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FFFP
Fans For Fair Play
Challenging Bruce Ratner’s Brooklyn Atlantic Yards project

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Why The Nets Could Never Be The Dodgers 

One of Bruce Ratner's selling points for his Atlantic Yards skyscraper city is that it will bring glory and honor back to Brooklyn by giving us a major-league sports team.

Glory and honor. Songs would be sung about the Nets.

Yes, it's all very Klingon.

It's also very wrong.

Ratner, and his belligerent mouse of a cheerleader, Borough Prez Marty Markowitz, have been comparing the Nets to the Dodgers for two years now. Brooklyn, though, has changed since the Dodgers left after the 1957 season. It's akin to NASA selling the space program by evoking warm memories of the horseless carriage.

It’s understandable why Ratner doesn’t know Brooklyn from his ass – he’s wealthy trust-fund kid from a loaded Cleveland real-estate family who lives on the Upper East Side. He decked out a promotional flier touting his skyscrapers with a stock photo of a “construction worker” wearing a Boston Red Sox cap, believing the “B” stood for Brooklyn.

Markowitz should know better. He’s from Brooklyn and embraces our borough’s culture and history like they were a long-lost love. Problem is, Markowitz is frozen in the Brooklyn of his childhood, a distant past that’s gone. What’s more bizarre is that Markowitz is teaming with development companies like Forest City Ratner and Thor Equities (who are behind the Vegas-style redevelopment stampede of Coney Island) that have no interest or ability to preserve the quaint Brooklyn of Marty’s past.

Ratner’s a developer who doesn’t care about Brooklyn. Markowitz is just dreamy and kinda dumb about it.

Specifically, here's why Ratner and Markowitz are way off mark about the Nets doing for Brooklyn what the Dodgers did.

THE OWNER
DODGERS: Charles Ebbets
NETS: Bruce Ratner and hundreds of investors, including disgraced Tyco exec Dennis Koslowski, former progressive activist attorney Michael Ratner and hip-hop star Jay-Z, who owns 7/10 of one percent of the team

OWNER'S PROFESSION; SOURCE OF INCOME
DODGERS: baseball team owner; Brooklyn Dodgers Baseball Club
NETS: real-estate mogul; Forest City Ratner Companies

OWNER’S YEARS IN THE SPORT BEFORE HE PURCHASED THE TEAM
DODGERS: 20 (all spent with the Dodgers as a ticket seller, clerk, bookkeeper, scorecard salesman, business manager, president, field manager, and part owner)
NETS: 0

OWNER'S TOTAL YEARS IN THE SPORT
DODGERS: 42
NETS: 2

OWNER'S COMMITMENT TO LOCAL FANS
DODGERS: Charles Ebbets put himself into debt and took out loans to keep the Dodgers in Brooklyn when he bought the team.
NETS: Bruce Ratner thinks nothing of New Jersey fans, taking their team away without a second thought.

LOCATION OF STADIUM
DODGERS: Ebbets Field was built over a garbage dump in an area of Brooklyn called Pigtown. The neighborhood of Flatbush grew up around the ballpark, which was just one more business in a growing community.
NETS: Ratner Corporate-Named Arena would be built atop an already-existing, thriving community, destroying the neighborhood's character and the gains made by its residents over the last few decades.

COST TO BUILD STADIUM/ARENA
DODGERS: $750,000 ($14 million in today's dollars)
NETS: $500 million (more when adjusted for tomorrow's dollars)

LAND ACQUISITION
DODGERS: Charles Ebbets bought the Pigtown garbage dump with his own money. He bought additional parcels without government bullying or threats of eminent domain abuse.
NETS: Bruce Ratner is using the frightening threats of eminent domain confiscations to bully property owners into selling to him. He's also had friends in high places (his law-school buddy, Governor Pataki) force the MTA to sell its rail yards to Ratner at fire-sale prices, ripping off taxpayers for hundreds of millions of dollars.

BEARING THE COST OF THE STADIUM?
DODGERS: Charles Ebbets
NETS: New York city and state taxpayers, federal funds, the MTA, various corporate and private investors, the NBA, advertisers, television networks, and Bruce Ratner.

THE SPORT AND THE TIMES
DODGERS: Baseball was truly the National Pastime during the Dodgers run in Brooklyn. The team coalesced fan support because baseball was king to all communities in Brooklyn.
NETS: Basketball, while popular, has never been the country's biggest sport. Today, there are gazillions of sports and entertainment options that never existed during the Dodgers' time in Brooklyn. The Nets could never concentrate the borough's affections the way the Dodgers did.

BROOKLYN
DODGERS: A working class bastion that had its own distinct feel and culture. The Dodgers were part of that fabric. The Dodgers' last decade saw Brooklyn torn apart by poorly-conceived urban renewal policies, Robert Moses' destruction of neighborhoods, and White Flight to the suburbs.
NETS: An increasingly hard-to-afford borough with skyrocketting rents, lorded over by politicians and business moguls doing everything they can to turn it into Manhattan East

THE PLAYERS
DODGERS: players lived in the community, had jobs in the off-season, and were approachable in fans' everyday lives.
NETS: multi-millionaires who arrive for games in reinforced SUVs, unlikely to live in Brooklyn or walk our streets, and who will remain beyond reach of the average fan or Brooklynite.

