PROSPECT HEIGHTS — The air at the Barclays Center buzzed with anticipation recently as the Brooklyn Nets headed into a playoff game against the Chicago Bulls.
The pumped-up crowd hurried into the arena, pausing just long enough to get wanded by security guards before taking their seats. The announcer's voice boomed a welcome and the stands roared as fireworks marked the start of the 8 p.m. game.
But excitement over a potential championship wasn't the only sensation filling the air.
As the last few fans rushed through the arena's front doors, the brisk breeze that followed them gave way to a distinct aroma: a fresh-smelling fragrance with citrus notes that some call the arena's "signature scent," in the words of one Twitter observer.
What is the smell? A source familiar with the matter said it's the work of ScentAir, a company that manufactures custom fragrances pumped into the air at theme parks, stores and hotels around the world. The odors function like mood music for your nose. They're meant to enhance the consumer experience and build brand identities.
That cocoa-drenched cloud you inhale when you walk into the Times Square Hershey's store isn't candy — it's ScentAir.
In recent years the company's olfactory empire has expanded to include sports venues such as the Dallas Cowboys' and Atlanta Hawks' stadiums. At the St. Louis Rams' stadium the air is redolent with a "cotton candy" fragrance that's meant to "create a positive first impression for fans," a team spokesman told ESPN.com.
A ScentAir representative said he couldn't discuss what his firm does or doesn't do for the Barclays Center, and referred questions to a Barclays Center spokesman. Arena officials declined to comment.
But plenty of others have weighed in on the new arena's bouquet.
"Barclays Center an impressive venue but whole place smells like a Calvin Klein store. Exclusive olfactory sponsor of the Nets?" tweeted one visitor.
Calvin Klein, which does sponsor an exclusive lounge at the arena, did not reply to an inquiry about whether its famed fragrances play a role in the arena's nostril manipulations.
One visitor griped on Twitter, "If you dislike the intense smell of aroma therapy you might want to skip every hallway in this place! It's pumped into the ventilation or something. Too much!"
Members of the Prospect Nights meet-up group spent a recent evening puzzling over why the Barclays Center "smells like perfume," according to one member. Members weren't complaining about the scent, but it definitely tickled their curiosity.
"It became a topic of conversation and something they wanted to get to the bottom of," said the local resident, who didn't want his name used. "You have this stadium and it's big and metallic and industrial looking, and you have this smell of perfume coming out of it, so it was kind of amusing."
A member of the group tweeted a question about the smell to the Nets' official Twitter account, but got no response.
One fan at a recent game described the odor as "clean-smelling," while another said he assumed the scent was Jay-Z's Rocawear cologne. (The hip-hop mogul was until recently a part owner of the arena.)
One woman who attended a playoff game compared the odor to Axe body spray. "It was a weird, musky, cologne-y smell," she told DNAinfo New York.
"I don't really know if I liked it or didn't like it, it just seemed odd. I guess it’s nicer than smelling fried food."
To her, the aroma seemed to indicate that the Barclays Center "was spending a lot of money to make [visiting the arena] special."
At some sports arenas, fragrances are used near luxury boxes to enrich the experience of ticket holders paying top dollar, said ScentAir spokesman Ed Burke. The company also works with high-end clothing brands who want to provide a special shopping experience at their retail outlets. Scent is a way to "convey that message of quality...but also to make [customers] feel comfortable and stay there longer," Burke said.
For sports writer Josh Newman, the nose-tickling emanations at the Barclays Center are a workplace amenity.
Newman, who's covered 25 or 30 Nets games at the arena for SNYNets.com, said he noticed the smell as soon as he sat down at his first game. At first, he thought it was someone sitting near him. After his third or fourth visit, he realized the scent was a permanent part of the smellscape.
Newman describes the aroma as similar to high-end men's cologne.
"It's kind of pleasant," Newman said. "It just makes the atmosphere more enjoyable. You don't have to smell the food or anything else."
To him, the fragrance fits in with the larger-than-life style of the Nets' ultra-wealthy owner Mikhail Prokhorov and the $1 billion arena.
"The owner of the Nets is a Russian billionaire oligarch and it became very clear early on that they were going to spare no expense," Newman said.
"It's a brand-new building. They've spent over a billion dollars. [The scent] kind of goes along with the whole over-the-top nature of the building."