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In Totally Awesome Interview, Knicks Owner James Dolan Dares NY to ‘Take Away My Liquor License’

1:04 PM EST on January 26, 2023

A photo illustration of James Dolan talking on FOX5 with annotations reading "Business acumen here" pointing to his head, and "cool casual" pointing to his NY Rangers scarf.

(screenshot/illustration)

In recent months, James Lawrence Dolan, New York City's most accomplished sports team owner, has used facial recognition technology to ban certain people from entering the venues he owns, including Madison Square Garden and Radio City Music Hall. Specifically: He is using the technology to kick out lawyers who work for large firms that happen to be suing him.

This is a controversial tactic. One Delaware judge called it "the stupidest thing I've ever read" and "totally crazy." A New York judge has ruled that it's illegal. New York Attorney General Letitia James has demanded that MSG show their legal justification for the bans, and the State Liquor Authority has threatened to pull MSG's liquor license if they keep barring members of the public in this way.

In a truly remarkable 17-minute interview with FOX5's Rosanna Scotto that aired Thursday morning, Dolan expounded on why he will continue to use state-of-the-art facial recognition technology to ban thousands of lawyers who work for some 90-odd law firms from seeing performances in the constellation of venues he owns across the country—but also on his feelings about Ticketmaster and The Bill of Rights to the U.S. Constitution.

The entire interview is worth your time, and should be mandatory viewing for business school students or anyone who wants to learn about what it's like to run a successful business that you inherited from your father.

Here are some of the most compelling moments.

From the beginning, Dolan correctly dispelled any concerns that "facial recognition technology" is a bad thing. 

DOLAN: Well look, facial recognition, right. It's just the technology. Right? I mean, when I walked into the studio, right, did you recognize my face? 

SCOTTO: I did. 

DOLAN: Facial recognition.

If we are all doing this in our brains already, it can't be wrong for a machine to do it. That's logic! And as for the bans themselves, well…

DOLAN: But look at it this way, right? If you own a bakery, or a restaurant, right, and you know, someone comes in and buys bread from you, and then the next day, they serve you with a lawsuit because they hated your bread. Right, they said something happened to them with it, et cetera. Then the next day they show up at your bakery again, they say, "I'd like to buy some more bread," right? Would you sell them the bread?

SCOTTO: I don't know if I would sell it. But listen, you're getting a lot of heat from everybody—

DOLAN: I mean, if your next-door neighbor sues you, if somebody sues you, right, that's confrontational, it's adversarial and you know, it's fine. People are allowed to sue, right? But at the same time, if you're being sued, right, you don't have to welcome the person in your home.

If you're confused at the comparison of a "bakery" or "your home" to "Madison Square Garden" and "public places where Billy Joel plays 87 times in a row" then maybe you're not cut out for this business.

Throughout the interview, Dolan suggests that some of these lawsuits against him are being filed by scalpers (who somehow were able to buy lots of tickets from him in previous years?) who are hurting "the common fan." This is a topical point, given the recent congressional hearings around Ticketmaster/Live Nation's control of concerts and sporting events. Scotto wonders what Dolan makes of this.

SCOTTO: Do you think like, Live Nation, Ticketmaster, they need to have a little bit more competition?

DOLAN: I don't think it's Ticketmaster at all, right. I mean, I think look, ticket scalping has been going on for a long time.

That's absolutely true, and it's something that Taylor Swift fans were born too late to understand. 

SCOTTO: So getting back to the state legislators, State Senator Brad Hoylman-Sigal and a few others, they are proposing legislation to [stop the MSG bans], are you concerned about the impact of their legislation?

DOLAN: No. I mean, first off, if they were able to pass that particular legislation, it's completely illegal. 

SCOTTO: It's illegal? 

DOLAN: Well, in the United States, there's a thing called the Bill of Rights. And in the Bill of Rights, you're allowed to, you're allowed freedom of religion. You're allowed to own property, etc. This is just about owning property that the, uh, you know, a bakery, right? A restaurant, right? You get to say who you serve, right? For whatever reason, I don't care if they're a lawyer or whatever, you get to say who you serve. And if there's someone you don't want to serve, you get to say, "I don't want to serve you." And if it's somebody who is suing you and trying to put you out of business or take your money from you, right, et cetera, you have a right to be, yes, a little unhappy about it. 

