STAPLES Center President Talks 20 Years of L.A. Sports

October 16, 2019

The iconic STAPLES Center in Los Angeles is celebrating its 20-year anniversary this week.

Founded in 1999, the arena has grown into a world-class facility — on par with New York’s Madison Square Garden and London’s O2 Arena — and is now home to four professional sports teams, including the NBA’s Lakers and Clippers.

Yet opening STAPLES two decades ago in the less-than-thriving downtown City of Angels was a risky bet.

“The success of STAPLES Center was never guaranteed,” said Lee Zeidman, the president of STAPLES Center and L.A. Live, an adjacent entertainment center. “Nobody went downtown. It rolled up its carpet and closed at 5 p.m.”

Today, STAPLES draws enormous crowds to its events, which range from basketball to hockey to the Grammy Awards. In total, the arena has held 5,000 events, welcomed 75 million fans, and sold over 20 million beers.

The arena is also gearing up for a major event in the sports world next week: the NBA’s October 22 opening night matchup between the teams that call it home: the Lakers and the Clippers.

“We will be the center of the NBA universe,” said Zeidman, who was the arena's first full-time employee 20 years ago. “It is one of the most anticipated opening night games in the history of the NBA."

FULL TRANSCRIPT

Alyssa Julya Smith: Hello and welcome to Only in LA,

Alyssa Julya Smith: I'm Alyssa Julya Smith.

Max Godnick: And I am Laker fan, Max Godnick.

Max Godnick: [LAUGHTER] This is the show where we explore

Max Godnick: every corner of LA culture,

Max Godnick: from politics to pop, to pop culture.

Max Godnick: And today, we're focusing on one of

Max Godnick: the biggest perks of living in Los Angeles, sports.

Max Godnick: So let's dive right in.

Alyssa Julya Smith: Let's do it, Max. All right.

Alyssa Julya Smith: Los Angeles may be

Alyssa Julya Smith: synonymous with Hollywood entertainment,

Alyssa Julya Smith: but there's another kind of

Alyssa Julya Smith: entertainment industry here in

Alyssa Julya Smith: the city built around LAs world famous sports teams,

Alyssa Julya Smith: and it's a good time to be an LA sports fan. Right, Max?

Max Godnick: Oh, yes.

Alyssa Julya Smith: We're still not over the Dodgers heartbreaking exit.

Max Godnick: I am not that.

Alyssa Julya Smith: I'm not, and I mean I'm mourning them today in this,

Alyssa Julya Smith: uh, shirt, but they did have a pretty amazing run.

Alyssa Julya Smith: Breaking a franchise record for regular season wins.

Alyssa Julya Smith: Even though, it'd be pretty

Alyssa Julya Smith: nice if we were heading to the World Series today.

Alyssa Julya Smith: Congrats, Nats fans.

Max Godnick: I guess. But, we won't have to

Max Godnick: wait long for better days ahead.

Max Godnick: In just one week,

Max Godnick: basketball will take over the city when

Max Godnick: the NBA season tips off,

Max Godnick: and this year, LA is at the center of it all.

Max Godnick: LeBron James is beginning the second year of

Max Godnick: his $153 million four-year contract,

Max Godnick: and he's hoping it goes a lot better than year one,

Max Godnick: and it probably will.

Max Godnick: The team finally landed

Max Godnick: Anthony Davis in a trade with the New Orleans Pelicans,

Max Godnick: even though they filled up an Uber

Max Godnick: excel with young talent in order to make it happen.

Alyssa Julya Smith: [LAUGHTER]

Max Godnick: Now, the Lakers are

Max Godnick: definitely back in the championship conversation.

Max Godnick: But Alyssa, they may not even be

Max Godnick: the best team in the city or their own arena.

Alyssa Julya Smith: That's right.

Max Godnick: That's because the Clippers shocked fans this summer,

Max Godnick: picking up two massive superstars.

Max Godnick: 2019 finals MVP Kawhi

Max Godnick: Leonard and six-time all star Paul George.

Max Godnick: After all those years of playing

Max Godnick: second fiddle to the team just down the hall,

Max Godnick: the Clippers are going all out for what could be

Max Godnick: their first title in franchise history. Very exciting.

Alyssa Julya Smith: Very exciting time to be an LA.

Alyssa Julya Smith: Plus, we can't forget the Kings.

Alyssa Julya Smith: Those two Stanley Cups

Alyssa Julya Smith: earlier this decade seemed

Alyssa Julya Smith: like a lifetime ago, don't they?

