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Barclays Center messaging: as anti-Trump protest gathers on (fanless) game night, arena oculus blares "Unity," avoids MLK quote about action

With hundreds of protesters gathering last night at the Barclays Center plaza shortly before a fanless home Brooklyn Nets game to call for the removal of President Trump, arena operators faced their first test of the tension between operating a commercial venue and a privately managed but  "appropriated" public space.

And they passed, sort of, though the bar was low.

"Yet again, the jumbotron operator is obliged to kind of engage with history," wrote Seth Pollack on Twitter, noting the word "UNITY" in the digital signage of the oculus, instead of the typical advertising.

Then again, that struck me as more cautious than reinstating the Martin Luther King Jr. quote--"The time is always right to do what is right"--that was belatedly installed last June after some ten days of #blacklivesmatter protests. 

After all, the latter quote, however gnomic for the time, today implies more action--support for cabinet action via the 25th Amendment, or impeachment--than simply "unity," which for now seems demonstrably elusive, especially on a national level. 

The King quote was gone by November, swapped out for ads--the arena has to make money, right?--so we'll see how long "UNITY" stays, and what becomes visible when another protest gathers. (Note: "Unity" was the message a day earlier from at least two NBA teams.)

That said, it was also notable that the digital signage over the doors--another opportunity for revenue and/or messaging--was blank, the result of either a tactical decision or, perhaps, operational issues.

The bigger question will be, as I wrote in my 2021 preview, that "it will be interesting to see how arena managers navigate the potential tensions if in fact people are going inside the building." 

(Note: the Nets, despite the absence of stars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, easily beat the league-leading Philadelphia 76ers, showing significant depth.)

Crowd size

The crowd was variously estimated as 50 (by NY1, obviously assessing the early segment), hundreds (by PIX11), 400 and then 500 (by @protest_NYC) and "several thousand" (by the New York Times, generously). 

The crowd grew after the protest, which started at 6 pm (and had emptied out when I arrived, at 7 pm), continued to Grand Army Plaza to protest outside the apartment building of Sen. Chuck Schumer, the soon-to-be majority leader. (Outside Schumer's apartment, @protest_NYC  estimated 500.)

How many could fit at Barclays? Note that the arena claims 20,000 square feet capacity for events at the plaza, with standing capacity for 3,000--though I'm pretty sure there's more capacity for protesters, for example, on the west side of the transit entrance.

The journalism site Poynter says a "loose crowd, one where each person is an arm’s length from the body of his or her nearest neighbors, needs 10 square feet per person"--or 2,000, based on the Barclays estimate--while a "more tightly packed crowd" needs less than half that, 4.5 square feet per person. 

But pandemic capacity surely involves more than an arm's-length distance for many. As the photo above shows, the transit entrance was well defended.

Around the arena: Atlantic Avenue

I also walked the perimeter of the arena and saw the same approproriation of seemingly public space, starting, below, with combat parking in what should be an Atlantic Avenue traffic (or passing) lane, which does end at a construction site.

Dean Street blocked off

The Dean Street entrance to the arena had neither fencing nor cops, at least as of 7 pm, because access to Dean Street from Flatbush Avenue was blocked off, as shown in the second photo below.

Access to Sixth Avenue and the 78th Precinct was blocked from Dean Street.

On Dean Street next to the arena

On Dean Street, event-related vehicles were, as typical, parked in no-standing zones--even next to a hydrant, a travel lane, and encroaching on the public sidewalk.