09.03.09

Just How Effed Are the New Jersey Nets?

Posted in Basketball, Greedy Motherfuckers at 10:28 pm by

Well, very. And in some surprising ways, if this very detailed, surprisingly well-sourced but fairly dry FAQ from Nets Daily is any indication.

On one level — the most obvious, which is the level on which I really shine — the Nets’ problems aren’t that surprising. They’re preparing to send an 18-win team onto the court in a honking, empty-but-noise-choked arena festooned with branding and logos on every flat and semi-curved surface; they’ve disrespected their fans in ways that few franchises could even conceive. And of course their ticket revenues fell by nearly a third between the ’07-08 and ’08-09 seasons, thanks in large part to what has to rank among the most assaultively unpleasant at-game experience in pro sports and a proudly and frankly half-assed approach to building a team. They’re a study in corporate charmlessness and also can’t shoot the basketball. There’s not much left to like.

But the depth and breadth of the problems limned in the Nets Daily piece is honestly stunning. Forbes reports that the team’s debt-to-value ratio is a staggering 71% — the highest in professional sports — and that the team is carrying $200 million in debt. There’s that, but it’s not just that. At some point, the delusion and incompetence of owner Bruce Ratner (above, left)  and his well-compensated crew — marketing tard-genius Brett Yormark, GM Rod Thorn, Director of Player Personnel Kiki Vandeweghe and coach Lawrence Frank combined to earn $12 million last year — becomes almost too much to take. Ratner is losing $35 million on a team he doesn’t give a shit about, and which he is struggling to fit into an arena that he has struggled mightily to get built. That all might be tagged as opportunity cost if his plans for how to turn the whole thing around weren’t so laughably far-fetched:

Ratner does not want to give up control of the Barclays Center in any sale or recapitalization. Instead he hopes the team™s new owners will be a tenant only in the new arena, pay him a large annual lease in addition to the substantial premium for the team. The insiders say new buyers are unlikely to pay the premium or the large lease, which is significantly greater than the $2.02 million the Nets now pay the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority for the IZOD Center.

œIn that scenario, said one team insider, œRatner sells the team, you get control of the team and the right to lose $20 – $35 million a year on the team. Key to the franchise success is the arena, not the team. He explained that whoever owns the arena will be able to book other events”concerts and family shows”on the 220+ dates the Nets didn™t play. œThat™s where the money is, he said.

Indeed, internal financials written in 2006 and released in 2008 suggest that the arena could yield a $20 million profit. In addition, the Nets would save money on not having to pay a lease. Conversely, adding a larger lease would put the new owners of the team at a greater disadvantage. With the arena, the Nets become one of the league™s most valuable teams, say team insiders.

And of course good fucking luck with that plan, Bruce!

I’d love to say that my disdain and sadness over this whole thing is divorced from my still-extant feelings for the team. I gave a lot of myself to them when I was a kid, in the way kids do, and was pleased — “moved” is really the better word, I was that overwrought over these guys when I was in my early teens — to see the franchise finally get things together several years ago. But while the bitterness born of that all being betrayed is obviously still a part of how I engage this whole thing, there’s another part of me — the more strident, abstracted part — that objects to this on another level, in the same way I do to those sneering shows on Bravo about ghoulish white-wine-fueled engines of bitchy overconsumption, or to Ed Hardy t-shirts or Glenn Beck’s crocodile tears or viral marketing. The whole thing just seems too coarse, tacky, stupid, and sad to believe; it depresses me. Even if I don’t care about the Nets (anymore), or care to consume their basketball-related product… at some point, this sort of botch-intensive mendacity and cynicism is objectionable on objective aesthetic and moral terms.

And also I hate what they’re doing to my team. There’s a part of me that still really hates that. That, too.

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