Max Godnick: They feelin' it.

Alyssa Julya Smith: Especially, coming off 2019s

Alyssa Julya Smith: last place finish in the Western Conference.

Alyssa Julya Smith: It'll be a long rebuild ahead,

Alyssa Julya Smith: but there is enough young talent on

Alyssa Julya Smith: the roster to give the team a shot at one day

Alyssa Julya Smith: reclaiming the throne from

Alyssa Julya Smith: the current king of the Staples Center, LeBron James.

Max Godnick: Yeah, that guy. And over- after over two decades,

Max Godnick: two decades without a football team to root for,

Max Godnick: the city's Gridiron glory days are back with two teams,

Max Godnick: the Rams and Chargers.

Max Godnick: But so far, this season hasn't exactly gone to plan.

Max Godnick: The Rams were defending NFC champs coming

Max Godnick: into the season off a brutal Super Bowl loss.

Max Godnick: But things aren't looking too hot so

Max Godnick: far with a 3-3 record.

Max Godnick: But, you know, it's not too bad.

Alyssa Julya Smith: [LAUGHTER]

Max Godnick: And the Chargers, well,

Max Godnick: they have an even worse record this year.

Max Godnick: We won't even go into that.

Max Godnick: But there still, is lots of football left to play.

Max Godnick: So let's, let's keep things optimistic, Alyssa.

Max Godnick: [OVERLAPPING]

Alyssa Julya Smith: We're staying optimistic, because we're rooting

Alyssa Julya Smith: for all the teams in LA, today.

Alyssa Julya Smith: And we could talk all day about

Alyssa Julya Smith: the teams here in LA, we have to celebrate,

Alyssa Julya Smith: would even get to soccer with the Galaxy and

Alyssa Julya Smith: LA FC or the WNBA and the Sparks, Max. But- [OVERLAPPING]

Max Godnick: There is a shortage of teams.

Alyssa Julya Smith: There's a lot of stuff going on.

Alyssa Julya Smith: But when it comes to seeing a game in LA,

Alyssa Julya Smith: including the Sparks, you can't beat the Staples Center.

Alyssa Julya Smith: So home, too, for pro sports fans, franchises,

Alyssa Julya Smith: it hosts the biggest acts in the game

Alyssa Julya Smith: from Beyonce and Jay-Z to Keith Urban,

Alyssa Julya Smith: Paul McCartney, and 2019 marks its 20th anniversary.

Alyssa Julya Smith: So joining us now to look back at two decades in

Alyssa Julya Smith: the spotlight and everything to come is Lee Zeidman,

Alyssa Julya Smith: he's the President of

Alyssa Julya Smith: Staples Center Microsoft Theater in LA Live.

Alyssa Julya Smith: That's a lot of titles, Lee- [OVERLAPPING]

Max Godnick: What a resume.

Alyssa Julya Smith: -thanks so much for joining us today.

Lee Zeidman: It's a big campus that- [OVERLAPPING]

Alyssa Julya Smith: You are the man on campus.

Alyssa Julya Smith: Now, you've been there since the start over two decades,

Alyssa Julya Smith: what's made it so successful in

Alyssa Julya Smith: these past two decades

Alyssa Julya Smith: that you've gotten to see firsthand?

Max Godnick: You were the first full-time employee ever hired.

Lee Zeidman: I was the first full-time employee hired.

Lee Zeidman: I was actually working at The Forum at the time,

Lee Zeidman: working for [inaudible 00:03:59] bus,

Lee Zeidman: and I was a representative on the new committee for

Lee Zeidman: the new arena before I was hired to

Lee Zeidman: be the first employee at Staples Center.

Lee Zeidman: But what makes it, you know,

Lee Zeidman: what makes Staples Center, Staples Center?

Lee Zeidman: Three things. First of all,

Lee Zeidman: it's an iconic design. It's a great venue.

Lee Zeidman: The second thing is, we picked the

Lee Zeidman: best and the biggest systems to operate it,

Lee Zeidman: because we knew we were going to have to do the

Lee Zeidman: biggest and the best events out there.

Lee Zeidman: We were gonna have to flip the arena on a dime,

Lee Zeidman: turn it over from basketball to hockey,

Lee Zeidman: to hockey to basketball,

Lee Zeidman: basketball to basketball to the Grammy's to basketball.

Lee Zeidman: Well, we'd pick the better systems.

