A look at the first round…

4 May

It’s playoff time for the National Basketball League and the National Hockey League, and venue managers for the 32 teams in the first rounds of the playoff are watching each game carefully to ensure that there facilities benefit from the added exposure of playing at sport’s highest level.

“Our team has had a great run so far, although we did get cheated out of two games,” joked Allan Johnson from the Amway Center in Orlando. The schedule for the NBA is a 2-2-1-1-1 system where the higher seeded team plays the first two games at home, then goes on the road for two games, then back home, then back on the road, then if necessary, plays Game 7 at home.

But the Orlando Magic didn’t need those three extra games against the Charlotte Bobcats, who lost the series 0-4 as new owner Michael Jordan sat courtside, looking mostly grim-faced as his team struggled through its first appearance ever in the playoffs.

“Last year was a fresh experience, having gone all the way to the Finals. The first round pales in comparison,” Johnson said. “We haven’t gotten a lot of the celebrities coming to the games yet. That will probably happen in the later rounds.”

Among the missing are golfer Tiger Woods, who was a courtside staple at last year’s playoffs. Johnson’s not worried — he saw Woods at a Nickleback concert last weekend — sitting on the stage.

In Philadelphia, the excitement over the Flyers is more palpable. After routing the New Jersey Devils 4-1, Comcast-Spectacor President Peter Luukko has taken an oath not to shave until the team either wins the Stanley Cup, or gets eliminated from the finals.

“He and the executives are doing it to raise money for local charities through

the Flyers Beard-A-Thon promotion,” explained spokesperson Ike Richman.

Also new at the Flyer’s Wachovia Center is a sushi roll designed to look like a Flyer’s logo. Served in the arena’s upscale Cadillac Grille, the roll includes tuna and salmon rolls, garnished with black and orange caviar. One roll is $18.

For the fans on the concourse, concessionaire Aramark created the Flyers Superpretzel, shaped like a Flyers logo and retailing at $3.75. The team also created something called the Flyer’d Up Funnel Dog for $6. Only Richman can describe this item.

“It is a hot dog, wrapped in funnel cake batter, deep fried and topped with powdered sugar.  Were taking our biggest fan favorite food item and combining it with our most popular dessert item to get a Funnel Cake Hot Dog (better than a corn dog!),” he wrote in an email.  “The item is tentatively called the ‘Flyer’d Up Funnel Dog ‘ but we are open to suggestions.”

Over at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, Lee Zeidman had two tenant teams in the playoffs, but the Kings have been eliminated by the Vancouver Canucks, while the Lakers are one game away from eliminating the Oklahoma City Thunder, who are making their first appearance in the playoffs.

“We’re not really doing that much different for the first round of the playoffs, but check back in with me in a few weeks,” he said. After all, this is familiar territory. The Lakers have been in the playoffs every year since the Staples Center opened in 1999, and have won four championships (and lost two).

At the American Airlines Center in Dallas, the team has seen an uptick in the number of fans who watch a simulcast of the away games in AT&T Plaza, just in front of the facility.

“We’re getting about 750-1,000 people per game,” said Ken Cool, assistant VP of Event Development. “We’ve created some additional food and beverage options to activate those spaces.”

His tenant team the Dallas Mavericks are trying to hold on against their arch rivals the San Antonio Spurs, who the Mavs play on the road tomorrow. The teams truly hate each other, Cool confirmed. But it’s a respectable hatred.

Also locked into a bitter death match are the Washington Capitals against the Montreal Canadians. Verizon Center GM David Touhey said he’s surprised it went to a Game 7. The Capitals are the top seeded team in the league and the series had the potential to be a big money-maker.

“The playoffs are all about surplus revenue, if you think you’re going into the playoffs, then you budget for a round or two of the playoffs,” Touhey said. “Right now the caps are on a sellout streak and during the playoffs, the consumer mindset is different. They buy more stuff and we open our doors and merch shop earlier. For some fans, going to the playoffs is a once in a lifetime experience.”

At least it’s the last chance they’ll have this season. The top-ranked Capitals were eliminated right at deadline. Better luck next year.

Interviewed for this article: Allan Johnson, (407) 810-3055; Ike Richman, (215) 389-9552; Lee Zeidman, (213) 742-7255; Ken Cool, (214) 665-4220; David Touhey, (202) 661-5060

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