When the NBA All-Star show comes to town, it’s ‘managed chaos’
The focal point of the NBA All-Star weekend is so simple in core needs.
For a venue, a playing area that is 50 feet wide and 94 feet long will suffice.
For a free-flowing game, just three light-whistling officials are necessary beyond the 10 men playing at any one time.
But getting to that culminating Sunday night event at Staples Center took two years of planning, thousands of workers and volunteers, dozens of lead-up events and seven years of downtown development since All-Star weekend last visited Los Angeles.
“This is very managed chaos,” said Kathryn Schloessman, president of Los Angeles Sports and Entertainment Commission.
The making of the 2018 NBA All-Star weekend began with a 2015 bid, a four-month cumulative effort spearheaded by Anschutz Entertainment Group.
Once this week’s NBA All-Star festivities were awarded to Los Angeles in March 2016, the daunting task began with a rare comfort that most cities are not able to carry.
Staples Center is the only existing venue other than Smoothie King Center in New Orleans to host NBA All-Star weekend three times. It is the only current venue to host five major pro All-Star games, including two for the NHL.
“We’re their plug-and-play partner,” Schloessman said. “They plug in with us and then we set them up with the right people at the city, the police department, for permitting and for signage.”
Lee Zeidman, president of Staples Center, Microsoft Theater and L.A. Live, led a group of observers to last year’s NBA All-Star game in New Orleans. The intense work began at that time for a three-pronged group of NBA, Staples Center and city leaders. Once the NBA season started, they began to talk multiple times a day and met in person two to three times a month.
Zeidman will have up to 3,000 part-time and full-time employees working in and around All-Star events this week, not including the number of workers from the NBA, city or affiliated sponsors. The planners have been multitasking All-Star duties with their usual workload for months.
For a venue that hosted seven NBA Finals and an area that takes on Grammy and Emmy awards shows, there is a normality to a spotlight event like this.
“We’ve got a template to actually put these things on,” Zeidman said. “We know from the get-go what it’s going to take and then we take direction from our partner, in this case the NBA, for what they want to do and their partner, Turner. We’ll sit down with their security personnel and we’ll map out where the perimeter should be, how it should be ticketed, how the guests should enter, how they should leave and we obviously monitor what’s going on worldwide from a security and safety standpoint.”
A host committee representing city police, fire, transportation and other government agencies was formed to lay the groundwork. Sub-groups for marketing and community involvement followed.
A hotel expert was hired to reserve 27,000 hotel rooms for visitors affiliated with or working on All-Star weekend, including sponsors and broadcast partners. Those rooms have been sold out.
NBA All-Star weekend visited Los Angeles in 2004 and 2011, but the downtown scene and the the annual NBA event have exploded since then. More than 300 buses were needed for transportation from various Los Angeles-area hotels and locales during the previous two All-Star weekends, when Staples Center was surrounded by parking lots and warehouses.
The recently added infrastructure of hotels, restaurants and entertainment venues allowed planners to concentrate activity to the downtown area. The bus count will be down to the 20s or 30s now to reduce gridlock.
“It’s grown into a weeklong celebration and we’re hosting fans and media from around the world,” said Kelly Flatow, NBA senior vice president of global events. “Logistically, it does help to have consistency with our partners and have buildings and venues around us that we’re familiar with.”
Staples Center opened in 1999, but the annual investment into the building has kept the arena’s technology current for the purposes of hosting large events.
Securing the building is a priority and a massive undertaking among the arena group, NBA security officials, police departments, fire departments, FBI and Secret Service.
“We believe we’ve taken the measures since 9/11 and continued through the years to harden our soft target,” Zeidman said.
It is not just the traditional All-Star fare that floods both Los Angeles Convention Center halls, packs Staples Center and spills into L.A. Live. NBA Cares and Jr. NBA put on more than 30 outreach programs and events over four days across the city.
“We want to make sure we make a lasting impact on thousands of families in the L.A. community,” Flatow said of the work that the league and more than 3,000 volunteers will do.
The event’s projected economic impact has expanded from $85 million when it came to Los Angeles in 2011 to a projected $116 million this week when more than 100,000 visitors arrive.
Planners are staging for entertainment more than basketball action, from the 20,000-square foot NBA Crossover at The Majestic to the 30,000-square foot NBA on TNT American Express Road Show at L.A. Live.
The Kendrick Lamar concert on Friday night or The Killers concert on Saturday night are enough to make downtown feel alive, but will be just part of All-Star activity across downtown.
The partnerships from past All-Star weekends help but so does the continuity of Staples Center staff, where Zeidman was the first full-time employee and 90% of his staff has been there for about 16 years.
“In this business, these are the types of events we all live for — to bring the biggest and best out there and to be the showcase for the biggest and best events, to be the only one doing these type of events,” Zeidman said.
The NBA has a marketing machine accustomed to the enormity of All-Star weekend but so does a city that views it as NBA Finals meets Grammys.
“It’s always a little chaotic but I think we’ve got it down to a science now,” Schloessman said.
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