Max Godnick: [LAUGHTER]

Lee Zeidman: And the third thing is,

Lee Zeidman: we hired the best people out

Lee Zeidman: there who bought into our vision.

Lee Zeidman: And then, what I tell people that the fourth thing

Lee Zeidman: probably is it doesn't hurt to

Lee Zeidman: have your pride tenant win

Lee Zeidman: three world championships in

Lee Zeidman: the first three years of operation.

Max Godnick: Yeah, that probably helps. Location, too. Uh-

MALE_1: Seems like a great idea now to be in downtown LA,

MALE_1: but at the time 20 years ago,

MALE_1: that was a very controversial decision.

MALE_1: So how have you proved the haters wrong?

Lee Zeidman: Well, first of all you have to understand

Lee Zeidman: that the success of Staples Center was never guaranteed.

Lee Zeidman: We had to get everybody to move from the Forum,

Lee Zeidman: and they had been at the Forum for 31 years now.

Lee Zeidman: The Lakers and the Kings fan,

Lee Zeidman: the Clippers came in, you know,

Lee Zeidman: about six weeks before we opened.

Lee Zeidman: They were already downtown.

Lee Zeidman: Nobody went downtown.

Lee Zeidman: It rolled up its carpet and closed at 5:00 pm.

Lee Zeidman: At that time there were probably

Lee Zeidman: a couple hundred thousand people working there,

Lee Zeidman: maybe 10,000 people living there.

Lee Zeidman: I'd been in Southern California at

Lee Zeidman: that time for probably 40 years,

Lee Zeidman: I never went downtown.

Lee Zeidman: I didn't know how to drive downtown, and when I did,

Lee Zeidman: I could never navigate

Lee Zeidman: those one way streets because I

Lee Zeidman: had no idea where I was going.

Female Speaker: I've driven the wrong way on

Female Speaker: those many a times [LAUGHTER] just

Female Speaker: for the record [LAUGHTER].

Lee Zeidman: We had to clean it up. Working with

Lee Zeidman: the city of Los Angeles,

Lee Zeidman: we cleaned it up and then we

Lee Zeidman: educated, educated, and educated.

Lee Zeidman: We educated the fans on how to get there,

Lee Zeidman: we educated them about all the new amenities of

Lee Zeidman: the new building and why downtown Los Angeles made sense.

Lee Zeidman: And those of you who can remember back then,

Lee Zeidman: we had parking lots all around us.

MALE_1: Right.

Lee Zeidman: You know, parking lots everywhere.

Lee Zeidman: All you had to do was drive up,

Lee Zeidman: park, get out, go into the arena.

Lee Zeidman: Now, we have LA Live and

Lee Zeidman: a tremendous amount of

Lee Zeidman: development in and around the campus.

MALE_1: Yeah, we're downtown all the time.

Female Speaker: We love downtown. Now this summer

Female Speaker: LeBron James said Staples was

Female Speaker: the biggest winner of

Female Speaker: the NBA free agency. So why is that?

Lee Zeidman: Well, first of all, I said that before LeBron said that.

Lee Zeidman: It was July 5th when we had a Shawn Mendes concert,

Lee Zeidman: and if you recall back

Lee Zeidman: July fourth and fifth- [OVERLAPPING]

MALE_1: Love Shawn Mendes.

Lee Zeidman: -we had a few earthquakes, we had

Lee Zeidman: a few earthquakes and [OVERLAPPING]

Lee Zeidman: we were all waiting to find

Lee Zeidman: out where Kawhi Leonard was going to go.

MALE_1: Right.

Lee Zeidman: I was telling people for me

Lee Zeidman: as a venue operator and for Staples Center,

Lee Zeidman: we didn't really care where he went long

Lee Zeidman: as he went to either the Lakers or the Clippers.

Lee Zeidman: When he went to the Clippers,

Lee Zeidman: we became instant winners.

Lee Zeidman: The reason why Staples Center won was because now we have

Lee Zeidman: 82 games of what we call playoff caliber basketball,

Lee Zeidman: 41 from the Lakers,

Lee Zeidman: 41 from the Clippers,

Lee Zeidman: and we're going to be on national-

Lee Zeidman: the Clippers and the Lakers combined will be on

Lee Zeidman: national TV 58 times

Lee Zeidman: with 27 of those coming out of Staples Center.

Lee Zeidman: So it's a huge advantage to us.

