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Brooklyn "again has a hometown team": how Brooklyn Historical Society hockey exhibit advances the narrative

The Brooklyn Historical Society is well worth a visit, with a strong permanent collection and a varied lineup of temporary exhibits.

However, like a lot of museums, it's not averse to pandering a bit. So it's hard not to sense a whiff of expediency--toward the audience, toward funders--in the slim but much publicized small exhibit Brooklyn Americans: Hockey's Forgotten Promise, which is on view through March 27.

The exhibit concerns the justifiably little-known episode in which a team wore the name Brooklyn on its jerseys, practiced in Brooklyn, and played in Manhattan's Madison Square Garden--all in one season, 1941-42, before suspending operations. And when World War II ended, the grand plans for a Brooklyn-based franchise were killed by the New York Rangers.

“With the [New York] Islanders coming to the Barclays Center, it is the right time to tell a story most people have never heard before,” exhibit organizer Marcia Ely told the Brooklyn Paper. “And this is a great family-friendly exhibit to experience before catching an Islanders game.”

It was also a move that generated more publicity than the average Brooklyn Historical Society exhibit, given coverage in several sports sections. (I'm waiting for more coverage of the museum's affecting exhibit on hunger in NYC.)

Connections to the powerful

The hockey exhibit also has gained "generous support" from several funders, including the developer of the Barclays Center, Forest City Ratner, and the arena itself, as shown in the graphic above right.

The guy behind the exhibit is lawyer and hockey aficionado Steve Cohen, who, as a former aide to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, probably has a little more juice than most.

So the general rah-rah spirit extends to the text of the exhibit, which claims, as shown in the panel above left, "Now with the New York Islanders' move from the Nassau Coliseum to Barclays Center, the borough once again has a hometown team to cheer. (And the Rangers once again have a crosstown rival to fear.)"

Similarly, the panel at right states, "In September 2012, the Barclays Center opened not far from the site where Red Dutton had wanted a rink for the Americans, finally realizing Brooklyn's long-held dream of a world-class sports arena. And with the Islanders now skating in Brooklyn, the borough is once more able to cheer its very own professional sports team."

That's junior high school-level analysis of the complex world of sports entertainment corporations, who manage to leverage the
gossamer concept of "hometown team" for various forms of public assistance.

Public assistance for the team

As I've written, true corporate citizenship would mean the arena operator and/or team would pay additional fees to Empire State Development, the public agency that formally owns and leases the arena, for the right to have a second professional sports team, after the Brooklyn Nets.

That clause was in the 2/18/05 Memorandum of Understanding that Atlantic Yards developer Forest City Ratner signed with New York City and New York State, public parties involved in the Atlantic Yards deal.

But it was nonbinding.

And Empire State Development refused to answer my queries about it.

And public officials have kept mum.

It was plausible for the public parties to ask for more, because it implies that the arena would gain additional revenue from another team, eased by the significant public contribution--direct subsidies, tax breaks, giveaway of naming rights, override of zoning, inside deal on railyard development rights--that allowed arena construction.

That's Brooklyn History, too.