Sunday, December 28, 2008

Funny story: Yormark, in Star-Ledger profile, misremembers (or lies about) our encounter

A profile in the Newark Star-Ledger of New Jersey Nets CEO Brett Yormark, headlined Nets executive promotes New Jersey while selling Brooklyn, begins with the subject asserting he’s never read about P.T. Barnum, “the first great salesman/cajoler/marketer in American history.” Maybe that's a subtle sign that we should take what he says with a grain of salt.

The article, while offering much praise for Yormark’s hard work, salesmanship, and innovations, also addresses the challenges presented in the headline.

It also contains some very contradictory quotes from Yormark and me about who said what during a tour of Brooklyn I gave him before he was hired by the Nets.

From the article, it may seem impossible to arbitrate who’s right, but, as I contend (with backup evidence) below, in some places Yormark is either misremembering or simply not telling the truth.

(He hasn't been so good at predicting when the arena would open, has he?)

Watchdogging AY

I’ll reprint the section about hurdles facing the Brooklyn project and interpolate clarification and commentary. The article states:
Meanwhile, you can define Barclays only one way: inert. Some people -- many of the living around Flatbush and Atlantic Avenues -- like it that way. Organizations have been formed to fight it. Publications such as New York Magazine are increasingly skeptical. And then there are bloggers, such as watchdog journalist Norman Oder.

The censures and quibbles Oder has with the Atlantic Yards plan can fill a book, or at least his website (atlanticyardsreport.com). Generally, and methodically, he has taken every word that Yormark and Ratner have uttered in the past four years and scraped it with a rusty razor.

Some of his objections are big things, such as their credibility about groundbreaking dates and the dubious impact on traffic, the school system and the environment. And some are little things, such as the price of a hot dog at Izod Center and the claim that Yormark starts every work day by rising at 4 a.m.

(For the record, Yormark suggested in a recent Fox Business News interview that a hot dog can be purchased for $1; Oder went to the arena last week and couldn't find one for less than $4.25. And for the record, Nets employees who work at the team's practice facility say it is not uncommon to see Yormark in the weight room by 5 a.m.)


For the record, when asked how attendance could be made more affordable, Yormark replied by speaking about the NBA in general: "There are opportunities to go to the concession stand and buy a hot dog for a dollar now."

I don’t doubt Yormark often gets up early. But I pointed out that Yormark refused to confirm, when asked, that he rises every day at 3:30 a.m.

(Indeed, if he's working 18 hours a day, as suggested in the article, he can't get up at 3:30 a.m. after a Nets home game that ends after 9:30 p.m. This really isn't a big deal--he obviously works hard--but it does indicate the potential for mythmaking.)

Credibility

The article continues:
Regardless, "Atlantic Yards is, quite simply, the result of a bad process. Add to that a pervasive air of manipulation and dishonesty," Oder said in an interview conducted by e-mail. "Yormark is obviously an effective salesman. Unfortunately, he's too often not a credible one."

If the economy is the sisyphusian boulder threatening to crush Yormark's dream, Oder is the pebble in his shoe.

Of course, the blogger makes some valid points, at least with regard to obfuscation. For example, the official website for Atlantic Yards claims the project would create 15,000 construction jobs, but that is measured in "job years" -- meaning, 1,500 jobs a year for a decade, which is how long it will take to put up its 16 buildings.

Remarkably, Oder concedes that the political might is too strong to stop the project from going forward, but he'll write every day until the first shovel pierces the ground.


I didn’t make that concession in the email interview. I have said that, despite the troubles facing the project, I think it’s more likely than not that the developer and state will win the lawsuits and move forward. That chance of that happening has declined, but it’s still over 50%.

"Eats me up every day"?

The article continues:
"He's a nuisance," Yormark said. "Eats me up every day on his blog. And he's the guy responsible for me having this job -- totally sold me on Brooklyn, totally sold me on the Ratner project."

Every day?

Recently, I’ve mentioned Yormark quite often--20 posts since November 6, which is less than once every two days--because I’ve been writing about the Nets a lot. But I mentioned him in only 16 posts in the rest of 2008. That averages out to three times a month.

In 2007, I mentioned him in eight posts. In 2006, I mentioned him in three posts. In 2005, when I was blogging for just four months, I mentioned him once.

Funny story

The article continues:
Oh, funny story there.

In September 2004, Yormark -- like most guys from Jersey -- had enough knowledge of Brooklyn to fill a thimble. But to impress Ratner, he hired a tour guide for a fairly large sum, and became "Brooklynized" (his word) in just one day. The owner was blown away with Yormark's expertise of the borough and hired him after two interviews.

That tour guide's name? Norman Oder.


Oh, come now.

