Barclays Center – Brooklyn Nets
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Basketball in the Dark
The 17,732-seat Barclays Center opened in the fall of 2012 with eight consecutive sold-out Jay-Z concerts. Given its incredibly accessible location on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn on top of nine subway lines and the Long Island Railroad, Barclays Center was set to rival Madison Square Garden as a premiere New York entertainment venue. Even better, the arena would host Brooklyn Nets first professional sports team since the Dodgers headed west in 1957. Its christening as the home of the Brooklyn Nets was to take place November 1, 2012 against the Knicks in what was billed as the first game of a new crosstown rivalry.
Nothing went as planned. Hurricane Sandy ravaged New York three days before the Nets were to play their home opener, knocking out power to lower Manhattan and many parts of Brooklyn, shutting down virtually all public transportation, and causing damage that transcended the need and desire for a basketball game. Then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg ordered the game canceled, and the league rescheduled the Knicks-Nets contest for nearly four weeks later. Rather than an exciting home opener to relaunch the franchise and ignite a rivalry with a premiere franchise, the Nets opened their tenure in Barclays Center against a lowly Toronto Raptors squad to minimal fanfare. The city had bigger things to worry about in those days immediately following Sandy.
In many ways, this initial failure to launch became a metaphor for the arena and franchise alike. Everything seems great on paper, but nothing was executed properly. The team’s epic 2013 fleecing by the Celtics, a win-now deal that brought in future Hall of Famers Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, didn’t win anything while sending three future first round picks, plus a first round pick swap, to Boston. Pierce and KG were each gone within a year and a half, and the Nets were left with no hope, present or future. Franchise legend Jason Kidd, brought in to coach the 2013-2014 team, left ignominiously after that season to coach the Milwaukee Bucks. It remains to be seen whether the franchise will ever be truly relevant among New York’s myriad sports franchises, but the Brooklyn Nets are off to a terrible start and their stadium experience, mediocre at best, isn’t doing them many favors. That the stadium itself resembles a rusty spaceship and is a terrible eyesore adds to this problem.
The food and beverage selection is by far Barclays Center’s strongest suit. Local favorites such as Brooklyn Bangers, Williamsburg Pizza, Butcher Shop, and more offer a wide range of gourmet options, while Nathan’s Hot Dogs, Buffalo Boss, and BQE deliver the standard stadium fare.
In true New York tradition, most of these options are incredibly pricey, including burgers ($10) and hot dogs ($6.50). You won’t get a meal and a beer for less than $22. While most of the cashiers are reasonably friendly, service is inconsistent at best and can take a long time. One of the more unique features is the Nets very own candy shop, known as “Hello Sugar Brooklyn.”
Alcohol typically runs $11 for domestic light beer, and there is a fairly wide selection of imports ($12), craft beer ($12), wine coolers, and mixed drinks at stands and bars all over the concourses. There is also a large candy store in the lower concourse.
As for premium options, the Barclays Center has the Honda Club, which boasts a gourmet buffet of freshly-cooked meat, veggies, sides, desserts and more. There are TVs showing the game in the Honda Club, but you can’t see the floor from there. The 40/40 Club, a holdover from Jay-Z’s (overstated) involvement with the team, requires reservations and has a full bar. The club has a few sections of tiered seating facing the floor, with televisions showing the game both inside the restaurant and in the tiered seats. The prices for this are unfathomable.
The Nets are the most forgettable team in the league. While the game is very well-produced presentation-wise, it almost seems patronizing for a team this bad. The black and white video package playing on the videoboard with the arena lights turned down and loud hip hop (it’s only ever hip hop) blaring through the speakers isn’t terribly inspiring. The Brooklynnettes dance team gyrates around the center court logo as the Nets are introduced one by one. For a good team, this might be cool and exciting. It is simply too much for a roster this hopeless.
Furthermore, you are made very aware throughout the game that you are being advertised to constantly. Every giveaway, timeout segment, presentation of colors, or scoreboard video is sponsored by one company or another, and advertisements cover nearly every unused inch of the floor and bench area.
Hindering the atmosphere further, especially in the upper level, is the arena lighting. The court is the only part of the arena illuminated during the game, so fans sit in the dark. The Lakers have done this for many years at Staples Center, but they’ve also won 16 championships and featured many of the game’s greatest players. They’ve earned leaving the fans in the dark so they can focus on the game. In Brooklyn, it just seems like yet another example of the franchise trying too hard, plus it makes for a less sociable atmosphere. New York winters are long, cold and dark enough, we don’t need darkness at our NBA games too. Also, the temperature inside Barclays Center is kept quite cold as well, so long sleeves are recommended.
On the plus side, arena hostess Ally Love is a charismatic professional who can brighten up even the dreariest of Nets losses. The timeout and between quarter breaks feature a variety of dance teams, a drumline, and the highest-powered shoulder-launch t-shirt cannon in the Tri-state area, capable of delivering XXL t-shirts to even the most faraway nosebleed seats in the building. A DJ plays throughout the game from a massive DJ booth behind section 1 on the lower level.
Barclays Center sits on the corner of Atlantic Avenue and Flatbush Ave at the nexus of Park Slope, Prospect Heights, and Fort Greene. These three neighborhoods are full of restaurants, bars, and commercial shopping areas. Directly across Atlantic Ave from Barclays Center sits the Atlantic Terminal shopping mall featuring your run of the mill mall fodder, including a Buffalo Wild Wings. Barclays Center itself has a Starbucks built into the front of the arena (open to the public, not just ticketed guests).
