Brooklyn is Back as a Brand


Watch the old movies on the Turner Movie Channel and you will sure to see some 1940s era movie—before Jackie Robinson joined the Brooklyn Dodgers—have some comedic reference to Brooklyn or Brook-a-lyn complete with some guy who spoke true Brooklynese complete with the dems, doses and dese (thems, those and these for those who needed a Brooklynese to English dictionary and pronunciation guide), The caricature of a Brooklyn tough guy with an attitude can also be found in the old movies and in old radio shows. The pre-Robinson Dodgers also went by another nickname. “Dem Bums”. Sports cartoonist Willard Mullin, who was working for one of the New York papers, drew a character and named it the Brooklyn Bum which added to the allure of the Dodgers, a franchise that never won too many games, and the boro of Brooklyn.

Brooklyn was a brand, not a place where people lived some seven decades ago.

The Dodgers franchise became good and went to the World Series a number of times after Robinson’s arrival only to lose to the very corporate, pin stripped (the Bronx’s) New York Yankees of first DiMaggio and then Mantle. The cry of “Wait Until Next Year” became the Dodgers fan’s mantra. Next year finally came in 1955 when Brooklyn finally won a World Series.

But in 1955, Brooklyn was headed to a crash although the boro residents didn’t know it at the time. Dem Bums’ owner Walter O’Malley watched as Lou Perini moved his Braves from Boston to Milwaukee in 1953 and got a sweetheart deal from Milwaukee elected officials which allowed him to use the municipally built County Stadium for a minimal amount of rent and allowed Perini to keep all the concession money.  O’Malley felt financially threatened by the Boston to Milwaukee move and lease deal and wanted his own stadium in Brooklyn.

He never got a Brooklyn stadium and left for Los Angeles in September 1957. When O’Malley left, Brooklyn was the second highest revenue grossing team in Major League Baseball. Only the New York Yankees made more money.
O’Malley, it was said by old timers, killed the spirit of Brooklyn. It would be Donald Trump’s father Fred who would destroy another Brooklyn institution—the steeplechase at Coney Island. Fred Trump literally did a hatchet job on the steeplechase in 1966. With all the classlessness and crassness of a man with no soul and an idea that might have shaped his son Donald’s life, Trump hired models who wore bikinis, handed out hot dogs and invited people to a “funeral” to bury the steeplechase which included throwing rocks through the attraction’s glass windows. Fred Trump then went ahead with a plan to build luxury housing on the property.

Fred Trump failed to get the proper zoning changes and abandoned his plans but the funeral really did go a long way in killing off Brooklyn’s image.

The only thing left was the Brooklyn Bridge although in 1972, the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest Fourth of July in Coney Island did start. But in the early days of the competition, the annual feast of hot dog gluttony was largely ignored.

Brooklyn was no longer in television scripts or movies when Bruce Ratner decided that he could make money by erecting a new arena in the borough in 2003. It took a long time but Brooklyn was back on the stage in 2012, at least as a brand, when Ratner finally opened the building and moved his National Basketball Association’s New Jersey Nets franchise to the arena.

Brooklyn is more than a name in the NBA standings. The boro has been rebranded although it’s not Dem Bums and the steeplechase at Coney Island that defines the borough anymore. The word “hipsters” was invented and Brooklyn became a cool place where young people who could not afford Manhattan rents went to live. The arena was a help although there was a staggering cost to New York City and New York State residents in tax breaks and tax incentives in the hundreds of millions of dollars area.

The New York Islanders suburban New York City National Hockey League franchise will be setting up shop in Brooklyn sometime within the next two years. The Islanders franchise owner Charles Wang never got a new building in Nassau County and has signed a 25-year-deal for his team to play in Brooklyn. On Saturday, Wang’s Islanders will play the New Jersey Devils in the first ever NHL pre-season game in Brooklyn. Wang’s lease with Nassau County runs through 2015 and he is committed to ride out the lease although as one time Major League Baseball and National Hockey League owner. The late Dr. John McMullen once pointed out; a lease is just a piece of paper.

