Thursday, September 19, 2013

After one year, a look at the CBA program for free arena tickets: good intentions, grateful recipients, some flaws (and Ratner honored tonight)

Of the benefits promised in the controversial Atlantic Yards Community Benefits Agreement (CBA), one that has come to fruition is the Community Tickets Program.

In the program, nonprofit and community organizations get access to 50 seats in the Barclays Center upper bowl, four in the lower bowl, and ten in a suite for most ticketed events.

The program, managed by CBA signatory the Downtown Brooklyn Neighborhood Alliance (DBNA), has generated enthusiastic thanks from the various groups gaining tickets via the the DBNA's monthly sweepstakes and the flash giveaways for those who follow the DBNA on Facebook.

Tonight, as indicated in the graphic at right, there's a sweepstakes and one-year anniversary celebration, honoring Bruce Ratner, Chairman of Forest City Ratner Companies, signatory of the CBA.

The tickets program is featured in the trailer to an apparently in-progress documentary on the DBNA, in which the Rev. Herbert Daughtry, founder of the organization and father of its executive director, salutes Atlantic Yards for all the promised--if not yet delivered--community benefits.

(The DBNA, for example, has yet to organize the ten annual "community" events at the arena promised in the CBA, and the pre-apprenticeship training through Brooklyn United for Innovative Local Development, or BUILD, is now the subject of a federal lawsuit.)

Good intentions, mixed results

After observing three such sweepstakes events, and reading the newsletter issued by the DBNA, it's clear that the program has produced many grateful recipients, honored in the newsletter as "wounded healers" who deserve recognition and support. The DBNA believes it's distributed the tickets fairly, as does Bruce Ratner, who told DNAinfo, "By having a lottery system, it's really a very fair way of doing it."

As Rev. Daughtry wrote rather exuberantly in the newsletter (below):
Due to the tireless work, creative genius, and brilliant planning and organization by Sharon Daughtry, Executive Director of DBNA, and her staff, the DBNA Community Tickets Program Sweepstakes Events have been a phenomenal success. Each Sweepstakes program, involving hundreds of organizations, individuals, and volunteers, has been an exciting event. The responses have been most gratifying and numerous expressions of appreciation have been conveyed to us.
Despite good intentions, I think the program could enlarge the pool of recipients and improve the process for getting tickets.

Such flaws reflect some of the tensions in the CBA, the contested notion of "community," and the way the program has been implemented. (I wrote about some of these issues last November.)

Meanwhile, for a relatively small cost--the money to fund the DBNA and the distribution of tickets that in some cases might not sell--Forest City Ratner, the arena, and the Nets generate good feelings and community support.

The DBNA, which launched only after Atlantic Yards was proposed, is understandably enthusiastic about the program and its patron. Through the six fiscal years ending 6/30/12, according to IRS filings, the organization has received $960,939 in support. Most funding has come from Forest City Ratner.

What's the community?

The eight groups signing the CBA, the majority of them created to partner with Forest City, are centered in Central Brooklyn, with black leadership, and the "community," as represented at the sweepstakes events I've observed, is mostly black, especially from Central Brooklyn.

According to CBA, the tickets are supposed to be  distributed for "community use." The CBA defines "community" as the borough of Brooklyn, inclusive of the "Neighboring Community"--defined as Community Boards 2, 6, and 8--and the "Surrounding Community"--defined as a two-mile radius of the project site.

(Note that, despite the language of the CBA in the graphic above right, there's no program yet for discounted Senior Citizen Nets general admission ticket purchases.)

While the poster below left indicates that the pool is open to Brooklyn, the DBNA application form asks if the organizations are located in Community Boards 2, 3, 6, or 8, those closest to the project, though other Brooklyn groups are welcome. (Note that Community Board 3 in Bedford-Stuyvesant was, along the way, added to the set of Community Boards closest to the project, though I've never gotten a clear explanation why.)

"Our goal is to get the tickets into the hands of those who might not otherwise be able to attend events at the Barclays Center," said Sharon Daughtry in response to my query. "Helping the under served and disenfranchised is a major part of DBNA's mission."

"In addition to the reaching out to the entirety of Brooklyn, DBNA is mandated to prioritize Community Boards 2, 6, and 8 because these areas are most affected by the building of the arena," Daughtry explained. "In devising a publicity plan, DBNA, FCRC, and the Terrie Williams Agency contacted those organizations on their prospective outreach lists. As you can imagine, our combined outreach lists include many communities with which DBNA is not so connected. As it unfolded, the organizations that were excited and most responsive were ones located in the Central Brooklyn area. I believed the program appealed to them because they serve communities that are in close proximity to Barclays Center."

