Brooklyn was a brand, not a place where people lived some seven decades ago.
Watch the old movies on the Turner Movie Channel and you will be sure to see some 1940s era movie—before Jackie Robinson joined the Brooklyn Dodgers—have some comedic reference to Brooklyn or Brook-a-lyn with some guy who spoke true Brooklynese complete with the dems, doses and dese.
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.
The Dodgers franchise became good and went to the World Series a number of times after Robinson’s arrival in 1947 only to lose to the very corporate, pin-stripped New York Yankees of the Bronx who first had Joe DiMaggio and then Mickey 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 borough 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 on the 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 stage in 2012, at least as a brand, when Ratner finally opened the building and moved the National Basketball Association New Jersey Nets franchise to the arena.
Brooklyn is more than a name in the NBA standings. The borough 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 worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
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.
Wang’s Islanders recently played 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. However, one-time Major League Baseball and National Hockey League owner Dr. John McMullen once pointed out that a lease is just a piece of paper.
More than 10,000 tickets were 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 diehards 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.
The mom and pop fan base of Nassau County will be left behind. 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 to the arena that may have the best public transportation system available. Numerous New York City subway lines and the Long Island Railroad have stops at the building.
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, and the Islanders go to Brooklyn by 2015.
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,” he told me in an e-mail. “Brooklyn is not that easily accessible from most of New Jersey, so we lost a big chunk of our old fan base.”
East Rutherford and Newark, New Jersey are closer to Brooklyn than Uniondale, New York as the crow flies. But Brooklyn is two bridges away from 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.
The Islanders franchise has always, at least in the New York media minds, been seen as not from New York City and it reflected in newspaper coverage and radio play.
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, the United States Sports Academy’s 2010 Ronald Reagan Media Award winner, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He has written several e-books on sports, including, “The Business and Politics of Sports, Second Edition,” which is available at www.bickley.com and Amazon.com.