More than 10,000 tickets have been sold for the game, which is pretty good for a pre-season game for a team that at present has no Brooklyn corporate and fan base. It will be interesting to see how many Islanders die hards take the rails to see their team. Wang has turned over the franchise’s marketing department to the Brooklyn Nets management and the team will be playing in a building that has become America’s top revenue producing arena.

Brooklyn is hot.

Nassau County will say goodbye forever to the National Hockey League by 2015. Nassau County can never compete with Brooklyn for the sports corporate dollar. It is a pipe dream for those Islanders fans who have websites devoted to the team that somehow in five or six years, the team will move back to a refurbished arena in Uniondale that is being renovated by the man who got Wang to move the Islanders to Brooklyn—Bruce Ratner.

Here is what is going to happen with Wang’s Islanders. The mom and pop fan base of Nassau County will be left behind and a corporate crowd will buy high priced tickets for club seats and luxury boxes. Wall Street is just a few subway stations away from Brooklyn. The present Islanders fan base can drive to games in the suburbs. The new Islanders fan base will take mass transit as the arena may have the best public transportation system available anyway as numerous New York City subway lines and the Long Island Railroad have stops at the building.

The old Islanders fan base can get to the games by rail. Whether or not that happens remains to be seen. But the days of Long Island having a major league team are gone. Long Island has seen the Nets leave (1977); the National Football League’s New York Jets move the team’s training facility from Hofstra University, which was literally across the street from the Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, to Florham Park, New Jersey and the Islanders by 2015.

What will the new fan base look like? If recent history is any indication, the old Islanders fans are going to watch their team on TV and not make the trek on the train to Brooklyn.

Irina Pavlova, the President of Onexim Sports and Entertainment, Mikhail Prokhorov’s company that owns the Brooklyn Nets and 45 percent of the Brooklyn building, explained in January how the Nets had to build a new fan base.

“We got a totally new brand identity,” told me in an e-mail. “Brooklyn is not that easily accessible she from most of New Jersey, so we lost a big chunk of our old fan base.”

East Rutherford, New Jersey and Newark, New Jersey are closer to Brooklyn than Uniondale, New York as the crow flies. But Brooklyn is two bridges away for New Jersey residents. Uniondale is a 45 minute train ride away which is a plus for the Brooklyn marketers who have to build a corporate and regular fan base for the Islanders franchise. That will make the Nets/Islanders marketers jobs a bit trickier. The Nets fan base didn’t make the move from New Jersey to Brooklyn but the Islanders have a fan base that woke up last spring when the team made a playoff run and the Nassau Coliseum was packed.

How to bring in new fans and keep the old fans happy is a bit more complicated than it seems as the old fans love their old barn even though the old barn in Uniondale and Nassau County cannot compete with new arenas and Nassau County along with Suffolk doesn’t have the well-heeled potential customers that Brooklyn and lower Manhattan does.

On September 21, the NHL will join the NBA in Brooklyn, at least for one night in 2013. It will be the beginning of the end for the NHL in Nassau County and the start of a new beginning for a franchise that was little more than a real estate holding since 1972 fueled by a huge cable TV contract in Nassau. The Islanders franchise has always, at least in the New York media minds, an outside franchise, an anomaly, not really a New York City area franchise (there was lopsided media coverage of the Jets–a team which practiced across the street from the Islanders and the NHL team which was not from New York City and it reflected in newspaper coverage and radio play) but a team that was somehow placed in the New York City area market. That will change because Brooklyn is a hot brand and the arena is thriving.

The old punch lines, the deses, dems and does, the Brook-a-lyn wise guy, Dem Bums and the Steeplechase are all gone. The new Brooklyn is Nathan’s annual Fourth of July hot dog eating contest, the arena, the hipsters, the Nets and within two years, the Islanders.

Brooklyn has been rebranded.

Evan Weiner can be reached at [email protected]. His e-book, “The Business and Politics of Sports, Second Edition” is available at and his e-books, America’s Passion: How a Coal Miner’s Game Became the NFL in the 20th Century, (,  From Peach Baskets to Dance Halls and the Not-so-Stern NBA (  and the reissue of the 2005 book, The Business and Politics of Sports ( are available