Irina Pavlova Rumors
Everything was new. Not only did Pavlova have to try to master the sports business, the entertainment business, the real estate business — and to figure out how to translate the Russian side to the Americans and the American side to the Russians — she also had to navigate the strange, insular, sui generis world of the NBA. She had to learn merchandising rules, TV rights, the tense dynamics between small-market teams and big ones. At one of her first Board of Governors meetings, the subject was revenue sharing, which surprised her. “The first postulate of Communism is, ‘From everyone according to their abilities and to everyone according to their needs.’ I grew up with this,” she told the room full of powerful and wealthy men. She laughs at the memory. “I remember David Stern saying, like, ‘Really? How is it working?’” She shook her head. “You think you’re in this birthplace of capitalism, and you end up being the biggest capitalist in the room.”
As for herself, she likes being down on the court. For most home games, she’ll sit right by the scorer’s table, where she can hear the yelling on the court, can feel the vibrations of the floor. She likes the fluidity, the physicality, the incredible energy, the competitiveness; she calls herself one of the Nets’ biggest fans. She bounces and groans and screams until she’s hoarse; she says Brookie Brookie Brookie under her breath when Brook Lopez has the ball in the post; she worries over KG’s moods. For Halloween, three days earlier, she dressed up as a Brooklynette.
Pavlova calls herself a fatalist, only half-joking or maybe not at all. The probable outcome is improbability; change is what she knows. “Whenever I interviewed for jobs,” she tells me, “they asked me, how do I deal with change? I was like, ‘Are you kidding me? Look where I am from!’” Pavlova was actually born in New York. Her father worked as a Soviet translator at the United Nations, only a mile or so from where she lives now. She moved to Moscow when she was still a baby. Then, when Pavlova was 10, after a brief stint in Geneva, her family came to the suburbs of Washington, D.C., where her father was a diplomat at the Soviet embassy. It was the early ’80s, the height of the Cold War. She had glimpses of American life from trips to the pool or television, which taught her perfectly idiomatic English. She was, she says, a little like the woman in the movie Splash, the mermaid who becomes human and learns English from watching television. “She just speaks commercials. I was kind of like that. I spoke commercials.”
Irina Pavlova, the President of Onexim and a buffer between Prokhorov and the Nets’ front office, spoke out this week — issuing a statement that said, “Bad-mouthing our former franchise player and Head Coach does not help the current team one iota.” But even as he has forged a Hall of Fame résumé Kidd also has left a path of destruction in his wake, teams angry, coaches’ careers in tatters. He moves on, but as friends?
In an interview with Sports Business Journal, Irina Pavlova talks about a lot of her key duties as president of ONEXIM Sports and Entertainment, but highlights one she has long seen as among her most important. “I think of myself as the biggest fan. So I try to pay attention to what other fans are doing and how they perceive our game-day experience. “One thing I’m always focused on is the music and if people are dancing in the stands or if they’re just sitting there texting, then I know we’re not doing something right ’cause I want everyone up there having a good time.”
Pavlova spoke as well as her boss’ management style, which she admits is unlike the typical American CEO. “[Mikhail Prokhorov] hires people … and has them do their jobs. There’s no daily phone calls, no weekly reporting. If I need his advice or input on something, I know where to reach him and he always calls back and makes time for a meeting. And … if he has an opinion on something, he definitely lets me know.”
On new NBA Commissioner Adam Silver: “David Stern was commissioner for 30 years and there was a certain way of doing business and certain entrenched relationships that went along with that. I think Adam brought a freshness to the league. It’s a lot more engaging for the owners, and I think they’re a lot more open for discussion.”
A source close to the situation confirmed that Kidd had met Friday with the Bucks in New York after the Nets granted permission. This after he went to a press conference the day before at which he thanked Nets ownership and said he was “honored” to coach a team with the “best facilities in the world.” Irina Pavlova, the president of Mikhail Prokhorov’s Onexim Sports, said she was excited about the job Kidd did last season and was happy to provide him a “worthy” practice facility in Brooklyn, one that will cost about $50 million.