That's likely true, but the may be another reason. As noted below, after the initial publicity plan, which was focused on the three closest community boards, the DBNA did not make a big push to reach the rest of Brooklyn.

Cultural disconnect?

DBNA African-American History Month event;
photo from Facebook
The House of the Lord is a self-described Afrocentric church, and the sweepstakes can have a particular vibe (as shown in the videos below): part church raffle, part block party, part talent show, with Daughtry as MC vamping, singing, and otherwise working the crowd in a call-and-response style.

It's welcomed by most in attendance but might be off-putting to a more diverse audience less inclined, for example, to enjoy loud r&b music or explicitly Christian references.

It also accentuated a cultural disconnect that sometimes surfaces: Daughtry encouraged great enthusiasm for black-oriented acts like Rihanna, while expressing befuddlement--as did most of the crowd--toward indie rock groups like The Killers and The National, whose audience is largely white.

Also, the February drawing, in honor of African-American History Month, announced, "The DBNA Suite will be given for a game event at Barclays Center to the person wearing the best African attire!!!"

As I observed at the time, offering a prize for "best African attire" isn't the most inclusive strategy for a project serving a broad community, given that some potential attendees, for a number of reasons, do not have such attire in their wardrobe.

How big is the pool?

According to the DBNA, more than 300 community organizations signed up for the program in the initial year. (No listing of those groups, or winners, has been published.)

While that number sounds large, it's actually small enough for several organizations to have won more than once. Also, some individuals, as representatives of multiple organizations, have been in a position to win multiple times.

Consider that there will have been some 200 events in the first year of arena operations, with many but not all offering five opportunities to win: the 50 upper bowl seats divided into three groups; four seats in the lower bowl; and ten seats in the suite. (No group is allowed to win for an event more than one time.)

If five groups win per event, that would mean 1000 winning opportunities. If only four groups win, that means 800 winning opportunities. (Sometimes the suite is closed because the view's obstructed for concerts.) And that's not counting all the flash giveaways on Facebook for a few seats (example at right).

One reason the initial pool was small is that, in the DBNA's one publicity push, in September 2012, eligibility was said to be limited to nonprofit organizations serving residents of CBs 2, 3, 6, and 8.

That meant only about 50 groups were involved in the September drawing for October events. By October, after the word got out more, the drawing included almost 200 organizations. Eligibility was cut off last November 30. "The paperwork is unreal," Daughtry said at the time, noting that she's the only DBNA full-time staffer. (This year, the application is due by November 30.)

That may be an understandable challenge for a fledgling program, but it also means that organizations that got in first, including some with ties to the DBNA--as several seem to be--got a leg up.

When Daughtry's sister, principal of the Ronald Edmonds Learning Center in Fort Greene, won in the October drawing, Daughtry declared enthusiastically, "That was a good pull." (Daughtry's son also has won tickets for an organization he represents.)

Earlier this week, when this blog publicized the DBNA's invitation--published online late in August--for more community groups to sign up, some people told me they didn't know about it. (A new press release, and/or additional press coverage, could get the word out to more.)

A slow process

While drawing names publicly furthers transparency, the process can be unwieldy. Winners are supposed to be present to win, though the rules can be bent for senior citizens or religious groups that can explain why they can't make it, Daughtry said.

Daughtry explained, "We require representatives to be present at the drawing because our experience tells us that people who actually make the effort to come to an event to win tickets are much more likely to use the tickets/attend the events if they win; as opposed to those who put forth no effort and just happen to win the tickets."

Still, attendees sometimes must stay late. The April 25 event at the Ronald Edmonds Learning Center in Fort Greene took quite a while. Registration began at 5 pm, while the drawing was supposed to begin at 6:30.

It began at 7, but after introductions, instructions, and hoopla delayed the actual drawing to 7:45. Though there were relatively few Barclays Center events in May, June, and July, various contests and crowd interaction stretched the sweepstakes to 9:55 pm.

Somewhere between 250-350 people attended, though the total dwindled as the event continued. After all, it was a school night.

Leading off: a boost for the church

Early in that April program, the Rev. Daughtry gave a welcome message and led the crowd in what he termed "affirmations," including "I'm too blessed/to be stressed." He followed up by saluting "Jesus Christ, who strengthens me."

