The most high-tech stadium in sports. That's the pitch line for Brooklyn's new Barclays Center, new home of the Brooklyn Nets. It took nine years and some 35 court battles to build the billion-dollar stadium, which is wrapped in a sci-fi grid of tarnished metal plates that vary in size to give the entire building an oddly organic feel — as though it grew out of Brooklyn's industrial past. The Nets won't play their first home game against the Knicks until November 1st, but the Center itself opened last Friday in a ribbon-cutting ceremony that featured New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Brooklyn borough president Marty Markowitz, and Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov. "Is Brooklyn in the house?" Bloomberg bellowed at the crowd to open his remarks. "I thought so."
And the stadium lives up to its high-tech billing, with free Wi-Fi that's designed to support a packed house full of smartphone-wielding fans, LTE and 3G service from the four major carriers and sponsor MetroPCS, and an app that lets fans order and pay for food from their seats without having to stand in concession lines. There's also 8,000 square feet of LED signage, including a three-story tall 1080p center-hung scoreboard and the highlight feature of the entire stadium: the Oculus, a 360-degree LED marquee that encircles the outer pavilion.
It's an enticing mix of high-tech and hyperlocal
SB Nation's Amy K. Nelson and I got to take a tour of the inner workings the stadium and its tech, all of which runs on a single Cisco network that features some 4,000 Ethernet jacks throughout the building. Tech director Chip Foley told us his primary concern was making sure people could make phone calls and get data service during events — a common irritation at other arenas. He also told us his goal was for the in-house Wi-Fi to be faster than the LTE networks, and confirmed that he's not planning on filtering or throttling it in any way. You'll even be able to use it outside.
No one's talking about the 40/40 Club
The high-tech infrastructure of the stadium is balanced out by the tight relationship with the neighborhood: unlike most mega-buildings, the Barclays Center sits right at street level with doors that lead directly into the main part of the arena, and pedestrians will be able to see the scoreboard as they're walking by. The restaurants inside the stadium are all Brooklyn establishments like Fatty 'Cue barbeque, Nathan's Famous Hot Dogs, and Brooklyn Cupcakes. And hidden away on the second level, there's an outpost of Jay-Z's 40/40 Club, which no one wanted to talk about — not even Nets center Brook Lopez. "I have to keep my job," he told us.
It's an enticing mix of high-tech and hyperlocal, highlighted by a remarkable sense of style for a contentious and deeply political construction project festooned in corporate sponsorship and named after a bank. Jay-Z will inaugurate the venue with a series of sold-out shows starting this week, followed by Barbra Streisand, Justin Bieber, and The Who in the months to come. It's going to be fun.
Now if only the Nets are any good.