Piano Man Endgame: How Arenas Navigate Superstar Scheduling Conflicts (2023)

  • Piano Man Endgame: How Arenas Navigate Superstar Scheduling Conflicts (1)

    Andrew Lopez, ESPNMay 3, 2023, 6:54 AM ET

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What do Billy Joel, Janet Jackson, Chris Stapleton and WWE have in common? All of them have been affected by the playoff schedule inNBAINHL.

When April rolls around, the two leagues, their teams and the network partners must envision and plan for two months of playoffs leading up to the NBA and Stanley Cup Finals.

"It's a big puzzle," Thomas Carelli, the NBA's senior vice president of broadcast planning, told ESPN.

The final pieces of that puzzle include working around the schedules of two leagues, TV and, yes, sometimes moving concert dates.

Working around each other is nothing new to the NBA and NHL, as teams do it every season. The leagues share 10 arenas -- Los Angeles (Kings/Clippers/Lakers); Dallas (Stars/Mavericks); Denver (avalanche/clumps); Detroit (Red Wings/Pistons); Washington D.C. (capitals/wizards); Toronto (maple leaves/birds of prey); Chicago (Blackhawks/Bulls); Philadelphia (Flyers/Sixers); Boston (Bruins/Celtic); and New York (Rangers/Knicks).

This postseason, four of those arenas — Crypto.com Arena (Los Angeles), Ball Arena (Denver), TD Garden (Boston) and Madison Square Garden (New York) — split first-round assignments, though thanks to losses to the Kings, Avalanche , Bruins and Rangers, they are now strictly NBA-only.

Still, teamwork is needed to ensure that the leagues conduct their playoffs as smoothly as possible. NHL senior EVP chief content officer Steve Mayer told ESPN that it helps if the league shares network partners like the NBA and NHL with ESPN and Turner Sports.

"So you have incredible collaboration on the network side because they clearly understand the dilemma," Mayer said. “They can then plan based on checking the schedule for both competitions.

"The two leagues work really well together in terms of understanding dates and openings. There are occasional issues, but for the most part there is a fair amount of flexibility."

Sometimes that flexibility has to come from musical acts. This season, Joel had a concert at Madison Square Garden that was moved three days later because it conflicted with Game 3 of the Rangers series againstDevils of New Jersey, iJanet Jackson had a showpushed back a day because of Game 6 between themboston CelticsIAtlanta Hawksat State Farm Arena.

"During this period, an act is booked to be flexible," Mayer said. "Everybody knows what they're getting into. In Billy Joel's case, for example, there are several dates that the artist clearly understands can be moved during that period."

Mayer remembers a situation beforeVegas Golden Knightswhere the NHL had to prepare for a playoff game at T-Mobile Arena, then clean everything up for a P!nk concert the next day, then set everything up again for a game the next night.

In last season's Stanley Cup Final, concerts by Carin Leon and Stapleton at Ball Arena had to be moved to avoid the series betweenColorado lawineITampa Bay Bliksem.

Arenas like Crypto.com release their dates and times, but it's the leagues that get together and decide how to schedule events in the building. As a general rule, arenas are not allowed to book anything through the NBA or NHL postseason. If an event - concert or otherwise - is booked at the arena during that time, the building must inform the leagues in good time.

"It wasn't always like that," Gene Li, another NBA czar, told ESPN. "...We got to a place where the teams all have contingency dates for their concerts. But before there were enough shows that had to be worked around. ... We're in a really good place as a competition to tell those teams that in principle they must have a new date for all concerts they book during the first two rounds.

In 2009, one of the most bizarre planning conflicts occurred in Denver. The Nuggets playedLos Angeles Lakersin the finals of the Western Conference. Game 4 of that series was scheduled for May 25, a night when the Pepsi Center was booked for WWE Monday Night Raw.

The NBA prevailed, forcing WWE to move the event to a building it knew would be available that night: the Staples Center in Los Angeles. But Vince McMahon did not move quietly as a public war of words ensued with Nuggets owner Stan Kroenke.

"They wanted to give us a Sunday night. And the name of the show is Monday Night Raw," McMahon said.

During Raw at the then Staples Center, McMahon confronted a fake Stan Kroenke in the ring. The likes of David Stern and Jack Nicholson watched from the crowd as McMahon pushed "Stan Kroenke" to the ground.

To end the show, WWE Lakers announcer Lawrence Tanter had wrestlers introduce wrestlers to a 5v5 match between faces (good guys) and heels (bad guys), with the faces wearing Lakers jerseys and the heels wearing Nuggets jerseys. .

This year, Crypto.com met the Lakers, Clippers and Kings in the playoffs at the same time for the first time in 10 years and only the third time ever. It was a different challenge as all three of them were at the bottom of their respective brackets.

That led to six games in five days for Crypto.com, including a Suns-Clippers/Grizzlies-Lakers doubleheader on April 22.

Crypto.com Arena is built for doubleheaders. The building has had as many as five sports tenants during its existence: The Kings, Lakers and Clippers, plus the WNBALos Angeles from ctand the Los Angeles Avengers of the Arena League, which retired in 2009.

It takes about two and a half hours for a crew of more than 50 people to turn the arena between events on the same day, and this must be done at least 90 minutes before the event to allow teams to use the facility. If they turn the arena after the last game of the night, it can take a crew of about 10 people almost eight hours.

In 23 years, the Staples Center/Crypto.com Arena has hosted 251 doubleheaders. Arena officials try to avoid those where hockey is the earlier game, especially in the playoffs, where multiple overtimes could jeopardize their ability to turn the building around for the next event.

At the Ball Arena, there is a team of 22 people who switch the arena between basketball and hockey. It takes them about four hours, according to arena conversion director Matt Mennona.

"At the moment, I would say it's kind of a well-oiled machine," Mennona said. "[Playoff games] are a lot easier for everybody to stand up to because it's not like January, the middle of January, where you're like, oh man, we're going back. But now here's the fun part, right ? Everybody is excited to be here. Everybody has a good attitude. Let's get in there, get this done and see if we can advance."

While the hectic schedule causes some problems, many people are happy to stick with it because it means the home teams are winning - and competing for titles.

"There's a lot of communication around team times and the building will traditionally hold most of the dates in April and May for most teams. Now it's June and I think they can take some risks and book some big events."Kings of Los AngelesMichael Altieri, SVP of Marketing, Communications and Content, told ESPN.

"If it gets to the point where we have to schedule a Stanley Cup or NBA Finals in June, that's a good deal."

ESPN NHL reporter Greg Wyshynski contributed to this story.

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