`Sports and the Economy’ panel features Nets, Cyclones

September 12, 2012 By Raanan Geberer Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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If you live or work in Brooklyn, you almost certainly know that the Nets will begin playing at Barclays Center in November.

But aside from sporting goods stores that sell the new Brooklyn Nets jerseys, caps and T-shirts, how will this affect the borough’s economy?

This and other questions were discussed on Wednesday morning at “Sports and the Economy: A Win-Win for Brooklyn?” a Con Edison power breakfast at the Brooklyn Public Library at Grand Army Plaza.

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Panelists included Steve Cohen, general manager for the Brooklyn Cyclones; Charlie Mierswa, chief financial officer for Nets basketball; Tupper Thomas, former Prospect Park administrator; and Michael Hopper, vice president for sports and municipal marketing at NYC and Company, the city’s tourism arm.

Mierswa and Cohen talked about the economy in relation to their active professional sports teams; Thomas talked about amateur sports in the park; and Hopper talked about how the city promotes sports to visitors.

Cohen was extremely hands-on and professional, with facts at his fingertips. While the Cyclones were not the only factor in the renaissance of Coney Island, Cohen said the team made a positive contribution just by attracting people to the boardwalk.

“When we first started in 2001, people would ask, `Is it safe to go there?’” he said. “Soon, we began getting people who hadn’t been to Coney Island for 30 years.

“Today, we have new rides, new restaurants in Coney Island, Grimaldi’s just opened nearby. In 2001 the lot next to the ballpark was worth $4 million. Last year, we sold it for $90 million.”

Cohen said that the team cooperates with every business in Coney Island and takes part in job fairs for local applicants. The nature of the amusement district, he said, also influenced the design of the MCU Park – he mentioned its colorful “lollipop lights.”

He has reached out to all of the various groups who live in the Coney area, but not always with success. “We tried with the Russians, and first-generation Russian immigrants are just not interested in baseball,” he said.

Mierswa, speaking for the Nets, focused not on the team’s interaction with the surrounding community but on the ways Barclays Arena has “brought the community inside.”

He stressed that the team sets aside tickets for local residents, makes $15 tickets available for games, and first offered season tickets to Brooklyn residents.

In addition, he said, the Nets and Barclays Center work with local food vendors – Nathan’s, for example – to bring a “taste of Brooklyn” to the arena.

He focused on community outreach rather than business, pointing out, for example, that Nets players began appearing at Brooklyn charity events several years ago, before work on the arena even began.

When asked about the team’s economic impact on the surrounding area, Mierswa answered that he wasn’t “on the development side.” He did say, however, that he expects a renaissance similar to the one Cohen talked about in Coney Island.

Tupper Thomas talked about sports and Prospect Park. While the sports played in the park are strictly amateur, the park and its Parade Ground are a Mecca for athletes for miles around.

Thomas mentioned baseball, softball and ice skating, which will be featured at the new Lakeside Center. All in all, she said, the scene is quite different than it was in 1980, when she began as park administrator.

“At that time, it was a big struggle to get the press to report anything good about the park,” she said. “They only wanted to focus on crime news.”

Today, she said, there is an active community that financially supports the park and its activities – the Prospect Park Alliance, which she also chaired. However, she said, it’s a tougher sell to get the business community, especially corporations, to contribute to the park.

“Sometimes it’s difficult to get them to see the value of parks,” she said.

Finally, Hopper talked about how he markets sports to tourists and visitors. For example, he’s been touting the Barclays Center’s upcoming KHL games, featuring Russian star hockey players, to both the Russian community in Brooklyn and Russian visitors.

His job, he added, works both ways. For example, a corporate sponsor of a pro football game might reach out to him and say, “I want to promote the game to people in Brooklyn and Queens,” and it’s up to him to find ways to do so.

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