For Kings fans, Staples Center is exactly how the slogan goes: “The Sports and Entertainment Capital of the World.”
For Danny Zollars, senior director of game operations, Staples Center before a Stanley Cup playoff game is just another day at the office, one with frigid temperatures and a massive TV screen to which he holds the remote.
It’s easy for fans to look up at the video board and take in the scene around them. But the scene behind the scenes involves hundreds of working hands, a command center with nearly as many monitors and Zollars, who coordinates it all.
For every Oz, there must be a wizard behind the curtain.
Behind that curtain, up in the rafters, adjacent to the broadcast booths and above center ice sits a control room with a button for every screen, light and speaker in Staples Center. It looks similar to a television production truck, with multiple camera feeds taking up two flat-screen TVs and a switchboard to control the floating video board that hovers over center ice.
But the only difference is the lack of tension, edginess and pressure that comes with the production of live television.
“No one’s yelling. Everyone has their specific job and we know our vision and what we want to do,” Zollars said. “Our goal is to have fun and help the fans have a good time. Our director finds everyone on the cameras and makes fun of them or has fun with them. … We’re cracking jokes, making fun of the other team. We have fun. We have a good group of people.”
That group includes cameramen throughout the arena, a replay director, a switchboard operator to control the screen, a graphics design team and a director who chooses from the many video feeds, ultimately deciding what image paints the video board for more than 18,000 fans to see. Oftentimes, that includes advertising and sponsorships of power plays and other featured segments.
“Everything we have scheduled for tonight is sponsored,” Zollars said. “We sell that, and it is prime real estate because you have 18,000 fans all looking at that thing and people pay a premium for it.”
Since last season’s Stanley Cup run, the Kings video board has had a helping hand from Hollywood, with features from Will Ferrell, Jimmy Kimmel, Kobe Bryant and Matt Kemp. The one constant have been personalized “South Park” animated features with the show’s main character, Cartman.
“The guys from ‘South Park’ make individual Cartman videos for us. For the playoffs, they give us a new one every game,” Zollars said. “The creators are really into it and big Kings fans. They voice them over and knock them out over the day.
“If you look on our video replay machine there are probably 60 different videos they have made for us.”
The music and lighting departments, with one person each, reside below the control room on an extended deck overlooking the arena. During games, a DJ sits next to Zollars in tight quarters with an organ keyboard and turntables in front of him, prodding Kings fans. And below the keyboard lies the switch to the goal horn, protected by a see-through case as if it were connected to an ICBM missile.
All of it runs through Zollars, who is in his second season with the Kings. He starts every game day at 8 a.m. writing the scripts for the public address announcer, finalizing the lineup with precise times for advertising spots and running from the rafters to the dungeons of Staples Center to make sure the three hours of game time go off without a hitch.
And during the playoffs, the intensity of the job ratchets up a few notches. While fans gear up for the big game outside at the L.A. Live Fan Fest, Zollars hustles to stay on top of his enhanced workload.
“There are bigger moments. More giveaways, we’re doing bigger fan fests outside, stunts around town. We’re doing a lot more just to promote,” Zollars said. “But in a playoff game … it’s more about the game, showing replays and highlights. We try to have more flexibility and ride what’s happening during the game.”
Come playoff time, everyone has to step up their game, even those behind the curtain.