SCOTTO: So let me ask you: Is it impacting attendance at Madison Square Garden? Or what are the fans saying about this?

DOLAN: They don't care at all. I mean, we're talking about a small group of attorneys, right? Of lawyers, right? Why would the Knicks fans or the Rangers fans or the concertgoers care about them? They don't. But I will tell you one thing: The SLA is way, way beyond their skis. 

SCOTTO: Have they reached out to you, the State Liquor Authority?

DOLAN: Oh yeah, no, they're being extremely aggressive. And they're saying we're gonna take away your liquor license. So I have a little surprise for 'em, right? Because they're basically doing this for publicity. So we're gonna give 'em some publicity. All right. What we're going to do, right, is we're going to pick a night, right, maybe a Rangers game, and we're going to shut down all the liquor and alcohol in the building. Now, this isn't going to bother me, because I've been sober 29 years. I don't need the liquor. Instead, what we're going to do is, where we serve liquor, we're going to put one of these up, which says, "If you would like to drink in a game, please call, right, Sharif Kabir, chief executive officer, or write him an email at this number, right, and tell him to stick to his knitting and, you know, and to what he's supposed to be doing and stop grandstanding and trying to get press.

At this point in the interview, Scotto, who is not a CEO and sports team owner, suggests to Dolan that perhaps using the desire of New York Rangers fans for alcohol to wage war against the State Liquor Authority so he can continue banning attorneys using biometric technology is perhaps a risky business move. Dolan was undeterred.

SCOTTO: Wow okay, now, this could be a double-edged sword, James.

DOLAN: I dunno, what—

SCOTTO: Liquor sales are important to the bottom line of the business.

DOLAN: You know what, to be honest, our values are important to us, too. And the Garden has to defend itself. This is why I—people say, you know, "You're too sensitive. You shouldn't defend yourself."

If you are one of these people who tell James Dolan, "You're too sensitive, you shouldn't defend yourself," please email tips@hellgatenyc.com.

He continues…

DOLAN: You know, it's like something out of "The Godfather," you know, it's like, "Hey, it's only business." It's not only business, right? And if you sue us, right, we're going to tell you not to come, right. And if you know and if you're grandstanding, right, with the press, et cetera, and threatening my liquor license, I'm gonna tell you, "You know what, take away my liquor license," right? The people are still gonna come to the games, right? And you know, honestly, yes, alcohol, but we don't make all our money on alcohol, right? I, like I said, I'm sober. I'm not a big alcohol fan. But what I think really needs to happen is that the public needs to tell these politicians and the SLA to start working on the things that matter to us.

SCOTTO: Like? 

DOLAN: Like law enforcement, right? Making it safe in our streets, right? You know, getting our taxes in line. Stop people from leaving New York and, you know, ruining our city, right? Those are the things that Brad Hoylman should be caring about, but instead he's got a piece of legislation called "Clean Slate," right? So if you're a criminal, right, it's a clean slate, right? We're going to start all over again, you're not a criminal anymore, right? And then, if you commit another crime, you get another clean slate. Or, this particular legislation he's working on now, right, is one where if you're a landlord, you don't get to do a criminal check on the person who wants to. So you could have a pedophile literally move in next door to you, right, and your landlord can do nothing about it, or you as a property owner could do nothing about it. 

This whole movement, I mean, it's part of this Working Families group, right? I mean, they're off the charts. I'm sorry, but if you're a criminal, you're a criminal. If you've committed a crime, you should, you know, you should be accountable for that. How is that a notion that, you know, that all of a sudden, you don't need to be accountable for the crimes you've committed? How do you think your weatherman feels about the three guys who beat him up in the subway while he was trying to defend—

SCOTTO: An older gentleman.

DOLAN: Right. In the end, this is about who we elect. And honestly, also a little bit about the press, about what you're paying attention to, right? Stop paying attention to the ticket scalpers and start paying attention to the criminals that are in a revolving door that keep, you know, coming back out and, and destroying our city.

The New York Knicks are currently 26-23, and according to Forbes, are valued at more than $6 billion, second only in the NBA to the Golden State Warriors.

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