It's not surprising that a minister would preach when he can, the religious connection to the giveaway--not unusual at Central Brooklyn civic events, actually--might be off-putting to a more diverse crowd.

Praising the Rev. Daughtry, a parishioner was given the microphone to announce an upcoming signing at the church for his recent book, Made to Master. "I think we owe him a debt of gratitude," she said. "Reverent Daughtry made this possible."

The Rev. Daughtry, who has a distinguished civil rights record, has been an enthusiastic supporter of Atlantic Yards, fawningly describing developer Ratner as "humble, winsome" in the Brooklyn Standard and regularly heckling during the May 2009 state oversight hearing.

That has produced benefits for his church as well as the community it serves, including funding for the DBNA; a job for his daughter; the tickets program; a program to help the incarcerated; health fairs and plans for a health care center at the project. In turn, of course, Daughtry's advocacy helped Forest City Ratner win governmental support.

It also left Daughtry in no position to offer criticism. When asked in January 2012 by the Brooklyn Eagle about the developer's failure to hire the Independent Compliance Monitor mandated by the CBA, Daughtry responded: "The point is that I feel, whether they [FCR] have reneged on promises, I’m not concerned about it."

At the April event, the CBA got another boost. All attendees were given a copy of Forest City's misleading March 2008 brochure promoting the agreement.

Sharon Daughtry with hula hoops at
April Health Awareness event; photo
from DBNA Facebook set
Both the DBNA and the House of the Lord Church "are headed by Rev. Herbert Daughtry and we do share the same building, but not the same office space," Sharon Daughtry explained. "The church has an office and DBNA has an office in the same building. This came to be only out of the need for space." She said the DBNA is looking for new space.

Warnings and advice

Before beginning the sweepstakes, Sharon Daughtry offered some advice and warnings. "Don't scalp the tickets," she pronounced, noting that arena officials could figure out if giveaway tickets had been scalped.

Also, she hinted that some previous recipients may have behaved inappropriately. "If your group acts up, you're going to be taken out of the program," she warned, noting that one organization's executive director had not appropriately briefed ticket recipients.

"We've got to keep the suite nice," Daughtry said. When recipients gain exclusive access to the suite level, she said, "walk as dignified as you possibly can."

She added, "I do not want to wake up in my bed"--receiving a phone call from arena brass--"because you were acting up in a suite." (The suite has 12 seats, with ten or eleven given away. A DBNA representative is required to be in the suite at all times.)

The DBNA, Daughtry said last fall, meets with winners when the tickets are distributed: "Depending on the event, the discussion topics may included start and end times as well as correct entrances, proper attire, concessions cost, possibilities, and on occasion, donations for concessions." After all, some groups likely can't afford the high prices for food and drink.

Preceding the sweepstakes

The theme of the April event was "Get Healthy and Stay Moving." As noted in the beginning of the video below, Daughtry engaged the crowd by recalling games from her generation's childhood days that kept people active.

"I hope y'all came to laugh and have a good time," she pronounced in her exuberant style.

"Always," came back from an audience member.

"It's a beautiful thing" that people shout back to her, Daughtry said.

"We love you, Sharon," came a voice.

Soon after she got DJ Bruce to crank the music for a "30-second dance party," the event's effort to get people up and moving. Then the barrels for the sweepstakes entries were delivered.

Daughtry gave shout-outs to the DBNA board, Forest City, the Barclays Center, the DBNA staff, the DJ, the committees, and, among others, the photographers officially shooting the event. She introduced Janella Meeks of Forest City, though Meeks didn't come to the stage.

As the DJ played a song by Prince, Daughtry exclaimed she didn't find the music motivating. She sat on the stage, mock-complaining that she wouldn't get up until the music was really good. She started dancing in place, then rose to her knees, approached the DJ, then sat back down.

Getting down with Maxwell, getting up for Rihanna

As shown in the next video, Daughtry recalled how, at a previous event, a couple danced to a Maxwell song. After the event, in response to my query, she explained what happened next:
"I try to get folks on stage who are upbeat and full of personality. This makes a sometimes seemingly long process much more enjoyable! The song was by 'Woman's Work' by Maxwell. We used the song at our Women's History Month celebration. The Women's History Month celebration took place in March, and one segment of the event included volunteers from the audience acting out a portion of that song. This young man's incredibly funny and enthusiastic performance, garnered so many positive responses from community members in the audience, that I couldn't help myself by encouraging a brief encore."

