Charlotte Bobcat fans cheer on their team at the Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte (Photo by Kent Smith/NBAE via Getty Images)
It might be time to examine the backup plan.
The National Basketball Association is two weeks into a lockout between players and team owners and many venue managers might have to soon start drawing up contingency plans in the face of the very real possibility that the entire 42-game season could be canceled.
“For the moment it’s business as usual because no dates have been lost, no schedules have been modified and collectively across the facilities, nothing has changed,” said Eric Bresler of AEG Facilities, which programs seven NBA arenas including the American Airlines Arena in Miami and AT&T Center in San Antonio.
“To even have a discussion right now” is a bit premature, Bresler said, “because nothing has happened. We’re anticipating another great year, and not worrying about dates at the moment.”
Staples Center and Nokia Theatre L.A. Live GM Lee Zeidman said the league has submitted its draft 2011-2012 schedule to the teams and a final schedule is expected soon.
Preseason basketball typically begins the first week of October, but many teams play their first few games in non NBA facilities as part of exhibition matchups. In 2010, most preseason home games didn’t begin until Oct 10-17.
Until facilities hear otherwise, they must hold scheduled dates for their tenant NBA teams. Most facilities are expecting a six-week lead time to release their dates, said Brad Mayne, GM for the American Airlines Center in Dallas. Many buildings won’t know until late August or early September whether they’ll be hosting basketball or not, and, by then, it’s going to be very difficult to find acts to fill in the gaps.
“As soon as we get our schedule, we’re going to aggressively program around the gaps,” said Zeidman, whose building is the only one to host two NBA teams. A suite at the Staples Center includes tickets to games for both basketball teams, plus the Los Angeles Kings of the National Hockey League and all concerts.
According to the suite-holder contract, Zeidman needs to host 150 events at the Staples Center in 2011 to meet his obligations. Last year the facility hosted 260 events — subtract two 42-game seasons and Zeidman finds himself still up 26 events.
But that doesn’t factor in eight post-season games that could be easily budgeted for the Los Angeles Lakers, who played in the Finals three times since 2007 (and 10 times since opening in 1999).
“There’s no way to make up the food and beverage sales that we had during the NBA Finals,” Zeidman said. The facility hosted the All-Star Game this year and posted per caps of $24.22. Most concerts can’t deliver those numbers.
And even if a building did have a six-week window to fill a gap in the calendar, “you’d still need to find a band that could play on that short notice, and then you’d have to put the show on sale, advertise and do all the other things you need to do to get ready for the event,” said Ed Rubenstein from ArenaNetwork.
Rubenstein remembers the NHL lockout of 2004-2005 and the NBA lockout of 1998-1999, adding “there was a lot of talk about filling last-minute dates, but I don’t remember a lot of those shows materializing.”
Allen Johnson with the Amway Center in Orlando said his facility will do its best to book community events, corporate parties and independent programming.
“Luckily, because we operate seven venues, most of my staff have duties that go all the way around,” he said. “But in this economy, there are a lot of people that have part time jobs on top of their full time jobs. It’s going to be difficult for those folks.”
Interviewed for this article: Eric Bresler, (213) 453-8665; Brad Mayne, (214) 665-4220; Lee Zeidman, (214) 665-4220; Allen Johnson, (407) 440-7070