Brooklyn Nets Strategic Partnership With Jay-Z Already Paying Off Nicely
The NY Times examines Jay-Z’s influence on re-branding the new Brooklyn Nets, a small investment yielding big results:
When the developer Bruce Ratner set out to buy the New Jersey Nets and build an arena for them in Brooklyn, he recruited Jay-Z, the hip-hop superstar who grew up in public housing a couple of miles from the site, to join his group of investors.
Mr. Ratner may have thought he was getting little more than a limited partner with a boldface name and a youthful following that could prove useful someday. But Jay-Z’s contributions have dwarfed the $1 million he invested nine years ago. His influence on the project has been wildly disproportionate to his ownership stake — a scant one-fifteenth of one percent of the team. And so is the money he stands to make from it.
Now, with the long-delayed Barclays Center arena nearing opening night in September and the Nets bidding in earnest for Brooklyn’s loyalties, Jay-Z will perform eight sold-out shows to kick things off. But away from center stage he has put his mark on almost every facet of the enterprise, his partners say.
He helped design the team logos and choose the team’s stark black-and-white color scheme, and personally appealed to National Basketball Association officials to drop their objections to it (the N.B.A., according to a person with knowledge of the discussion, thought that African-American athletes did not look good on TV in black, an assertion that a league spokesman adamantly denied). He counseled arena executives on what kind of music to play during games. (“Less Jersey,” he urged, pushing niche artists like Santigold over old favorites like Bon Jovi.)
He even coached them on how to screen patrons for weapons without appearing too heavy-handed. (“Be mindful,” he advised oracularly, “and be sensitive.”)
In the two and a half years since groundbreaking, as taxi-roof advertisements promised “All access to Jay-Z,” and sponsorship salespeople trumpeted how “hip and cool” he and his wife, Beyoncé, would make the arena, he and the Nets have effectively written a new playbook for how to deploy a strategic celebrity investor.
If it has been done elsewhere — see Usher with the Cleveland Cavaliers, Will Smith with the Philadelphia 76ers, and Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony with the Miami Dolphins — no team has come close to making as much out of a famous part-owner.
And none of the dozens of other current and former part-owners of the team have played so public a role — not even Mary Higgins Clark, the best-selling author, though she read to children at a Nets literacy event.
“He is it,” Mr. Ratner, the developer, said in an interview. “He is us. He is how people are going to see that place.”
As much as his partners, including Mikhail D. Prokhorov, the Russian billionaire who bought 80 percent of the team in 2009, are getting out of him, Jay-Z, whose real name is Shawn Carter, is benefiting handsomely, too, beginning with free use of one of 11 exclusive “Vault” suites, for which paying customers are charged $550,000 a year.
Suite owners will have access to a Champagne bar serving Armand de Brignac, an expensive bubbly that Mr. Carter promotes and in which he holds a financial interest, according to a biography by a writer for Forbes. The arena will contain a 40/40 Club, an iteration of his sports-bar-style nightclub chain. There will be a Rocawear store, selling his clothing line, on the arena’s exterior. Even the advertising agency used by the Nets, Translation, is half-owned by Mr. Carter.
There is also an important intangible asset, particularly for a rapper: the bragging rights that Mr. Carter has enjoyed as a part-owner since Mr. Ratner’s group paid $300 million to acquire the Nets. His slender stake was enough for Mr. Carter to thump his chest in his lyrics, promising to “bring you some Nets.”
Mr. Carter has capitalized further on his Nets investment by extending the Jay-Z brand into endorsement deals normally reserved for elite athletes. He stars, wearing a Nets cap, in a Budweiser TV commercial that was broadcast during the Olympic Games. And he was named executive producer of the basketball video game, “NBA 2K13.”
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