Oct 12, 2011
BY SUSAN VARGHESE
Standard Associate Editor
Although, John Sparks only moved here from San Antonio, Texas in May, he already considers Hewlett home. The move happened after he was appointed as the new Senior Vice President, General Manager of the Barclays Center in Downtown Brooklyn. The Barclays Center is the upcoming sports and entertainment venue that will be the home of the Nets beginning for the 2012-13 NBA season.
Born and raised in California, Sparks joined the military soon after high school. He enlisted as a proportion engineer for 20 years and retired in 1997 as a Master Chief Petty Officer.
“I don’t miss being in a war zone. I was part of Desert Shield and Desert Storm. We were involved with the Libyan operation,” Sparks said. “ I still work 14 to 16 hours a day now, but I know I can go home to my wife. The sacrifice that military men make being away from their family is huge. It’s a gratitude we all owe them because they sacrifice so much… I have over 35 years of life experience and that may have rewarded me more than the education could.”
Sparks spent nine years with Spurs Sports & Entertainment, which included his serving as Vice President and General Manager of San Antonio’s AT&T Center since November 2004. Before joining Spurs Sports & Entertainment, John was Director of Operations for the Philips Arena during which he helped to open the Atlanta sports and entertainment venue.
The biggest challenge coming to the New York Area is the size of the market and the number of people, Sparks said. “We’re going to have a huge arena, it’s going to be 18,000 people and we’re going to house the Nets there. They’ll be the Brooklyn Nets in 2012. We’ll do 225 events in the first year. I’m taking on the same role as I had in San Antonio, but I’m doing it in the largest stage in the country. “
Sparks has been working in venues and arenas for years, but he noted that a particular moment at every event still hasn’t lost its magic. “The most memorable moment in any arena is when they play the national anthem… it runs a chill up your spine. It’s one thing you don’t forget,” Sparks said. “When you see over 18,000 people sing the anthem at every event. The second most memorable was game seven of the NBA finals with 19,000 people and the Spurs won by five points.”
Surrounded by big name players and performers, Sparks said that protecting them and focusing on the job at hand is most important, “I’ve gotten to know a lot of people over the years. Some players are very approachable, and some players are not. They all become very trustworthy of your confidence and that you’ll take care of them…they have a big job and they’re entrusting that you’ll take care of the rest.”
However, Sparks advised that there’s more to the job then the glamorous side.
“I love to have internships and bring kids on board to see what it’s all about. I’m very straightforward. I work to help them understand the realistic picture versus the glamorous side…I work nights, weekends, holidays, and if you don’t like doing that, it’s not the industry for you. You never do a rock show on a Tuesday afternoon. I can come in at 7:00 a.m. and won’t leave until 2:00 p.m.”
Transitioning into New York life hasn’t been too hard, Sparks noted. “A lot of people are asking why we went from Texas to New York — we’re at a different stage of our lives and we wanted to experience more. And it’s really hot in Texas,” Sparks said laughing.
Sparks moved here with his wife of 30 years, Gail, and his four kids. “We needed to have a home that was in neighborhood that was relatively quiet. My kids are older and out working. It wasn’t about the school system for me. It was about a safe neighborhood that was nice for my family and I.”
The area is a prime location, Sparks noted. “Hewlett is close enough to the hustle and bustle of the city, but far enough way. My kids can go on the train to go to Central Park or to watch a concert,” Sparks said. “Having the resources and availability at our fingertips was really important. You just don’t have that in San Antonio.”
Sparks’ wife, Gail, is enjoying the area. “I’m excited to be back on the East Coast. I spent part of my childhood in Connecticut and Massachusetts, and I have wonderful memories. It’s very exciting for our family to be able to watch John’s continued success in this field after all the hard work he did serving his country,” Gail said. “Long Island is just far away enough from the city to be quiet but still close enough to be in the middle of everything.”
The Barclays Center is set to open in September 2012. Their fall line-up includes everything from Jay-Z in concert, college basketball, family shows, boxing, and others events.
On his spare time, Sparks enjoys discovering, eating, and cooking new food. “My wife and I are big foodies. I cook all the time; you’re likely to see us at the oyster festival or the garlic festival or at some eclectic restaurant. If I hear about if, I either want to cook or it I want to eat it,” Sparks joked.
The most important thing, Sparks said, is being content in your profession. “At the end of the day, what drives me to do what I do is the passion. You got to love what you’re doing.”
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