HOW LONG ARE THE PLAYERS WITH US?
DODGERS: players stayed in Brooklyn for a long time. The 1955 World Champion squad had 10 players who played their entire career with the Dodgers and two more legendary Dodgers who had cups of coffee elsewhere at the end of their careers (Duke Snider and Gil Hodges both spent 16 years wearing Dodger Blue). The '55 squad totalled 234 years of Dodger service, an average of 7.5 years per player. Many Dodger legends simply stayed put in as Dodgers for long stretches:
Carl Erskine, 12 years
Sandy Koufax, 12 years
Clem Labine, 11 years
Johnny Podres, 13 years
Roy Campanella, 10 years
Dixie Walker, 8 years
Junior Gilliam, 14 years
Gil Hodges, 16 years
Pee Wee Reese, 16 years
Jackie Robinson, 10 years
Sandy Amoros, 7 years
Carl Furillo, 15 years
George Shuba, 7 years
Duke Snider, 16 years

NETS:
Richard Jefferson, Jason Collins and Jason Kidd lead the Nets with 5 years of service, the first two having played their entire career here. (Nenad Kristic and Zoran Planinic, with 2 and 3 years service respectively, have also played their entire careers in New Jersey). This year's Nets team averages 2.2 years of service with the club.

The Dodger figures come from the era before free-agency. But remember baseball-stats analyst Bill James’ interesting conclusion that players actually changed teams more before free agency than after it. The changes in work rules aren't what matters. Rather, it's the fact that the Dodgers were part of the community and that year-in/year-out dependability connected with Brooklyn. That could never happen with the Nets

THE TICKET COST
DODGERS:
Box seats $3.00 and $2.50 ($20.00 and 17.25 in today's dollars)
reserved seats $2.00 ($13.75)
general admission $1.25 (8.50)
bleacher seats $.75 ($5.00)
NETS:
Lower level seating: $75.00-$1,000.00
Floor level seating: $100.00-$700.00
Suites: $75.00
upper level seating: $10.00-$70.00

Clearly, seeing the Nets costs way more than the simple rate of inflation. And that's out in the swamps of Jersey. Working class fans could afford Ebbets Field. That won't be the case if the Nets ever come to Brooklyn

HOMEGROWN VS. TRANSPLANTS
DODGERS: The Dodgers were a homegrown product, born in Brooklyn. That's another reason Brooklynites embraced the team from 1884 to 1957 -- 74 seasons.
NETS: Many Brooklynites would never be able to fully give themselves over to a basketball team that's bounced from Teaneck, NJ to Commack, Long Island, to Uniondale, Long Island, to East Rutherford, NJ. The Nets, should they ever come to Brooklyn, will never feel like a true "Brooklyn" product.

LOSING
DODGERS: From 1884 to 1957, the Dodgers won exactly one – ONE – world championship. They had some good years here and there, particularly in the ‘50s when they were a real powerhouse. It was their losing ways, however, that helped draw the borough together. Brooklynites were free to rag on the Dodgers, but if anyone else did, local fans circled the wagons and came to Da Bums’ defense.
NETS: Sports fans are cynical today. The stakes are too high, there’s too much money involved, and the very nature of sports comportment, where scowls have replaced smiles when a basket drops, a home-run is hit, a touchdown is scored, all mean that Brooklyn won’t be at all warm or fuzzy when the Nets embark on a losing streak -- which would happen frequently, given how depleted Ratner’s bank account would be if this project ever gets a shovel in the ground.

LOCAL BUSINESSES
DODGERS: In the 1950s, Ebbets Field featured local clothing outfitter (and Borough President) Abe Stark's legendary "Hit Sign Win Suit" sign on the outfield fence, and local brewery Schaefer was featured atop the Ebbets Field scoreboard. Other New York-based sponsors included Bulova, Gem Razor, Esquire Boot Polish and the local Happy Felton's Knot-Hill Gang show on WOR Channel 9.

NETS: Super-mega-national chain corporate entities sponsore the Nets. You can bet that Brett Yormark, Ratner’s NASCAR marketing hot-shot, will sign up a local company like Brooklyn Brewery to lend “authenticity” to the Brooklyn Nets experience. But it’s probable that the “official beer” at Ratner Corporate-Named Arena will be a mega-brewer like Budweiser, with Brooklyn Brewery relegated to a few sparse stands – as the Mets did with Rheingold Beer a few years ago at Shea Stadium.

DEMOGRAPHICS
DODGERS: All the people of Brooklyn
NETS: All the wealthy people of Manhattan and Brooklyn, with a few ex-pats from the suburbs and some local charity kids thrown in

IMMIGRANTS’ EMBRACE OF THE FRANCHISE
DODGERS: From the late 1800s to the mid-1950s, the immigrant experience in New York was a full-speed rush to assimilate into “American” culture. Baseball was no small part of that. For immigrants setting up shop in Brooklyn, that meant flocking to Ebbets Field…another reason the Dodgers were so interwoven in Brooklyn’s immense and gorgeous fabric.
NETS: in 2005, immigrants to the U.S. are far more comfortable sticking with their own culture than sucking up to America’s. Shows how far we’ve all come. It’s no longer necessary for newly arrived immigrants to watch sports the way Americans do. There are huge immigrant communities in Brooklyn for whom soccer and cricket are more important than basketball – or baseball – could ever be.

MUSIC
DODGERS: Gladys Gooding played the songs of the day on the organ, filling gaps but allowing people to talk. Fans learned more about the game by discussing it with their seat neighbors in the stands.
NETS: "Synergistic" cross-promotions involving ear-splitting rock, hip-hop and canned arena white noise will assault the senses and prevent fans from learning more about the game by discussing it with their seat neighbors in the stands.

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