Sean Saadeh: Booking Barclays

The Barclays Center in Brooklyn is less than 60 days away from its first concert. Talent buyer Sean Saadeh tells Pollstar about the expectations.

Saadeh, who spent nearly a decade at the San Diego Sports Arena and five years working for the Phoenix Coyotes, joined Brooklyn Sports & Entertainment last year. The 19,000-capacity venue will be the first enclosed facility space of its size in the history of the famous New York borough. There may have been some issues to contend with along the way, but the new home for the Brooklyn Nets is nearly completed, and programming is set through the end of the year.

Part-owner Jay-Z launches the live programming Sept. 28-30 and five dates in early October. Other acts include Barbra Streisand, Justin Bieber, Bob Dylan with Mark Knopfler, Neil Young & Crazy HorseRush and Andrea Bocelli. The arena has all the mod-cons, but some of the outstanding features include 275 open WiFi access points (read: the WiFi will actually work) and a neutral host Distributed Antenna System (DAS).

Right off the bat, anything you’d like to stress about the arena?

One thing I want to highlight is that the Barclays Center is a brand new arena in Brooklyn, which will bring a great volume and variety of unique events ranging from great concerts to world championship boxing to amateur boxing. We’ll also have amateur, college and professional basketball and fantastic family programming.

We also have a great relationship with the Brooklyn Academy of Music, which will bring two to three events a year, events that normally do not play arenas that we’re going to curate and bring to the Brooklyn and New York markets.t.

We feel like we’re in a great position to open the building right now in Brooklyn. It’s a great, exciting place. Obviously with the Nets coming over from New Jersey, there’s a lot of excitement surrounding it. They’re our main tenant but my job is to fill the rest of the dates. We’re going to really shine in Brooklyn and provide something for everybody in this diverse borough.

Can you address some of the features of the building?

The building is on a small footprint in the middle of downtown Brooklyn. It’s got great mass transit with nine subway lines right at the foot of the building. We have the Long Island railroad that also enters underneath the building. And there are two additional subway stops about a block away. So, to get to the Barclays Center from anywhere in New York City and beyond is very accessible.

It’s a very intimate building. When I walk the arena, I feel like there’s not a bad seat in the house. Everything’s right on top of the stage and the basketball court area.. It’s going to be a great place to see college basketball, boxing, concerts, you name it. There’s going to be a great vibe.

It may not be your area of expertise, but there has been press about local restaurants being encouraged to become concessionaires.

We’re going to have a great variety of food offerings from the borough. Brooklyn is known for its culinary excellence, whether it’s great Italian food or great ethnic food and we want to bring it into the Barclays Center, so it’s not just the standard arena fare.

We really feel the experience at the Barclays Center will set us apart in the New York area, not only from the variety of programming but the great customer service we will provide.

Obviously, because it’s a new building, it’s state of the art. It has all the bells and whistles. There will be a great fan experience. We’re taking that really seriously. We’ve just started our Disney training. [Barclays recruited Disney for help with guest services.] The Disney Institute has come in and started training upper management who will in turn train our part-time staff that comes through in the next couple months when we hire them.

Any concern about competition between arenas?

Well, there will be five major arenas within the New York area and everybody needs programming. But we’re really concerned about Brooklyn. We’re concerned about our facility and our offerings. I think we can all coexist.

There’s enough programming in New York City where everybody is going to get a bite of the Apple, so to speak, and everybody’s going to thrive. We happen to have a brand-new facility in a fantastic borough. I’m very excited to say a lot of great music is coming out of the borough right now, so we’re going to take full advantage of helping to develop artists and help them through to the arena level.

I think we have a great theatre (setup) called the Cushman & Wakefield Theatre. We’ve invested in proscenium curtains that would allow for an intimate theatre feel. At 4,000 to 6,000 seats there’s no theatre of that size in Brooklyn currently, so we feel like there’s an opportunity there and we want to use it to build artists to the arena level.

Also, Brooklyn has more than 2.6 million people. It’s the fourth largest city in the U.S. outside of New York City.

It is the first arena in Brooklyn. Obviously, the Dodgers were here and they had their field back in the day, but there hasn’t been professional sports in Brooklyn until now.

So what’s the word on the streets these days?

It depends on which streets you’re talking about! Obviously the borough is very excited about this, and they’re voting yes to the Nets. They went from 24th in NBA merchandise to seventh.

As far as the other programming that I’m booking, the people are extremely excited because there is so much to offer. Like I said, even early on, there’s something for everybody. We have Barbra Streisand to Jay-Z to great gospel music with the King’s Men. We have an electronica show called Sensation coming through. Obviously Rush and Journey and The Who. Justin Bieber will be for the younger demographic. So we’ve got a great variety in there. We’re going to be very focused on some of the ethnic programming moving forward – Latin, Caribbean. Again, our borough is very diverse. We want to have something for everybody. I always say that, but it’s true.

Anything else?

We’ve gotten a great response and we’ve booked a lot of shows. We appreciate everybody’s faith in us. All the agents out there, our programming partners – which include Live Nation, AEG and Bowery Presents – I’d love to give a shout out to those guys for supporting us. We appreciate all the programming they’re bringing in.