BUCKING THE ODDS: The Milwaukee Bucks played a preseason matinee Sunday at Fiserv Forum, followed by a Bill Burr comedy show that night. (Courtesy venue)

Rare back-to-back with NBA game/comedy show at Fiserv Forum

Fiserv Forum officials staged an impressive feat this month, producing an NBA preseason game followed by a Bill Burr comedy show on the same day at the Milwaukee, Wisconsin arena.

The back-to-back events took place on Sunday, Oct. 8. 

Announced attendance for the Milwaukee Bucks-Chicago Bulls game was 15,433, with just over 11,000 in the building per the turnstile count, according to Dennis Williams, senior vice president and general manager of the 17,500-seat arena.

About 4.5 hours after the game ended, more than 10,000 people came through the doors to attend the comedy show that night, Williams said. 

It turned out to be a profitable day for Fiserv Forum, given that, as of early this week, settlement for Bill Burr had not been completed, he said.

“It’s one of those things — not that it can’t be done — but it takes everybody willing to work together,” Williams said. “It was a perfect opportunity for us, which made it more appealing and do-able.”

Booking multiple events on the same day is nothing new in sports and entertainment. Arenas with both NBA and NHL tenants run back-to-back basketball and hockey games on occasion with tight windows for conversion between the two sports.

In this case, though, booking an NBA game followed by a traditional concert or a comedy show, is a rare occurrence, due in part to the logistical disparity between events, veteran arena managers said. 

VenuesNow reached out to some big league arena managers for context over the atypical double bill.

On St. Patrick’s Day 2001, less than two years after Staples Center, now Crypto.com Arena, opened in Los Angeles, the venue played host to an LA Kings-San Jose Sharks game at noon, followed by a sold-out Don Henley concert at 9 p.m. 

Lee Zeidman, president of Crypto.com Arena, said Henley’s tour availability in part drove the doubleheader scheduling 22 years ago.

“After 17 months of being open, we were confident that based on the (arena) design, systems purchased and our incredible team members, we could host a hockey game and a full concert on the same day,” Zeidman said. “Today, while it’s not that common, based on increased production, we would (do it again), time permitting to do a pre-rig a day before to assist in a timely load-in.”

IT’S A COMEDY: The set-up for comedian Bill Burr at Fiserv Forum. (Courtesy venue)

In Milwaukee, Williams has experience doing back-to-back events at Fiserv Forum, transitioning from a Marquette University men’s basketball game to a Bucks game on the same day. As a result, he had a strong foundation for consolidating operations, whether it’s cleaning the arena or Levy restocking concessions between events.

The situation materialized after Pabst Theater Group in town proposed a co-promotion with Fiserv Forum to book comedian Bill Burr. There were a limited number of dates available and Oct. 8 was the date selected, Williams said.

There was one booking conflict to resolve. The Bucks, the arena’s primary tenant, had their first preseason game of the 2023-24 season scheduled the night of Oct. 8, which meant the team would have to switch tipoff time to accommodate the comedy show. The Bucks run Fiserv Forum and the basketball operations group was flexible and complied with the building’s request, Williams said.

At that point, arena officials, in conjunction with Pabst Theater Group and Burr’s production team, had to figure out the logistics for when the show should start after the basketball game. Essentially, they “worked backwards” to find out how much time was required to build out the show after the game was completed, Williams said.

“It took us a few days to get an understanding of it,” he said. “There were two trucks of equipment. We have a stage in-house to build around. We were comfortable in talking with the local union here that we would be able to do the event that night.”

A key component was getting a handle on the extent of production and rigging required, Williams said.

Comedy shows typically have much lighter production needs than live music, which, in theory, makes things more favorable for the turnover between events, said David Touhey, a consultant with 25 years of facility management experience, including more than a decade with Monumental Sports and Entertainment in Washington D.C.

“It’s still not something that is easy and takes a lot of coordination, communication and hard work from a wide variety of full and part time staff,” Touhey said.

The buy-in from all aspects of arena operations was critical to pulling it off, Williams said. The fact that it was a comedy show compared with a rock or country concert with lots of people drinking alcohol made the concept of working a double shift (and generating additional income) more palatable for part-timers, he said.

But what they didn’t anticipate was the possibility of the Bucks-Bulls game going into overtime, which became a possibility after the visitors cut the home team’s big lead to a few points late in the fourth quarter.

“The Bulls clawed back and there was a real concern that it would go into overtime, which left a lot of people looking at each other, like, ‘Oh boy, what did we bite off here,’” Williams said. “Fortunately, the Bucks won in regulation.”

The game started shortly after noon and ended at 2:20 p.m. The arena crowd was cleared 20 minutes later. All equipment tied to basketball mode was pulled off the floor by 3:30 and Burr’s production team started setting up, with doors scheduled to open at 6;:30 for an 8 p.m. show.

Soundcheck took a little longer than expected, delaying doors until 6:45, Williams said. The show still went on at 8 as scheduled.

Apart from the short delay, the transition went pretty smoothly, Williams said. The conversion included setting up 1,506 chairs on the arena floor for Bill Burr.

Many fans that attended the Bucks game returned to see Bill Burr. The Deer District’s bars and restaurants across the street from Fiserv Forum, made the doubleheader more conducive for folks grabbing a drink and a bite to eat between events, he said.

“We received a lot of phone calls from around the country from (teams) that had heard we were going to attempt it,” Williams said, including their friends with Pacers Sports and Entertainment in Indianapolis. “They wished us good luck and were curious to hear about lessons learned. We prepared for this and it was a great opportunity to test our skills.”

“A great effort to turn it around as quickly as they did,” said Antony Bonavita, executive vice president of venue operations at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse in Cleveland, Ohio. “My hat’s off to them.”