Looking back, you got an arena built in New York, which was a monumental accomplishment considering all the things you have to deal with politically. Where does that milestone stand in your career?
In some respects, what we did with Barclays Center is a legacy. Most people were doubters. They never thought we would be able to move the team from New Jersey to Brooklyn, let alone build a world-class venue that became a global destination. There were 36 lawsuits, years of delays and then in the midst of the financial crisis around 2008, we still hadn’t broken ground. Against all odds, we were able to do it.

It was the collective will of (former Nets and Barclays Center owner) Bruce Ratner and Mikhail Prokhorov that got this thing to Brooklyn. Ratner told me the story of bringing sports and entertainment back to the borough, a market underserved since the Dodgers left in 1957. It was such a compelling story … that one day was going to be told, for all the right reasons. What’s interesting is we had our town hall meeting (Aug. 16) to let people know what was happening and what I personally was going to do. I found in one of my drawers the speech I gave on Jan. 23, 2005, when I met the staff at the Nets for the first time and painted my vision for Brooklyn. I read some excerpts and it could have been written yesterday, about the defining moment in Brooklyn and how it would lead to a renaissance in the community. Who knew if it would ever come to fruition? At that point it hit me — we really accomplished something special.

Which events at Barclays Center stand out in your mind in terms of those seminal moments?
Opening night with Jay-Z and having him walk onstage wearing the Brooklyn Nets jersey for the first time and launching it to the world. That was unbelievable. It resonated with everyone and it was truly special. The first-ever college basketball game, Kentucky-Maryland. My good friend (Kentucky coach John Calipari) always said he would open the building for us and he did and sold it out. Thirty-six major championship nights of boxing.

The New York Islanders’ relocation to Barclays Center didn’t work out. What did you learn from that situation?
You learn from all of your experiences, good or bad. The Islanders are a Long Island team, as indicated by their goals with Belmont Park (site of the NHL team’s proposed arena). They realized Long Island is really their market. We all tried to do something different and potentially special. We obviously had some ups and downs, but we all learned a lot. I’m happy for them and their fans, and that’s kind of how I look at it.

How has Barclays Center affected the borough as a whole?
Brooklyn started going through a renaissance in advance of Barclays Center, but it’s fair to say the arena continues to fuel the rebirth of downtown Brooklyn and beyond, when you think about real estate value, housing, job creation and the retail community. The best chefs are going to Brooklyn. We always thought that Barclays Center could be a landmark, and for visitors to the city, it’s on that short list of things to see. Eighty percent of our part-time employees live in the borough. It is Brooklyn’s venue in every way possible. I’m happy I was able to play a role in it. 

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated since it was originally posted.