When Barbra Streisand booked her inaugural gig at Barclays Center in 2012, the arena’s staff needed the right gift to welcome her back to her native Brooklyn. Dogged research revealed that she had treasured a childhood rocking chair, which staffers were able to track down, purchase and restore. Streisand, who found the chair in her dressing room, sent Brett Yormark, CEO of venue operator Brooklyn Sports & Entertainment, a note of gratitude, which now hangs framed on his wall. She has yet to play a different New York venue since.
Barclays Center, which opened in 2012, is counting on that kind of loyalty from artists to help it compete with top-level arenas worldwide. Ultra-personalized gifts, like a sculptural birthday cake for JAY-Z that celebrated the release of his album 4:44, his Brooklyn youth and his character from the track “The Story of O.J.,” have become tools for Yormark and his team to initiate long-running artist relationships. “We try to do things that are somewhat sentimental, that get them to really think about us differently than other venues,” says Yormark. “It’s our way of saying thank you to artists and letting them know we really do care. It’s a big differentiator.”
An estimated 85 percent of vendors used for gifts are based in Brooklyn, and all are overseen by Barclays manager of artist experience and events Alanna Scrivano, who painstakingly studies artists and liaises with their management for every creation. “I stalk them and try to find something that sticks out,” she says. Her all-time favorite gifts were Muppets modeled after each member of Green Day, custom-made for the group’s March 2017 show. “I knew they were wearing masks of their own faces [on tour], and they’ve always been a really fun band, so I thought doing Muppets of them would be amazing,” she says. The puppets, which were created by a vendor Scrivano found through Etsy, were a huge hit with the bandmembers and have frequently starred in their Instagram videos.
When Bruce Springsteen discovered his personalized gift — a book of memories and anecdotes sourced from fans attending the Brooklyn stop of his The River Tour — he was so eager to read it he was late for sound check. When Blake Shelton got his Kreweser motorized beer cooler, he stayed at the arena until 2 a.m. zipping around on it. And when Streisand returned to Barclays in 2016, her Coton de Tulear, the late Samantha, received a custom doghouse modeled after a Brooklyn townhouse bearing Streisand’s lucky number as the address. “The dog went right inside,” recalls Scrivano. “That’s how you know you did a good job. [Streisand] is a notoriously private person, and trying to find something meaningful for her was a challenge — constantly trying to top myself isn’t an easy task.”