The Nets will soon unveil their plans for a practice facility in Brooklyn’s Industry City, a $45 million rehab of the top two floors of a 100-year-old industrial warehouse, complete with spectacular views of Lower Manhattan. Irina Pavlova, president of ONEXIM Sports and Mikhail Prokhorov’s representative in New York, heads up the project, working with David Carlock, a member of the Barclays Center board of directors and an arena consultant.
In his big speech, Stern stumbled, calling Prokhorov’s team “the New York Nets.” Oops, but it wasn’t as big a mistake as Prokhorov made by pulling a no-show. “I don’t know where he is,” said Irina Pavlova, Prokhorov’s right-hand woman. “There are ways to check to see if he is on his plane or on his yacht, and some people do that. Maybe you should try to find him that way.”
Toko Shengelia and his wife, Salome Jugeli, are enjoying their first day of marriage Monday. The two were married Sunday in Mshteka, just north of the Georgian capital of Tbilisi in the foothills of the Caucuses Mountains. Irina Pavlova, president of ONEXIM Sports and Entertainment, represented the Nets at the wedding, which took place in the 900-year-old Svetitskhoveli Cathedral, mother church of the Georgian Orthodox Church. Both wore traditional Georgian dress. “it was incredible and very very touching!” said Pavlova, who provided photographs to NetsDaily. “I’m so glad I went!! They are totally adorable together, crazy in love.”
Brett Yormark told ITAR-TASS, the Russian news agency, that the Nets’ acquisition of Andrei Kirilenko will help him market the team both in Russia and the Russian-speaking neighborhoods of New York. Russia, along with China, are the Nets top marketing targets overseas, he added. Yormark, in Moscow with Kirilenko and Irina Pavlova, said that the Nets are working with Adidas to get Kirilenko jerseys on the shelves in Russia as soon as possible and pointed to plans to use AK-47 in selling the team in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, home of 100,000 Russian speakers. “We have a desire to [market] a large number of products in Russian and geared towards Andrei Kirilenko. I think that soon the Russian fans will able to fulfill this dream,” said the Nets CEO when asked about Kirilenko jerseys.
The Nets had a harder time selling the team in Russia than you would think, despite having the first Russian and European owner. The lament was always if you only had a Russian player. Now, the Nets have not only any Russian player, but Andrei Kirilenko, they are trying again. Kirilenko, Irina Pavlova and Brett Yormark will head overseas next week and make the rounds of media and sports “influencers” not so much to sell sponsorships, but to re-introduce the team now that it has one of Russia’s greatest player son its roster.
Literary devices aside, Simmons takes his shot at the Nets by highlighting the bargain basement acquisition of Andrei Kirilenko and suggesting alternative rationales for the Russian star to give up $10 million from the Timberwolves for $3 million from the Nets … and Mikhail Prokhorov. “The scariest moment of the offseason: Andrei Kirilenko opting out of $10.2 million guaranteed for one more Minnesota season so he could sign with Brooklyn for $6.2 million over two years. Some NBA peeps are convinced that AK47 either (a) got paid under the table by Russian comrade Mikhail Prokhorov, (b) got charmed by the overwhelmingly charming Irina Pavlova into signing a bad deal, (c) secretly hired the agent Monta Ellis fired, or (d) made the decision while being dangled upside down from a Moscow helicopter at 10,000 feet.” Simmons later concludes after considering all the possibilities, “I think they dangled him upside down from a helicopter.”
But what about his thing with Irina. As any long time reader of NetsDaily knows, she has been very helpful to Nets fans and once posted comments on this very site. So we asked for her reaction. Here it is…as always, she is gracious, certainly more gracious than we would be. “Very nice of him… Obviously (b) is the only reasonable answer and therefore must be correct,” the president of ONEXIM Sports and Entertainment emailed us. “I’m gonna a have a hard time arguing with Bill over anything after this.. :-)”
Asked if she believes in Prokhorov’s vision of a championship by 2015, she responded, “Yes, I believe. I am obliged to do it by position, but as a fan I too believe,” she told reporter Guzel Gubeydullina. “Mikhail made a promise in 2010, so we have two more years. This year we go to the playoffs, so I think it’s all real. Here, of course, a lot of components – health, injury, an element of luck. But this goal is achievable.”
