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How about... the Jackie Robinson Arena at Barclays Center? Advocate Piccolo renews effort.

Screenshot from Arthur Piccolo's video
What if… the Barclays Center Had Been the Jackie Robinson Arena?, I wrote June 4 for Bklyner, suggesting that we would not merely have honored the former Brooklyn Dodger as the first black man in major league baseball, but also would've had to reflect on Robinson's criticisms of American racism.

Since then, longtime Brooklynite Arthur Piccolo, who years ago (as I wrote) quixotically proposed that the Brooklyn arena be named for Robinson, has renewed his cause in a new video, embedded at bottom.

It ends with a photo-shopped image of a Robinson statue with #blacklivesmatter protesters at the arena, Brooklyn's protest epicenter, invoking the gruesome police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. The name Jackie Robinson Arena is appended to the arena oculus. (Screenshot at right)

I had mused about a hybrid name, such as “The Jackie Robinson Center, Presented by Barclays” or even “The Barclays Center: Honoring Jackie Robinson," but Piccolo suggests a dual name: the "Jackie Robinson Arena and Barclays Center."

Or, I'd propose, the "Jackie Robinson Arena at Barclays Center."

A "powerful symbolic statement"

Piccolo told me "Jackie Robinson has never been honored in Brooklyn in any meaningful way even though he is the most important and famous Brooklynite of all time." (Piccolo, who founded the Bowling Green Association, a not for profit that promotes Lower Manhattan, also writes a column for News Americas Now, a newswire covering the Americas.)

The arena operating company owner, Taiwanese-Canadian billionaire Joe Tsai, "has the ability to make a powerful symbolic statement that will cost him nothing," says Piccolo in the video, "by telling Barclays”—a bank based in London—“they will share the name of the arena, the Jackie Robinson Arena and Barclays Center."

Of course, the chances of this happening are low, since it would involve renegotiating a settled contract that Tsai cannot unilaterally change. (And yes, Jackie Robinson played baseball, not basketball, but the arena hosts lots more than basketball.) Piccolo told me he's written to Barclays executives and members of Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams's staff, to no avail.

Yes, naming rights are, in a sense, "free money," as Piccolo puts it in the video, especially since the money goes to the arena operator, not the nominal owner of the arena, New York State, and should have been counted in government analyses as a subsidy. (The fig leaf of state ownership allows for tax-exempt financing.)

Still, that "free money," as we've learned, is not pure profit but rather crucial to the arena's bottom line, given the need to pay off construction bonds. So surely Tsai wouldn't do anything to hurt arena cash flow, which has already been hammered by the coronavirus pandemic.

But things can change. We recently learned of an arena naming rights deal that prioritized civic meaning: Amazon.com bought naming rights to the Seattle arena housing a new NHL hockey team and the WNBA's Seattle Storm, and will call it Climate Pledge Arena. Yes, that's inspired cynicism, but it does show that not every arena needs to be a corporate brand.

As the belatedly posted quote from Martin Luther King, Jr. in the Barclays Center oculus states, "The time is always right to do what is right."

New perspective on corporate accountability

Also, much is in flux regarding statues, names, and corporate identity. After all, Barclays is under new scrutiny, in the United Kingdom at least, for its historic ties to slavery, which go beyond the previous recognition that, like banks of its time, it was deeply enmeshed in the slave trade.

According to the London-based Telegraph newspaper, Barclays was among numerous UK companies that, according to analysis of a new database, "benefited directly or indirectly" from the compensation the British government provided in 1833 when slavery was abolished.

This money compensated not the enslaved people but the 47,000 people--enslavers--who lost their human property. (The article focused on nine major companies with ties to such compensation, but was not an exhaustive count. I'll write more about this.)

Given worldwide protests, such companies, more deeply tied to slavery than previously understood, are under pressure to make face their history and make some form of reparations.

Adding Jackie Robinson's name to the Brooklyn arena, however unlikely, would be relatively easy, compared with other measures being asked of corporations, such as being asked to fund development in the Caribbean.

There's another taint on the Barclays name. Separately, I argued in 2015 that it should be excised from the arena, because the modern-day bank pleaded guilty to a felony, thus qualifying it as a "prohibited person" under state law. State officials ignored my queries about that issue, and no one took action.

A name change coming, inevitably?

Would it be odd to change the Barclays Center's name midstream? Of course. Then again, that's exactly what happened with the overall Atlantic Yards project, which was announced in 2003 and became Pacific Park Brooklyn in 2014, after Greenland USA became the new majority owner.

Also, it's not uncommon for sports venue names to change as sponsorships expire or end prematurely. Consider that Enron Field in Houston rather quickly became Minute Maid Park.

It's not unlikely that the name Barclays Center might disappear after the bank's 20-year naming-rights agreement expires in 2032. In fact, it might disappear sooner. The New York Post reported last July 1 that Barclays was "looking to end its contract early because it is no longer building a retail banking presence" in the United States. That, so far, has not progressed.

If so, a new sponsor might be willing to pay more, assuming the Brooklyn Nets were at full strength with healthy stars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. So Brooklyn could have the "Jackie Robinson Arena at [Sponsor to be Named Later]."

An alternative idea: rename the baseball stadium

The video



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