Staples Center has a full dance card this weekend
Imagine tens of thousands of cycling fans gathered in front of Staples Center on Sunday morning for the final leg of the country’s largest stage cycling race, the Amgen Tour of California.
Now mix in 20,000 hockey fans, nearly all of them giddy in the anticipation of watching their underdog Kings clinch a berth in the Stanley Cup finals, and another 20,000 basketball fans, with the Clippers trying to reach the Western Conference finals for the first time.
Those sports worlds will collide on the streets outside the arena Sunday; the Kings are scheduled to take on the Phoenix Coyotes in Game 4 of the NHL Western Conference finals at noon — about the same time some of the world’s best cyclists will be barreling toward the finish line.
Now repeat the scene a few hours later as basketball prepares to take over the building just as the hockey fans are leaving. That’s because the Clippers are set to play host to the San Antonio Spurs in Game 4 of the NBA Western Conference semifinals at 7:30.
There may be no bigger place in the world for big-time sports than Staples Center on Sunday — and the festivities start early. At 8 a.m., cycling fans who have registered will be given the chance to ride a five-mile stretch of the Tour of California course before the pros arrive.
With all the viewing tents, barriers and street closures, hockey fans had best bring maps or a GPS system to find passages that lead to parking.
The team acknowledged as much this week when it sent emails to season-ticket holders advising them that the arena would open at 9 a.m. and “strongly” encouraged fans to arrive extra early in order to “avoid traffic delays and road closures.”
AEG, the owner and operator of the cycling race, Staples Center, the Nokia Theatre and L.A. Live, has also scheduled a news briefing Thursday morning, where Senior Vice President Lee Zeidman and representatives from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the Los Angeles Police Dept. will discuss their plans for the day.
Already, Kings fans who can’t use mass transit are being urged to park north of the arena with cycling fans parking to the south or over in lots at the Coliseum and Sports Arena, where there will be free shuttle service. There will even be a valet for bike riders.
Indeed, organizers are trying to plan for everything, including the worst. On Sunday, worst would be extra hockey periods.
During the NHL playoffs, no result is determined by a shootout, so there is always a chance that multiple extra periods may be required. Each period, played after a full break, adds about an hour.
So, if a regulation game might end around 3 p.m., an overtime game could conclude around 4 p.m. And if the Kings won and completed a four-game sweep, tack on another half hour to 45 minutes for celebrating and trophy presentations. Then add nearly two hours to change the hockey surface over to a basketball court.
Suffice to say the Clippers and Spurs won’t be enjoying any leisurely shoot-arounds before the game. In fact, multiple overtime hockey periods would leave them cooling their heels in their locker rooms right up to their scheduled game time.
The potential for extra hockey overtimes is the scenario that has insiders at Staples and both leagues privately conceding it is possible the Clippers and Spurs might not play until Monday. That is a contingency plan already in the works according to people with knowledge of the talks who are not authorized to speak publicly about the situation.
The Clippers and Spurs are scheduled to play Game 5 on Tuesday in San Antonio.
“This is unprecedented,” said Zeidman, the AEG executive. “You can’t believe the thoughts running through my head.”
His juggling is more than a one-day act. Staples hosts six playoff games — two each for the Lakers, Clippers and Kings — Thursday through Sunday; plus the cycling race.
With so much activity, the Clippers and Lakers are playing rare back-to-back playoff games — the Lakers against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday and Saturday, and the Clippers-Spurs on Saturday and Sunday.
Clippers fans have already been inconvenienced once. At the 6 p.m. start of a first-round game last Friday against the Memphis Grizzlies, there were rows of empty seats at Staples Center as social media sites cackled with reports of traffic gridlock around the arena during rush hour.
On Sunday, it would be easier for Staples Center if basketball was played before hockey because the delays caused by overtime periods are not nearly as lengthy. However, NBC, which holds the television rights to the NHL playoffs, was not willing to change its plans even when it became apparent there was a conflict.
Jon Miller, president of programming for NBC Sports, said the network had no interest in switching spots with TNT because it could ill afford to lose lucrative prime-time programming in May, a sweeps month for ratings.
“It’s not anyone’s fault per se that there is one building with three successful tenants,” he said. “But the [NHL] West was always set for [noon] Sunday.”
The WNBA’s Sparks are the only Staples Center tenant whose schedule has been upset by the hockey and basketball playoffs.
The Sparks’ home opener was also scheduled for Sunday but was pushed back two days, to Tuesday.
That was easy compared to solving the puzzle of television programming.
Media outlets have been receiving multiple emails daily from the NBA with the newest details of game times and networks. It’s morning (at least West Coast time), noon and night for games on ABC, ESPN, TNT and NBA TV.
NHL games have been put on CNBC, NBC Sports Network, NBC and the NHL Network.
“All the games are nationally televised, and we have certain windows to work on for ESPN, Turner, ABC and NBA TV,” said Tom Carelli, who handles scheduling for the NBA. “We want to make it fair for all the teams and we are constantly working on filling the TV schedule while trying to keep mindful of hockey conflicts.”
Steve Hatze Petros, the NHL’s vice president of scheduling, said the leagues work together. “Obviously it’s a challenge, but we’ve tried to not do any wacky 3-in-the-afternoon-on-a-weekday games,” he said. “Scheduling the Clippers, Lakers and Kings, it’s something we’ve been thrilled about and also dreaded for a very long time. I think we each understand what the other’s needs are — arena availability, national television.”
Matt Winick, who also works on NBA scheduling, came closest to saying publicly what network executives and leagues have said privately.
“Every year has its own challenges,” he lamented, “and some are easier than others.”
Interpret that as: It’s tough when all the Los Angeles teams playing in one building keep winning.
Staff writers David Wharton and Mike Hiserman contributed to this report.
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