Pavlova declined comment when asked if Prokhorov might be interested in buying the remainder of the team –he owns 80 percent of the team as well as 45 percent of the arena operating company. “This question should be addressed to Mikhail Dmitrievich, but I do not see much point in it. Mr. Prokhorov is the principal owner of the team, and he controls it.”
In an extensive interview with a Russian business magazine, Irina Pavlova says that while the Nets aren’t making money (yet), the value of the team is now between $700 and $800 million, up from the $220 million Mikhail Prokhorov laid out in 2010. “When we bought the team, player salaries were much lower,” Pavlova told Finparty. “We know that it is virtually impossible for the team to earn (a profit) annually. This can be done only by selling it. Since our move to Brooklyn, the Brooklyn Nets value has increased by 2.5 to 3 times. The (original) deal was estimated at $220 million, now it is worth $ 700-800 million. Forbes recently estimated us at $ 530 million, but it’s has since been announced that the Sacramento Kings could be sold at a price above $ 500 million.”
The Nets will be represented up front on stage by Irina Pavlova, the president of owner Mikhail Prokhorov’s Onexim Sports and Entertainment USA. Milton Lee, the Nets GM for Minor League Operations, will be in the back room. GM Billy King should be sitting in the audience, ready to cuss out the whole process if the Nets land out of the top three.
Prokhorov, who hasn’t attended a Nets game in almost a year, downplayed any change in his ownership duties as status quo. After holding his famous Carmelo Anthony press conference during a three-game homestretch in January of last year, Prokhorov has not made an appearance at the Rock — apologizing in a statement for not coming to the home opener last month. “Even now I’m more on the strategy side than the day-to-day routine and I never interfere in my manager’s job,” he told Reuters. In addition to GM Billy King and Avery Johnson, Prokhorov has two business associates — Irina Pavlova and Christophe Charlier —overseeing the Nets’ day-to-day operation.
Both women insist that construction and ticket sales are on schedule for the 2012-2013 season. Half of the 100 suites have been sold, and Pavlova says the Nets are steadily gaining Brooklynites while holding on to much of the core New Jersey base. The steel frame is 92% erected, the weathered-steel façade panels are going up, risers are in place and a new transit entrance for nine subway lines and the Long Island Rail Road is underway. The roof will be finished in the first quarter of 2012, allowing the interior work to begin. “When you announce the first concert,” says Gilmartin, “you had better be prepared to open.” Beyond basketball, the venue will host 200 events annually, kicking off with a Jay-Z concert on Sept. 28. “He’s the best spokesperson that you can have,” Pavlova says of Jay-Z, a minority Nets stakeholder who this year announced the team’s name change. “He is a Brooklyn icon. Having him on board has been a huge positive.”
Spearheading the excitement over the 18,000-seat arena, Pavlova, 41, gets a live video feed of construction on her desktop and gushes that she cheers so hard at Nets’ home games she loses her voice. The Russian-American has dual citizenship, speaks five languages (with varying levels of fluency) and has worked all over the world. She started her career at Prudential in New York, and in 2005 launched the Moscow office of Google. In 2010, the chief executive of Onexim, Prokhorov’s company, told Pavlova over a casual dinner about a little deal with an American team, and asked if she’d be interested in “keeping an eye on things” in the States. “I don’t know a thing about basketball,” she said, but soon agreed. And she learned quick. “It took me a few months to get my hands around the business and get comfortable with how things work,” Pavlova says with a subtle accent. “I’ve learned it’s tickets, sponsorships and suite sales. It’s not rocket science.”
If real estate mogul Bruce Ratner and Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov are the faces of the New York-bound basketball franchise, Gilmartin and Irina Pavlova are the feet on the ground, clearing the way. As EVP of Forest City Ratner Companies, Gilmartin manages development of the near $1 billion arena, which anchors the larger $4.9 billion, 22-acre Atlantic Yards project in the heart of Brooklyn. Pavlova represents the interests of Prokhorov, the minority owner of the arena and majority owner of the Nets, its major tenant. Together, they are changing the landscape of the borough and female power players in the business of sports.
Irina Pavlova, president of Onexim Sports, and described in the Nets’ media guide as the conduit between the team’s management and ownership, is on the trip and chatted with coach Avery Johnson after shootaround. The pair’s talk was unrelated to the Anthony trade, the Nets say.