It’s been said that athletes want to be rappers and rapper want to be athletes. Artists such as Nelly and Usher achieved success in the music industry and have invested in shares of professional sports teams. However, no one has done it as well as hip-hop mogul and entrepreneur Shawn Carter, better known as Jay Z.
Last season, the New Jersey Nets of the National Basketball Association (NBA) moved to Brooklyn. After decades of poor attendance, the team needed a fresh start and wanted to completely revamp their brand image. Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov purchased the team in 2010 and set plans in motion to move from Newark, New Jersey to Brooklyn. Prokhorov, 47, predicted that the team, which had lost nearly $300 million in the previous four years, would win a title and be worth $1 billion by 2015. The first step was to that goal was to build a new arena. The next step was getting Jay Z on board.
Jay Z grew up just blocks away from the site of the new $1.02 billion arena, the Barclays Center, so it made sense for a local celebrity to have a say in the rebranding of the team. Despite owning just one-fifteenth of one percent of the team, his impact is noticeable on all levels. He helped design the logo and chose the black and white color scheme. He counseled executives on what kind of music to play during games. The arena contains a 40/40 Club, an iteration of his sports-bar-style nightclub. 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 Jay. 11 “Vault” luxury suites were designed to his liking, costing those fans about $550,000 per year. Of course, his is free of charge. He even went as far as advising security on how to screen fans for weapons without being too pushy.
In September of 2012, Jay Z helped open the new arena with a week straight of concerts, selling out each one of them. Meanwhile, part-owners like the aforementioned Usher and Nelly have had no direct impact on their teams, other than the occasional court-side appearance. Other teams would be wise to look for other celebrities and artists to generate hype, like what the Toronto Raptors are doing with Drake.
Mr. Carter has capitalized further on his Nets investment by extending the Jay Z brand into endorsement deals normally reserved for elite athletes. He starred in a Budweiser TV commercial that was broadcast during the Olympic Games, in which he fittingly wore a Nets hat and jersey.
Earlier this year, Jay Z sold his small stake in the team to pursue his own sports agency, RocNation. That agency already has a growing stable of athletes including Robinson Cano, Skylar Diggins, Kevin Durant, Geno Smith, and Victor Cruz.
Forbes had the Nets valued at $357 million before the Brooklyn move, they are now reportedly worth around $750 million and that number is expected to increase. Jay Z might be out as an owner, but his presence will be felt in Brooklyn and the entire NBA for years to come.
The Milwaukee Bucks are screwed. Ok, maybe not completely. Coming off an 8th place finish in the NBA’s Eastern Conference and a first round playoff loss at the hands of the Miami Heat, the Bucks are stuck in mediocrity. It is pretty clear that they have no chance to win an NBA championship, yet their offseason moves indicate that they do not seem to mind. After compiling a good, but not great team, the Bucks will again look to squeak into the playoffs, only to be eliminated in the first round. All of this is amidst talks of relocating the team to Seattle. Seattle lost their team, the SuperSonics, before the 08-09 season and have been in hot pursuit of both the Bucks and Sacramento Kings. The Kings recently made a deal with the city to make a new arena, essentially saving the franchise. The BMO Harris Bradley Center is recognized as the poorest arena in basketball, and quite possibly all of American sports. Its lease will expire after the 2017 season, and Bucks owner, Wisconsin senator Herb Kohl, has promised that the team will stay in Milwaukee.
If the Bucks are serious about staying in Milwaukee, they need to win more to get more support from their fans. It seems that the only way that will happen is if a marquee star comes through free agency or the draft. Free agency is out of the question, since no star player would willingly choose to play in Milwaukee. However, the drafting of 6′ 9″ 18-year old Greek baller Giannis Antetokounmpo could be just what the Bucks needed. Most Bucks fans are accepting of the fact that there won’t be a playoff run this season, but there is hope thanks to the kid affectionately known as the “Greek Freak”. In his limited preseason action, he’s shown flashes of talent that helped make him the #14 pick in last years draft. It’s even been enough to have basketball heads talking. Remember Seattle? They had a teenage prodigy for a season prior to their move, his name was Kevin Durant, and he’s now become a consensus top 3 player. The team that left town for Oklahoma City is now one of the best in basketball.
Bad teams can still draw fans and have tremendous loyalty. The Chicago Cubs, for instance, have been brutal in recent years and yet they still have sellouts for a majority of their home games. Wrigley Field has become a famous monument that people go to see for the history and the culture, not just to see the baseball team win. The Bucks would be smart to build around the Greek Freak and build enough buzz around the town to ramp up the talks of a new arena.
A location I would look at is along Lake Michigan. Some of the best venues in sports are situated on waterfronts, AT& T Park in San Francisco, PNC Park in Pittsburgh and American Airlines Arena in Miami to name a few. The Bucks could make going to games more of an experience with a state of the art facility. Milwaukee is far from a baseball city, but the Brewers sell nearly 3 million tickets (82 home games, 36,585 in attendance per game) year after year. Last year, the Bucks sold about 16,000 tickets per game. By comparison, the top team in attendance was the Chicago Bulls, with 20,010 spectators a game. There’s not as big of a gap as one might expect. We as Bucks fans need to support our team and the city of Milwaukee, or risk losing them forever.
Editors Note: ESPN’s Bill Simmons and Jalen Rose broke down the Bucks in their annual season preview, I thought this was a pretty cool piece. Bill ranked the Bucks as the 15th best team out of 30, the definition of mediocrity.