Labor negotiations and work stoppages are nothing new in professional sports, but the current National Basketball Association lockout is the first time the Prudential Center has had to review its calendar and fill dates.
Arena spokesman Bob Sommer said the building is well positioned to fill some of the canceled dates on the New Jersey Nets’ schedule.
“The fact that we’re one of the busiest buildings in the country, and we’re in one of the wealthiest markets in the country … if anyone is going to fill some dates, we’re in an ideal position to do that,” Sommer said.
Sommer said the arena is in conversations with two entities about filling two possible dates in early November, as NBA Commissioner David Stern announced Monday the first two weeks of the regular season have been canceled.
“We cannot sign a deal for dates that have not been canceled — the NBA has those dates locked in with us,” Sommer said. “The best we can do is what the other 29 arenas do, which is tea leaf-reading.”
Michael Rowe, founder and CEO of Positive Impact Sports and Entertainment Management Consultants, was with then-Continental Airline Arena during the National Hockey League lockout of the mid-1990s, and worked for the Nets during the NBA lockout during the 1998-99 season.
Rowe said he’s noticed concert tours like Jay-Z and Kanye West are touring the Northeast during late October and early November, with usual performance dates empty. He said smart arena operators understood a lockout was a possibility, and kept relationships “warm” with event producers in case of a work stoppage.
Additionally, because primary clients like NBA and NHL teams are offered reduced rents at most arenas, Rowe said, one well-sold concert could make as much revenue for a building as five professional sporting events.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity for a building to get higher-yield events,” Rowe said, but “you can’t make up events — either they are out there or they are not out there.”
Rowe said during the work stoppages he was involved in, stakeholders like luxury suite purchasers and advertisers continually asked what the arena was going to do about the missed dates, and how the lost value would be made up.
Events like union meetings, private business functions and other nonpublic events also can help the building fill a calendar, Rowe said, but without the need to promote four to six weeks in advance.
But the largest challenge is preparing for both the NBA season to start and for more games to be canceled.
“The league is trying to get the season started,” Rowe said. “You can’t bet against a primary tenant … if Frank Sinatra, Elvis and John Lennon were available for December 1, they can’t go on sale, because the date hasn’t been released yet.”