Across Flatbush Ave is a Shake Shack, a Modell’s, and a revolving door of lower-quality retail. For an authentic Brooklyn dive bar experience, visit Hank’s Saloon on the corner of Third Avenue and Atlantic Avenue, two blocks from the arena (decent prices, cash only).
Yayo’s Latin Cuisine on Fifth Avenue and Bergen Street, also under two blocks from the arena, is another decent pregame option and is rarely crowded (use the far door for the bar). If you have time, Prospect Park (the Central Park of Brooklyn) is just under one mile down Flatbush Ave from Barclays. The neighborhood feels very safe, though it loses a point for the endless construction taking place on the Flatbush Ave side of the arena.
As a struggling, recently-relocated franchise, the Nets don’t have a terribly strong fan base. When good (or simply large-market) opponents come to town, the crowd is quite often weighted in favor of the visiting squad. When the opponent is a lesser squad from a small market, large swaths of seats go unfilled.
Further, the prices of lower level seats, even on the secondary market, drive many of the most diehard fans to the upper level, where they can neither be seen nor heard because they are quite literally in the dark. As such, the lower bowl is often around half-filled, populated by bored-looking corporate types looking at their phones for most of the game. One gets the feeling “corporate types” have always been the Nets target demographic, though one can’t imagine many corporate clients jumping at the opportunity to attend a Nets game with all the other sports options in town. Even the “see and be seen” aspect of attending a Nets game at Barclays Center has mostly faded away, as evidenced by the noticeable lack of dates going on at a typical Nets game.
Though the crowd is often overwhelmingly male, the fans get one star for diversity, as this is an incredibly heterogeneous fan base and it is common to hear a variety of languages spoken throughout the stands. A half star is awarded for the Brooklyn Brigade, a small group of die-hards in section 114 who attend nearly every game and loudly cheer for the Nets. Another half star is awarded for Mr. Whammy, an incredibly old man who taunts opposing free throw shooters from under the basket directly in front of his seat – even when they’re shooting on the other basket.
The front door of Barclays Center faces the opening of the cavernous Atlantic Avenue – Barclays Center train station featuring nine subway lines (B, D, N, Q, R, 2, 3, 4, and 5) and the Long Island Railroad. The C and G trains are each also just a short walk away. These trains extend to nearly all parts of Manhattan, the Bronx, Queens, and the rest of Brooklyn either directly or via just one transfer at another stop. Long Island railroad services all areas of Long Island from Atlantic Ave aside from the Port Washington line, which can be accessed via the 2/3 subway line from Penn Station.
There are also CitiBike stands on either side of the arena, and another nearby on Fourth Avenue and Dean Street. Notably, as this is New York City, there is no official parking lot or garage, so driving is highly discouraged. Valet parking is available via the DropCar app, and Barclays Center recommends using the ParkWhiz app to find open garage spots. Expect to pay a premium for either of those options and, given most weekday Nets games start during the city’s extended rush hour, traffic near the arena is often very heavy. Attempting to drive to an event at Barclays Center is simply a bad idea.
Getting into Barclays Center is a hit or miss experience that has mercifully improved in recent years. The front overhang of the building has a large hole in the top (with ads build into it, of course), so on rainy days you will get wet if there’s a line to get in the door. Once inside, keep your head on a swivel for the shortest security line for the metal detectors and expect to be searched thoroughly. The smaller entrances on either side of the building are also useful if you’re approaching from a direction other than the subway stop. Once inside, you’ll find the concourses are narrow and there is incredible congestion when the building is crowded. Once you reach your section, expect to show your ticket to the usher every single time you come back to your seat. An usher informed this reviewer that they are under orders to check every ticket every time, but once you get past the usher you can usually sit in any empty seat in your section once enough of the game has passed. Wheelchair seating is located on every level.
It should also be noted that the upper level, especially on the sidelines, is incredibly steep and the cupholders are on the floor. Walking by other fans to seats in the middle of a section in the dark while trying not to trip over or step on a beverage and wearing a winter coat feels downright dangerous. If you are a large person, consider an aisle seat or the upper corner sections, which are not quite as steep. One more tip: use the stairs on the way out, waiting for the escalator takes a very long time.
Return on Investment 2
Unless you’re seeing a star-laden opponent, there is no reason to ever purchase tickets at face value. The secondary market is flooded with below face value tickets for almost every game, though lower level seats are still difficult to find for less than three figures unless you buy them day-of. Once you’re inside, there are no more discounts. The food and drink are priced outrageously, and gear is even more expensive. Additionally, no player on the Nets made the 2017 All Star Game, with no extremely notable players on the roster. The ROI is quite low on this unless you’re seeing a good opponent.
One star because you’ll occasionally see a celebrity here, although Jay Z no longer makes many appearances.
A second star is awarded for the Ebbets Field flagpole, which flies directly in front of the building.
A final star is awarded for the configuration of the subway stop entrance facing the main arena entrance, which makes it very easy to find your game companions as they exit the subway if you arrive before they do.
A night at Barclays Center can feel like sitting in the dark watching an advertisement while a directionless basketball team runs around near you. The franchise never seemed to recover from that ill-fated Knicks-Nets home opener debacle back in 2012, and importing aging stars from a division rival only set the franchise back another half-decade or more. The Barclays Center experience has improved a bit since the place opened, but it simply doesn’t have the magic of Madison Square Garden and that won’t change until this rudderless franchise gets back on track. It’s great for New York City residents to have a (slightly) lower-priced option to watch NBA games than MSG, but so far this whole Brooklyn experiment feels like a swing and a miss.
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