Finally, the sweepstakes began. "The first thing up is Rihanna." Cheers from the crowd. "What she sing?" The crowd informed her. Daughtry sang a few bars from Rihanna, and got some response from the crowd.

The DJ cranked the music, the volunteer turned the barrel, and the other volunteer picked the names on cards.

Before she read the names, Daughtry admonished the winners: "I need excitement.." (It was being filmed by an in-house crew.) "And if you're not excited, I'm going to tell you to go back and sit down. I need a cartwheel or two. A handstand."

She read three names, screaming in contrapuntal joy with the first winner. The third winner juked across the stage, inspiring Daughtry to dance reciprocally.

The Killers change the mood

At about 10:25 of the video above, the mood dampened. "Next event," stated Daughtry. "OK, this one is The Killers."

"Who?" one voice asked from the audience. A few people cheered and clapped.

"Someone went yay," Daughtry continued. "You know who that [group] is?"

"How many people want The Killers tickets?" Daughtry asked. There were a few too many potential recipients for her to just give them out without a drawing, so the barrel was turned.

"The Killers--I don't know, I guess it's a rock group," she declared. Then, as she read the name of the first winner to herself, she chuckled, made a face, and bending over with laughter.

"I'm sorry," she uttered. "Play some music," she added, pointing to the DJ. "Make people happy."

She read part of the first winner's name--"Community Worship Center"--before pausing to control her laughter.

"They're not going," an audience member called out knowingly.

She got the name out: "Community Worship Center Church of the Nazarene." The audience laughed, as Daughtry did a little dance.

As she read the names of the other winners, she advised, "You're not required with The Killers to [show] too much excitement."

"It'll be a really cultural experience," Daughtry then asserted with mock seriousness worthy of a Dave Chappelle skit. "You can experience something musically and culturally different.."

Later, there was collective enthusiasm for Paul McCartney, but mention of The Postal Service, another indie rock group, generated a collected "what?"

No one wanted the tickets. "If y'all get 'em, you're gonna have a cultural experience," Daughtry repeated.

"Thus far, it has worked out well," Daughtry commented later in response to my query. "We get many thank you letters from partners who have been introduced to a genre of music different from their usual tastes. And some say that they would actually consider themselves new fans of these performers and would be buying the albums/music of these artist. So, since we are able to fill the seats, we'll continue in this vein. And when all else fails, we contact our partners who have intently expressed an interest in these shows."

Contests for tickets

To gain access to Brooklyn Nets playoff tickets, Daughtry held a hula-hoop contest for women 40 and older--the winner would be the person who could keep the hoops going the longest.

For another try at tickets, Daughtry organized a push-ups contest for men.

On Facebook

To get access to tickets for events that haven't been announced yet, or to tickets that belatedly become
available, organizations must keep track of and "like" the DBNA on Facebook. As the organization stated in one post:
Good afternoon Family!!!
We have 2 lower bowl tickets for the Brooklyn Nets vs.Chicago Bulls-Round 1, Game 2 of the NBA playoffs on Monday, April 22, 2013 at 8:00PM. The first to respond in the form of a COMMENT(as this helps establish who was the first to respond) to the post, will win the tickets.
There are a few requirements:
1) You must be a member of an organization we are community partners with.
2) You or your organization CANNOT have won tickets on Facebook before.
3)MUST be able to pick the tickets up today, Friday, April 19, 2013 BEFORE 5:00PM. Please be sure that you can pick them up before you post.
Grateful responses

On Facebook, many organizations have thanked the DBNA. Some excerpts:
Just wanted to say thank you from the Bushwick Houses Tenant Association to the DBNA for all that you do. You made it possible for us to take some of our residents to events that they may have otherwise not been able to attend. Thanks for a great year. God Bless.
Good Morning DBNA i would like to extend a thank you on behalf of my organization Love fellowship NY for providing us with tickets to attend the Nets vs Chicago Bulls it was awesome we had a super time hope to win more tickets in the future.

Good morning DBNA, thank you so much for the sweepstakes program It has made some dreams come true for some of the children in my programs and it has made others realize reachable goals by seeing the events at the Barclay. Include us in the playoff lottery. Concerned Community 4Change/Sports mentoring program

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous10:25 AM

    Wow, how do I get in on the poverty pimp racket? Seriously, I greatly respect what Rev. Daughtry has done as a civil rights leader, but his actions and those of his [well-placed] family are a disgrace. This is why it's so hard to get people to take urban issues seriously, because local leaders are rife with petty corruption.