The New Clippers Arena and the Case for Open-Air Basketball.
Dear Mr. Ballmer,
I have a great idea. First let me say, I totally understand you wanting to take the Clippers out of Staples Center. As a life-long Boston Celtics fan I can say that we share a common enemy — The Los Angeles Lakers — and Staples is eternally tainted with their pungent purple stink. From the statues of Laker greats out front, to the color of the seats inside the arena, Staples is their home and you are but a guest. You can cover their banners, you can go deeper in the playoffs, you can sell more merch in the lobby, but those seats will always be purple, and they WILL erect a statue of (accused rapist) Kobe Bryant to greet all that pass through the doors. I no longer believe in curses, but it’s their house, and you need to get out if you want to win.
That said, I think there’s an opportunity to do something truly special with a Clippers-centric stadium. When you look at Basketball arenas from the outside you generally can’t tell one from another. You take the neon name off the front and they’re all round or oblong warehouses surrounded by parking lots. They’re not great looking buildings. But, what does L.A. value more than anything? Beauty. As an Angelino I can tell you that looks go a long way in this town, and what I’m about to propose will instantly make the Clippers’ new home both sexy and instantly recognizable. Ready?
Your team needs to be playing outside. Your new arena should be open-air.
Okay, okay, I know there’s a lot of logistical problems with this, and I’ll get to those, but let’s just take a moment to think about the big picture. The NHL has started playing outside and people go bonkers for those games. Tennis is played outdoors to similar sized crowds in beautiful stadiums with roofs, and lights, and magic in the air. Think about it, you’d have the only open-air stadium in the NBA. Picture watching a glorious L.A. sunset as your team takes the court, gradually transitioning to evening under the lights, palm trees swaying in the breeze. It would be a destination for fans, it would be exciting to players, it would look different than any other game on T.V., and… it would be synonymous with Clipper Basketball.
Oh, and it needs to be small. More on that in a minute, but now let’s talk about some of those logisitics…
The only place this really makes sense is in Los Angeles. The weather here never (really) gets below 50 degrees, and it hardly rains. That being said, I think we’re definitely talking about a retractable roof. Basketball is a winter sport, and weather will be a factor, even in SoCal. But, the majority of the games could still be played with the roof open. What about the cool temperatures in December, you say? Well, two ideas for that. One, roof closed and the temp is controlled — not an issue. Two, and this is a bit more radical… play the games earlier. Games against Eastern time zone teams get a 4pm tip-off. It’s not as cold with the early start, and besides, people go to NFL games outside all winter long and could care less about the weather. And yes, you can start an NBA game at 4pm. First, you’ll get better ratings on the East coast. Second, nobody in L.A. works during the day anyway, so they’re available to attend. What about local TV ratings, you ask? Fans mostly consume these games on our phones, and online, and the majority of the time the only people watching the game live are the people in the stands. Do local TV ratings suffer? Probably a little, but this stadium is worth that trade off. Early start games would be a special thing — like weekday Dodger games. There’s only a few per year. And, if you make it an elite ticket people will go to the early start games. It’d be like having a ticket to Hamilton; only the worst boss in the world wouldn’t let you leave early for such an event. As the season progresses and it gets darker later, you can skip the 4pm start if you want. Or, if it’s hot in June (as L.A. tends to be sometimes) playing at night will be a welcomed break from the heat. My point is weather shouldn’t be a reason NOT to do this, and is every reason why you SHOULD.
As inspiration for what I’m seeing for this venue, look at Centre Court at Wimbledon or even Arthur Ashe Court at the US Open. Open-air with a roof, not very tall, but still 15,000 seats (yes, Centre Court is that big, and no, it doesn’t look like it). Oh, and is a very good-looking building. Now, Arthur Ashe is a 23,000 seat venue, which by NBA standards would be the biggest in the league — I don’t think that’s the way you wan to go with your arena. But, for reference, Ashe has great luxury boxes, perfect sight-lines, and despite it’s size still feels intimate. Why I say you don’t want that size is because (as previously mentioned) you want to make this ticket special. Make it hard to get in and Angelinos will love it. If Ralph’s had a twenty person capacity and a waiting list it would be the hottest spot in town. Keep this Centre Court size, and make it THE ticket in town. And, if it’s small the fans will be on top of the action, creating a baskeball experience like no other. It will be loud, it will be rocking, it will be a definitive home court advantage. There’s still another way to make this place special…
Build a unique and beautiful structure, and it will become iconic.
Is it covered in ivy? Is it red brick? Is open on one end revealing a view of the mountains? Maybe. Just make it look great. Make it a temple to basketball. Make it something people immediately recognize, and say: “That’s the best arena in the league… that’s where the Clippers play.” If cameras love it, network TV will love it, and you’ll play more nationally televised games. Didn’t we all tune in to Baltimore Orioles games when Camden Yards was the new, revolutionary stadium? Has basketball EVER had a revolutionary new stadium? This is an opportunity to do something great, and YOU, Mr. Ballmer, are just the guy to do it!
The final reason to do this is also possibly the best. Atmosphere. I mentioned the intimate size and all that comes with it, but beyond that, playing outside will give a new feel to the game. Almost like watching a public court on a playground. You’re outside at night under the lights in Los Angeles. No jumbotron over the center of the court, no expensive nose-bleed seats that nobody wants. The only thing you’d be under are stars or blue sky. This would be a singular NBA experience, and one that would make people stop thinking about the Clippers as Kramer to the Lakers’ Seinfeld. The Clippers could finally be recognized as their own team, have their own identity, and would at long last finally be at home.
Thank you, Mr. Ballmer. Please take this advice seriously despite my being a Celtic fan. After all, you’re the enemy of my enemy which must make us friends. Best of luck in your new home!