I have a tour guide business, and I was contacted by Yormark’s assistant to help familiarize Yormark with Brooklyn. It was before Yormark was hired in January 2005--the fall of 2004, I believe--well before I became immersed in Atlantic Yards. He didn't need to be sold on Atlantic Yards; rather, he needed to be able to show his potential employer he'd made an effort to learn something about the borough.

A fairly large sum? That’s the reporter’s efforts to square diametrically opposed recollections. He told me Yormark recalled paying me “around $1,000” for “9-10 hours.” I said I charged $100 (or maybe $120) for a tour that lasted less than two hours. (I do remember that he tipped me $50.)

I don’t charge $100 an hour for tours and, as my clients can attest, I offer step-down discounts after two and four hours. (Here are cost guidelines from the Guides Association of NYC, of which I’m a member.) Most of my tours last 2.5-3 hours. I’ve never done a tour longer than five hours or so--too tiring for me and for the client.

We spent less than two hours. Yormark was in such a hurry that we never got out of his SUV. We spent a good segment parked, talking. We never got out of the neighborhoods close to the AY footprint. We never set foot in Prospect Park, despite my urging that he get a sense of the landscape. Never got food. Never took a bathroom break.

If we’d had nine or ten hours, we could’ve gone to South Jersey and back. Could’ve walked Flatbush Avenue stem to stern, with time to spare. It just didn’t happen like he said.

As for becoming “Brooklynized,” as I said, Yormark wanted to be able to show his potential boss that he’d made an effort to understand the borough.

He did make an effort, but not a huge one. He kept trying to truncate the tour due to time pressure; he kept saying he was the boss as the client--hence my comment below calling him a "personable, master-of-the-universe" figure--while I was trying to convince him to gain more value from my expertise.

Great enthusiasm

The article continues:
Yormark insists that his guide-turned-nemesis spoke with "great enthusiasm" about the project during that fateful tour, but Oder's recollection is different.

"I did not speak effusively. I said there were very mixed opinions in Brooklyn," Oder said. "And I was barely familiar with Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn, the main opposition group."

All Yormark knows is this: "He's the best tour guide money can buy," he said incredulously. "He helped me get my job, now he spends his entire life discrediting the project."


Well, I did wish Yormark well, as was appropriate for a client. While I appreciate his hyperbolic praise of my tour guiding abilities, I’ll happily concede that I look up to Francis Morrone.

Some back story

The article concludes:
Oder doesn't find this particularly ironic -- indeed, he has yet to write about the day he spent walking the streets of Flatbush with this "personable, master-of-the-universe" figure he now attacks daily.

Yormark has no time for irony, either, so he more or less considers their brief time together a Faustian bargain, or just the price of doing business. Two things P.T. Barnum would undoubtedly appreciate.


Well, we never walked anywhere. And it was just a couple of hours, not a day.

I hadn’t written about it because I was not acting as a journalist, so I didn’t feel it was my place to do so. But Yormark brought it up, so let me flesh out the story.

When we drove around the AY footprint and environs, I pointed out occasional signs opposing the project. Yormark, not inaccurately, observed that they were relatively few. I cautioned that the level of concern was likely greater than indicated.

Atlantic Yards, he told me more than once with great conviction, was going to happen; Bruce Ratner had assured him.

I didn’t know at that point what public process was to ensue--an environmental review by the Empire State Development Corporation, which began more than a year later--but that level of certainty, the kind of certainty that Yormark regularly peddles, stuck in my craw.

It still does.

Arena attendance

The article, early on, sketches Yormark's challenges with the Izod Center:
But you can sell only so much in an antiquated arena, one typically filled at only 80 percent capacity, with only 28 suites. That leaves one option: Yormark is moving the game.

I think "filled at only 80 percent capacity" is a stretch. The Nets are averaging 15,290, or 76.6%, in an arena that seats 19,968.

Plus, as I’ve contended, the Nets (and other NBA teams) report tickets distributed, not gate count, which means that the percentage “filled” is lower than reported attendance.

4 comments:

  1. One doth protesteth too much.

    I believe it it high time for the counter intelligence division of the DDDB to conduct an investigation of "L'Affaire Oder" and if necessary demand a public self-criticism session, perhaps in a back room at Freddy's.

    "THEY'RE ALL LIES, I TELL YOU, LIES!!"

    ReplyDelete
  2. Bobbo/NetIncome/Mr. W. has been to Brooklyn once in four years. See:
    http://www.netsdaily.com/?p=6794#comment-29436

    Maybe he can tell us about Cranford, NJ.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Bobbo doth regurgitate too much.

    I believe it it high time for the counter intelligence division of the Bobbo to conduct an investigation of "L'Affaire Izode" and if necessary demand a public crowd metric session, perhaps in the Men's Room at the Meadowlands or in another seething blog comment.

    "I'M ANONYMOUS AND I KNOW EVERYTHING, I TELL YOU!"

    ReplyDelete
  4. Bobbo should sign his name Bob Windrem.

    ReplyDelete