Staples Center Survives Playoff Perfect Storm

Faced with the daunting task of hosting six playoff games in 80 hours, Staples Center managers formed a plan for getting through the four-day stretch unscathed. They would need a well-thought-out traffic plan coupled with cooperative Angelenos willing to leave their cars at home and take public transportation. They would also need a little bit of luck, and no overtime periods, for quickly executing a hockey-to-basketball turnover. And they would need plenty of free donuts.

After Saturday night’s Game 4 between the NBA’s Los Angeles Lakers and Oklahoma City Thunder, Staples Center turned over for Game 4 of the NHL’s Los Angeles Kings-Phoenix Coyotes at noon PT on Sunday. With the Los Angeles Clippers scheduled to tip off against the San Antonio Spurs at 7:30 p.m. on Sunday, not to mention the final stage of the 2012 Amgen Tour of California ending directly outside the venue, Staples Center was faced with an operational scenario best described as a perfect storm.

“We built Staples Center, Nokia Theatre, and L.A. Live with this in mind,” says Lee Zeidman, general manager of the three buildings. “We knew we were going to do high-profile events in this venue, and, having been here since Day 1, this was always our plan. Unfortunately, this is the first time in the 13-year history of the building that all three teams made the playoffs. We would have hoped it would have been a lot sooner than this.”

Preparation, Cooperation, and Luck
Zeidman first realized what he and his staff were in for last Saturday, when the Lakers bested the Denver Nuggets in Game 7 of the first round. The NBA released its second-round schedule, which had the Lakers hosting the Thunder on Friday and Saturday and the victor of the Clippers-Memphis series hosting the Spurs on Saturday and Sunday. Whereas a basketball-to-basketball transition requires no more than an hour and 15 minutes to execute, Zeidman knew that, if the Clippers won, he’d have an additional complication: the Los Angeles Kings were slated to play Sunday afternoon.

“It jumped out at us that, if the Clippers beat Memphis that Mother’s Day morning, they were going to play following the Kings on Sunday, which caused us great concern,” he says. “As you know, in playoff hockey, it’s not like the regular season, where you do a five-minute overtime and then you do a shootout. You go until somebody scores that final goal, so there was never any certainty of when we could start that Sunday Clipper game.”

Zeidman and company discussed the matter with the Clippers, the NBA, and the NHL, and all agreed to attempt an operational feat that had never before been accomplished. On Sunday, the NBA announced that, if the Kings-Coyotes game went to multiple overtime periods and delayed the start of the Clippers-Spurs game too much, the Clippers-Spurs game would be moved to Monday.

“If that [Kings-Coyotes] game did go past 4:30 p.m., the NBA and their broadcast partner were going to have to make a decision to determine if they were going to postpone that game to the next day,” says Zeidman. “We informed them, once that schedule came out, that, for every hockey overtime period, you’ll probably add anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour. The game should have ended at 3 p.m., [but] one overtime could have taken you to 4 p.m., [and] a second overtime could have taken you to 5 p.m. There had to be a backup plan for that, because what we couldn’t have were 20,000 Kings fans dumping out of the building, 20,000 Clipper fans wanting to come in the building all at the same time, and we’re still in the middle of converting it and cleaning it.”

Directing the Flow of Fans
Staples Center management worked with the LAPD, LAFD, LADOT, and the California Highway Patrol to create a plan for crowd control. With the Amgen Tour of California to contend with, including the tour’s 125,000 spectators, Zeidman encouraged those attending the Kings game at noon to arrive at Staples Center as early as possible.

“We put a plan together as it related to parking and traffic management,” he explains. “We asked everybody to be patient, we opened Staples Center up an hour early at 9 a.m., [and] we offered free donuts and coffee to everybody who came early.”

Fans were encouraged to take public transportation (Zeidman reports that ridership was up 20%-30% over the weekend) but, if they needed to drive, were advised to park north of Staples Center to avoid the streets blocked off for the cyclists. Tour of California attendees were encouraged to park south of Staples Center and were provided free shuttles by Staples Center management.

“Angelenos listened to our message,” says Zeidman. “They came early. They stayed late. They took mass transit. We built bridges to get people across the bike race. From an operations standpoint, I couldn’t be prouder. I think, as a perfect storm, it all came together from an event standpoint, and the aftermath of that storm was as smooth as could be.”

Seven Networks, Nine Trucks, One Compound
As could be expected, the Staples Center operations team was not the only department facing playoff chaos. In the broadcast booth, out in the truck compound, and everywhere in between, Staples Center VP of Broadcast Operations Steve Thrap directed the media melee and ensured that each game got on-air.

“As you can imagine, there were a ton of what-if scenarios,” says Thrap. “Not that we were sure that it would happen, but we started talking at the end of the regular season about all the different what-ifs and started a plan with ESPN and TNT, who are the primary broadcasters for NBA, [and] with NBC, which is the network host for NHL playoff games.”

All told, covering the four-day playoff extravaganza were seven television networks, eight home radio broadcasts, and nine visiting radio broadcasts (San Antonio has both English- and Spanish-language broadcasts). Needless to say, the truck compound was a little crowded.

“I had nine trailers total,” says Thrap. “CBC and TSN actually changed: TSN covered the Kings game, with CBC coming in to do the [Clippers] game, so I had to make sure that I had a plan to get [TSN’s] truck out and the CBC truck in amongst all of the other traffic that was coming in for the various games. I used pretty much every inch of space we had in the loading dock and outside in our truck overflow area.”

To support the various broadcasts, Thrap also had to make room for four generators and four uplink trucks (not to mention, the Goodyear blimp’s on-site receiver).

“The really nice thing about working with the network crews [is], these guys get it and they will help as well,” says Thrap. “Certain trucks had to park in certain areas because of the footprint of the trucks, the type of connectivity they need, whether they’re a triax truck or a SMPTE truck, [whether] the truck is going to lay over for the entire run or pulls out, [whether] I can get the dock cleared between games so that the valets have room for the players for the next game.”

With more than 3.8 million ft. of copper wiring and 480,000 ft. of camera fiber embedded for media needs, Staples Center was constructed 13 years ago with such a situation in mind. Over the weekend, the venue had more than 300 audio lines and more than 100 fiber lines running, with approximately 54 cameras among the seven networks.

As Zeidman’s operations crew restocks the 168 luxury suites; replenishes the concession stands; cleans the concourses, seats, and restrooms; changes press setups, baskets, scorers tables, and lighting systems; and switches out the floor between games, Thrap’s team manages changing the broadcast setups and organizes the personnel for incoming and outgoing networks.

“If we’re going from [Kings] to Clippers, I have to get [in] the Clippers broadcast people,” says Thrap. “Even though they’re the second game, I need to have a plan for them to be able to set their cameras in place [and prepare] all their stuff, so that, while the conversion crew is turning the building over, we are moving one TV crew out and moving another TV crew in. We’ve got about two hours to do that.”

A Playoff First
In the 13-year history of Staples Center, the venue has executed 127 doubleheader conversions, including 44 hockey-to-basketball. However, no venue had ever executed a playoff hockey-to-basketball conversion before Staples Center accomplished the feat on Sunday. As the host venue to three of the 12 teams remaining in the combined NBA/NHL postseason, both Zeidman and Thrap strove to give fans of each team a unique playoff experience.

“We have to work as a cohesive unit along with the changeover crew,” says Thrap. “We do not want anybody coming in for a Clippers game to see a remnant left over from a Kings game or a Lakers game. We want the Clippers fans or the Lakers fans or the Kings fans to walk into the arena [and] it’s a normal home game for them. They have no idea that we just finished a game three hours ago.”

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