In the W: Los Angeles Sparks Move Operations to Convention Center Nearby, Turn Back the Clock to 1997
The team will return to Staples Center on Aug. 15 vs. Indiana
After a year filled with calls for gender and racial equity, it’s time to celebrate the 25th season of the WNBA. Similar to At the Ballpark, On the Gridiron, On the Hardwood, At the Rink, and On the Pitch, SVG’s In the W highlights the efforts, technological solutions, and creative ideas of a handful of production crews in the league.
Some of the most successful players in the 25-year history of the WNBA have donned a Sparks jersey, including Hall of Famer Lisa Leslie and future Hall of Famer Candace Parker. Active players — such as six-time All-Star, 2012 Rookie of the Year, and 2016 MVP and WNBA Champion Nneka Ogwumike — are inscribing their names in the league’s record book. This year, the franchise will write a new chapter by playing their first 12 home games away from Staples Center and honoring their storied legacy.
“Honestly, it has been an adventure,” says Danelle Winfield, senior director, game operations, entertainment and promotions, Los Angeles Sparks. “[This offseason], it felt like I had an apprenticeship at the same time as my full-time job in order to build this entire arena out.”
MORE IN THE W INTERVIEWS:
- After Last Year’s Wubble, Atlanta Dream Works With 3 Point Productions To Light Up Gateway Center Arena
- Dallas Wings’ Caitlin Hartley Leads Production Team in First WNBA Home Games at College Park Center
- Minnesota Lynx Production Team Relies on NBA Crew, Lessons From Timberwolves Season at Target Center
Logistical Challenge: Organization Moves Next Door to Convention Center
The team’s preparations for its 2021 season took place in an unfamiliar setting. To accommodate the late start to the NBA regular season and the postseason schedules of the Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers, the Sparks packed their things and headed a few steps from Staples Center to a temporary home at the Los Angeles Convention Center (LACC). The process called for a massive amount of planning on two fronts: the logistics of the large-scale moving of the Sparks’ home court and a production strategy for entertaining fans attending games in a new venue.
“We have a new court, but it was also the scorer’s table, baskets, rigging, behind-the-scenes area, and stands,” Winfield says. “I worked with over 18 vendors in the middle of the pandemic. We’re continuing to deal with not only the [health and safety] rules of the county but the different procedures coming down from the WNBA.”
One of the vendors that was used throughout the process was Pipe Dreams, a local event-planning company that assists with project management, draping, scenic walls, props, tents, fencing, and more.
“In the beginning, we wanted to conceptualize the feel of [our show] and how it would work out best for us,” says Winfield. “We hired some amazing talent because I was never going to let go of my work in game operations, entertainment, and promotions.”
Wubble Download: Workflows From the 2020 Regular Season in Florida
Before the gargantuan challenge of settling into a whole new building, the organization was tasked with providing an exciting atmosphere in the confined WNBA bubble, more commonly known as the Wubble. Heading into the shortened 2020 season, the Sparks had a fair amount of momentum after a successful 2019 campaign. On the court, the squad went on a 14-game winning streak at home, finished in third place in the Western Conference, and made a run to the WNBA Semifinals.
Off the court, Winfield and her colleagues were recognized for their stellar work, earning multiple awards: 2019 WNBA Franchise of the Year, Ticket Sales Performance of the Year, Marketing Performance of the Year and #1 in Entertainment, Satisfaction, and Service (according to the WNBA Fan Analytics conducted by Evolved Experience Solutions).
“2019 feels like a long time ago,” says Winfield. “There have been a lot of changes, but, as I reflect back, everything that we did was to basically build a home-court advantage. We made sure to highlight dance cams, play hype videos, and work with our entertainment teams.”
With these accolades, the production staff were in relatively good shape to develop engaging content under the difficult circumstances of the bubble. Down at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, FL, a handful of production professionals handled the playout of content, but, in terms of the actual creation of the material, Winfield and company worked together to produce the elements.
“To make our players feel like we were with them,” she says, “we wanted to make sure our theming was seen and our music was present. “It was everything that I would do for a regular game day, but I packaged it nicely and sent it on [to the Wubble]. It was hard to watch, because I felt a little disconnected [from what I love], but I’m excited to finally get to produce shows again in front of fans.”
Back to the Beginning: Celebrating Inaugural Game With ’90s-Themed Content
In the summer of 1997, eight franchises founded the juggernaut that is the WNBA. Four of the eight — the Charlotte Sting, Cleveland Rockers, Houston Comets, and Sacramento Monarchs — have since dissolved, and one was rebranded from the Utah Starzz to the San Antonio Silver Stars to the San Antonio Stars and, eventually, to the current Las Vegas Aces. The remaining three have remained a pillar of the league over the past quarter of a century: Phoenix Mercury, New York Liberty, and the Sparks. The Liberty and Sparks are etched in WNBA lore as participants in the league’s first-ever game on June 21, 1997. The current year will honor the legacy of both the league and the franchise.
“It’s such a historic year,” Winfield notes. “Our slogan for this season is ‘Rooted in LA.’ It goes back to the palm tree on our jerseys and the symbolic meaning of being a part of this city.”
In a tribute to the inaugural contest, the Liberty and Sparks faced off in Los Angeles on Sunday, June 20 in a 1990s-themed night at LACC. More specifically, the content focused on music, fashion, and styles of 1997.
“We set the pace and vibe of the game to 1997,” she says. “I told my DJ that all I wanted to hear was music from that year. Our dancers and all of the performances were in line with what was worn and done back then. We wanted to basically thread [the era] all the way through and give our fans that nostalgic feeling.”
The Ones Who Get It Done: Shoutout to Los Angeles Sparks’ Production Team
Whether it’s their first few years in the league or 25 years later, the Los Angeles Sparks are revered by people in the WNBA ranks. Maintaining such a long-standing standard of excellence requires everyone to buy into the organization’s ethos and vision. Along with Winfield, the core group comprises Senior Entertainment Manager Debra Moton, Game Operations Manager Conrad Williams, and Project Manager Eddie Kouyoumdjian.
“We’re able to cohesively work on a project together because our strengths and weaknesses complement each other,” Winfield says. “We’re a very talented organization. I wouldn’t change the people that I work with for the world.”
The Los Angeles Sparks will host the Washington Mystics at the Los Angeles Convention Center on Thursday, June 24 at 10:30 p.m. ET.