CEO Profile: Casting a giant (New Jersey) Net

This story was originally published on Aug. 24, 2008.

Brett Yormark's business cards say CEO. But his DNA calling card reads dealmaker, brand builder, storyteller.

Those DNA strands are a perfect match for this self-described "24-7" guy's double-barreled job as CEO of both the New Jersey Nets basketball team and Brooklyn Sports & Entertainment. "The Nets are my day job. Brooklyn is my night job," quips Yormark.

Two jobs, same employer. The reason for Yormark's moonlighting involves a tale of two cities and two arenas. The Nets are planning a move to Brooklyn, N.Y., to a new $950 million arena, the Barclays Center, designed by a world-renowned architect. They hope to be in by the start of the 2010 season. But due to local opposition to the development plans, the groundbreaking for the arena has been delayed. It's scheduled for November.

Yormark, 41, the NBA's youngest CEO, has a delicate balancing act of filling seats and driving revenue at the Izod Center, the Net's current home in East Rutherford, N.J., while also wooing corporate sponsors from around the world and building a new fan base for an arena that does not yet exist. He is driven to build emotional and financial bridges from New Jersey to Brooklyn.

"Whether it's at the end of a game or that last sale needed to make the monthly budget, I want the ball. That's pretty much been my DNA," says Yormark, a former high school hoops player and marketing whiz who made his name earlier this decade by revving up NASCAR's racing brand by brokering a $750 million sponsorship deal with Nextel.

On a recent summer day, perched on the 38th floor of a Manhattan skyscraper squeezed between New Jersey to the west and Brooklyn to the east, Yormark, clad in an immaculately tailored grey pinstripe suit, is in the Barclays Center sales center wearing his Brooklyn hat.

He wastes no time launching into his sales pitch. "We're building a new Brooklyn," he says. He points to the showroom's walls, which highlight Brooklyn-related factoids. It's where playwright Arthur Miller wrote All My Sons. It's also the birthplace of ex-Yankees manager Joe Torre and rap star Jay-Z, who is part of the investor group, headed by developer Bruce Ratner, that owns the Nets. The walls are also graced with sketches of the Barclays Center done by architect Frank Gehry, perhaps best known for the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain. A video follows, which markets the Barclays Center as a visual landmark on par with top tourist attractions such as the Eiffel Tower.

Finally, Yormark shows off a replica of the new arena's luxury suites, which command an average price of $300,000 a year. The swanky suites feature a pool table, stainless steel refrigerator, wet bar, two 52-inch TVs, and theater-seating for 16. The suite tour includes a panoramic view of the arena, replete with the sound of basketballs being dribbled. "This is what it will truly look like from your seat," he says.

It's trademark Yormark. Detailed. Passionate. On message. "We sell hope and vision," says Yormark. "We are in the storytelling business. When I talk to a sponsorship partner, I say, 'Do you want to be part of the next chapter?' If you can get people to imagine, you get them hooked."

Let's make a deal

Yormark got Barclays, the London-based financial powerhouse, hooked. In January 2007, the bank signed a $400 million, 20-year deal to put its name on the new arena. It was the richest deal ever for arena naming rights.

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