The busiest man in professional sport this past week was Lee Zeidman and when you learn his job description, you’ll know why. Zeidman is senior vice president and general manager of the Staples Centre in Los Angeles and it fell to him to handle the perfect scheduling storm: Three professional sports teams, all tenants in the same building, trying to figure out a playoff schedule that would keep all the interested parties happy.
Many sports facilities across the United States and Canada share space between NHL and NBA teams – Chicago, with the Bulls and Blackhawks, Toronto with the Maple Leafs and Raptors, New York with the Knicks and Rangers, Boston with the Celtics and Bruins – but L.A. is the only city with three teams operating in the same building, the NHL’s Kings plus the NBA’s Lakers and Clippers.
Usually, it isn’t an issue. The Clippers have been an NBA also-ran for much of their existence and the Kings have only made the playoffs in three of the past nine seasons. This year, they’re all in and the Kings are through to the second round for the first time since 2001.
In an era when the needs of competing television networks often trump all, it made for some complicated negotiations, and they were right down to the wire. The NBA regular season ended Thursday night and the playoff seeding took a turn at the 11th hour, the Clippers losing their last two games, the Memphis Grizzlies winning on the final night, and thus passing the Clips for the fourth seed and home-court advantage on the last night of the season. No matter. Every contingency had been considered, debated and negotiated ahead of time. The last bucket dropped in the NBA regular season just as two NHL first-round playoff series came to an end. Within minutes of play ending Tuesday, the respective schedules were released.
Next stop for Zeidman and his juggling, appeasing skills: Negotiating an end to conflict in the Middle East.
“It’s unprecedented,” acknowledged Zeidman, who said this year’s task was further complicated by the NBA lockout, which meant the original NBA regular-season schedule had to be tossed and Staples Centre, as a building has been holding open “virtually every date from April 6 through June 26.”
Another complication: How NHL overtime differs in the playoffs vs. the regular season. On weekends, during regular-season action, the Staples Centre is frequently double booked for basketball and for hockey and sometimes, hockey can go first. In the playoffs? Too risky.
“It’s because there’s no guaranteed end for a hockey game,” said Zeidman. “In the playoffs, they play till someone scores that final goal, so you can have one, two, three, four periods of overtime, which would make it impossible for us to schedule on an afternoon hockey game.”
Zeidman’s juggling skills have made him an executive of the year finalist in the industry’s Stadium Business Awards, which honor the sort of work he does. “When we built Staples Centre, we designed it with this in mind,” said Zeidman. “Six weeks before we opened up Staples Centre, I sat there with all the vendors and the contractor, talking about the systems and the equipment that we needed to do a two-and-a-half-hour conversion. I said, ‘we’ve gone on record as saying we can do this in two-and-a-half hours. What do you think?’
“They all looked at me and said, ‘you’ll be lucky to do it in four hours.’ I said, ‘that’s not going to work, we’ve got a double header scheduled six weeks after we open.’ So we worked with them; we did a tremendous amount of training; and we have a great staff here. The men and women who do this here are phenomenal and some of them have been with us since Day 1. We drilled on it before we opened and it’s like clockwork now. It’s like putting a puzzle together. So we’re very comfortable in getting it done in the two-hour time frame we need to get it done.
“The bigger challenge is getting it cleaned and set up. Nobody thinks about 20,000 people leaving a venue and another 20,000 coming in within two hours. Is it going to be clean? Is it going to be ready? We know we can get the conversion done, but you’ve got to get the new food and beverage ready – everything. That’s the bigger challenge.”
Because the Clippers start on the road (and can only play a maximum of three home dates this round as opposed to four), it means there won’t be any double header days this round. In fact, if the Kings-St. Louis Blues series goes six games, Los Angeles will get a coveted Sunday afternoon time slot (May 6), at NBC’s request.