For Madison Square Garden and Barclays Center, a Rising Tide Raises All Ships

As professional sports venues in the busiest media capital in the world, Madison Square Garden and Barclays Center might seem like competitors: both look to attract the attention — and spending power — of the city’s 8 million residents with NBA and NHL games, concerts, and more. Add in massive events happening just steps from their gates — the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, Fourth of July Fireworks — and the potential for competition seems even greater.

Moderated by Fox 5’s Steve Lucy (far left), a panel comprising (from left on couch) Macy’s Amy Kule, Madison Square Garden’s Ron Skotarczak, and Brooklyn Sports & Entertainment’s Fred Mangione discussed putting on a live show at NAB Show New York.

Moderated by Fox 5’s Steve Lucy (far left), a panel comprising (from left on couch) Macy’s Amy Kule, Madison Square Garden’s Ron Skotarczak, and Brooklyn Sports & Entertainment’s Fred Mangione discussed putting on a live show.

But, according to Ron Skotarczak, EVP, marketing partnerships, The Madison Square Garden Co., that’s not the case. “I think, to the general public, when they think about our teams, our venues, they think we’re competitors,” he said during last week’s NAB Show New York. “Frankly, we lift each other, and the market is so big that, if anything, it’s just creating more activity for events than necessarily taking away from each other.

“The other thing is,” he continued, “we’re partners to some extent as it relates to the teams that we both have the privilege of working for. The NBA and the NHL do great jobs of creating opportunities for us to learn from each other.”

Attracting fans through the turnstiles is only the beginning. Once they’re in the building, venue operators and teams must find new ways to entertain and engage with fans to keep them coming back. And an arena like Barclays Center, built just four years ago, must continually refresh its technology and fan-engagement strategies.

“The consumer is just so savvy with what they want to do, and, as marketers, it’s up to us to give them what they’re looking for,” said Fred Mangione, COO, Brooklyn Sports and Entertainment. “The days of taking out ads in newspapers and sending out blanket e-mails has gone away, and you really want to dial into analytics of what the consumer is looking at.

“We’ve been in the building now four years,” he continued, and already the arena business has changed. We remember going to every building in the country saying, How are we going to be the best at what we do? … Now there’s a new building in Sacramento, and there’s other buildings coming up, where we’re now going back around saying, Hey, what’s the best new way to [engage with fans?] With the technology of today, everyone wants to consume the experience differently.”

Both MSG and Barclays stressed the need to focus on what they can control — the fan experience — rather than what they cannot: the product on the court or ice. And, although Macy’s Parade and Entertainment Group VP Amy Kule can map the route, perfect the script, and ensure that the balloons and floats conform to the department-store giant’s strict standards, she must contend with an additional element beyond her control: the weather.

“It’s outside, it’s public, there’s not a whole lot I can do,” she pointed out. “We have to be aware of elements we’re facing and be prepared for anything. It’s our 90th parade, and we’ve marched down the streets of New York in every kind of weather that you can imagine. And, on some days, it’s been five different types of weather in those three hours.”

However, even if it pours on the Fourth of July and snows on Thanksgiving Day or if the Knicks and Nets are at the bottom of the league, the three panelists agreed that the most important aspect of their jobs is ensuring that the fan has a positive, memorable experience and that the fan experience shapes every decision.

“We care deeply, first and foremost, about our fans, and so everything that we think about is in the context of, Will this be better for the fan?” said Skotarczak. “It could be a concert at one of our venues, it could be a Knicks game, a Rangers game, but it’s all about the fans. When we think about our marketing partners, the first thing we think about is what they can bring to the relationship.”

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