Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Barclays Center vs. MSG, the All-Star Game, and de Blasio's web of allegiances (and selective advocacy)

An article in this week's Crain's New York Business is headlined Garden CEO Hank Ratner dismisses new crosstown rival: He isn't concerned about competition from the Barclays Center.

Ratner, chief executive of Madison Square Garden Co. since it spun off from Cablevision in 2010, is  supervising the arena's $980 million renovation. He was less dismissive than the headline suggested, calling "Barclays Center is a good thing... Our biggest issue is there's only 365 days in the year and we cannot book everything that we'd like to book."

Told that Barclays, with basketball, concerts and soon hockey, looks like a rival, he responded:
I don't think anybody sees it that way. I'm surprised that you would frame the question that way unless you were just trying to be provocative. The Garden is the Garden, and it's been here since 1879. It sits on top of the busiest transportation hub in New York. It's where people and performers go for big shows. Where else are you going to have the "12-12-12" show? The fight of the century? It happens here; it always has and always will. We hope Barclays is successful. There's room for successful secondary plays around the marketplace.
Well, MSG surely has the edge, but the Barclays Center, with its high-profile events and generally excellent reviews, has surely become more of a rival than expected.

And, unmentioned in this article, the venues are the two finalists for the 2015 National Basketball Association All-Star Game. That's a head-to-head battle both very much want to win.

History vs. hip

Both will be shiny--the Garden will be done this summer--and the Record's John Brennan assessed it this way:
The Garden has all the history, the cachet, and well, what better location than midtown Manhattan?
The Barclays Center is located in the hot borough in Brooklyn, offering the league a much-needed younger, hipper vibe.
The NBA can’t lose, but….
I think that Barclays would have the edge based on freshness – except I wonder if the surrounding neighborhood could handle the clamor as well as Manhattan can with all its experience.
We may hear some more about that "clamor" at tonight's hearing on the scope for a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement.

The labor issue

There's another distinction, according to Public Advocate (and mayoral candidate) Bill de Blasio. The Daily News reported, in Public Advocate De Blasio tells NBA to nix All-Star Game at Madison Square Garden for ‘anti-union’ James Dolan :
The NBA shouldn’t have the 2015 All-Star game at Madison Square Garden because its owner is a union buster, a top city pol said.
Public Advocate Bill de Blasio fired off a letter to the NBA asking the league to shun the World’s Most Famous Arena in favor of Brooklyn’s upstart Barclays Center for the 2015 All-Star Game - citing owner James Dolan’s clashes with unionized workers at Cablevision, which he heads.
The strife includes a dispute over the controversial firing of 22 workers earlier this year.
“Choosing Barclays would ... ensure that the NBA does not give a tacit stamp of approval to the unfair, anti-worker polices of the owner of Madison Square Garden,” de Blasio wrote to NBA commissioner David Stern.
“Brooklyn would make a compelling host for the 2015 NBA All-Star Game, even without these pressing concerns. I urge you to do right by fans in the outer-boroughs,” he wrote.
Also see coverage in DNAinfo.

Now, there's compelling evidence (see Michael Powell's column) of troubling corporate behavior by Cablevision.

The Ratner connection

But de Blasio's advocacy is just a little selective. If he were truly a crusader for fairness, wouldn't he have written a letter protesting developer Forest City Ratner's failure to hire the long-promised Independent Compliance for the Atlantic Yards Community Benefits Agreement?

If he were truly a crusader for workers, wouldn't he have protested Forest City's deceptive claim that its prime construction subcontractor is a union shop or that modular construction shortchanges licensed trade unions? Might he have something to say about Bruce Ratner's inflated claims about arena jobs?

Consider the web of allegiances involving public relations firm BerlinRosen. The company represents de Blasio, the Communications Workers of America (organizing Cablevision workers), and Forest City. Ratner executives have raised money for de Blasio's mayoral run. BerlinRosen long represented ACORN.

Yesterday, Capital New York cited ex-ACORN head Bertha Lewis being at City Hall "for a press conference with union members advocating for Cablevision workers recently dismissed from their jobs, reportedly for labor-organizing activities." Lewis and de Blasio last month were part of a CWA press conference (joined by Council Member Letitia James) "on how Cablevision is shortchanging workers and customers" in Brooklyn.

So de Blasio's letter was no doubt easy to arrange.

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