Lee Zeidman: And the last thing is, you know,

Lee Zeidman: in my 20 years there, 21 years there,

Lee Zeidman: I've always hoped for a hallway series.

Lee Zeidman: I believed- and by a hallway series

Lee Zeidman: the Lakers have their locker room in the hallway,

Lee Zeidman: the Clippers two doors down have their locker room.

Lee Zeidman: I hope that one day that they'll play each other.

Lee Zeidman: Now this year, I think that the opportunity to play in

Lee Zeidman: the Western Conference final would be

Lee Zeidman: fantastic and a great possibility.

Lee Zeidman: Staples Center would get all seven games,

Lee Zeidman: and then one team would be

Lee Zeidman: guaranteed going to the NBA finals.

MALE_1: That's pretty good news for Staples. I'm from New York.

Female Speaker: I'm praying for that too.

MALE_1: I've seen a subway series.

MALE_1: I've never seen a hallway series.

MALE_1: So I'm hoping this is the year.

MALE_1: You mentioned LeBron, and LeBron is

MALE_1: obviously in the headlines a lot these days;

MALE_1: the NBA and this controversy with China and Hong Kong.

MALE_1: You are the Lakers landlord.

MALE_1: There's definitely a chance there could be

MALE_1: protests as the season gets underway.

MALE_1: What is Staples doing to prepare?

Lee Zeidman: Well, first and foremost, we take every event seriously.

Lee Zeidman: We do our research, we do our homework,

Lee Zeidman: we're in constant communication with LAPD,

Lee Zeidman: our partners Secret Service,

Lee Zeidman: Department of Homeland Security, and the FBI.

Lee Zeidman: So it doesn't make

Lee Zeidman: a difference if it's a concert, a Laker,

Lee Zeidman: or a Clipper game, we take- we

Lee Zeidman: take security very seriously.

Lee Zeidman: That said, we're monitoring social media.

Lee Zeidman: We know that there may be T-shirts that will be made

Lee Zeidman: that would be passed out in and around LA Live.

Lee Zeidman: We know that there is also a building code of

Lee Zeidman: conduct for fans that

Lee Zeidman: fans know about that's on our web site.

Lee Zeidman: There's also an NBA code of conduct for fans.

Lee Zeidman: And we will abide by that,

Lee Zeidman: and we will gently

Lee Zeidman: and responsibly talk to fans who get out of line,

Lee Zeidman: and we'll take the appropriate action.

Lee Zeidman: That said, I think October 22nd,

Lee Zeidman: we will be the center of

Lee Zeidman: the NBA universe and I think it's one of

Lee Zeidman: the most anticipated opening night games

Lee Zeidman: in the history of modern day NBA.

MALE_1: It's gotta be, I cannot wait.

Female Speaker: I- I cannot either.

Female Speaker: Lee, just to shift into some lighter news.

Female Speaker: The LA Kings covering up

Female Speaker: Taylor Swift's banner saying she's cursing them.

Female Speaker: So what do you make of all of this?

MALE_1: This is the real headline news.

Female Speaker: This is Taylor Swift cursing the games.

Lee Zeidman: Listen, we didn't take the banner down.

Lee Zeidman: Okay? The Kings fans

Lee Zeidman: and the Kings heard them and they want to cover it up.

Lee Zeidman: That said, the Clippers cover it up.

Lee Zeidman: The Lakers don't, you know,

Lee Zeidman: I'm not going to get involved in banner wars,

Lee Zeidman: I'm more interested in great content,

Lee Zeidman: great events, and make it a

Lee Zeidman: safe and secure for you to come there.

Lee Zeidman: That said, they won one and have

Lee Zeidman: lost two since they covered up the banners.

Lee Zeidman: You know, sports people are superstitious; U.S. fans,

Lee Zeidman: the people that come to the building,

Lee Zeidman: the people that work in the building,

Lee Zeidman: I myself, and all the athletes as well.

Lee Zeidman: So we'll see. I think it's- I think

Lee Zeidman: it's very fun to have this happen.

Lee Zeidman: It brings the Kings into the conversation-.

MALE_1: Yeah.

Lee Zeidman: -as it relates to the building and what's going

Lee Zeidman: on and we all know the Kings are in a rebuilding year.

Lee Zeidman: They haven't made any bones about that.

Lee Zeidman: And you have two high profile franchises.

Lee Zeidman: So this allows the Kings to

Lee Zeidman: become in that conversation mix as well, I believe.

MALE_1: Yeah.

Lee Zeidman: And then hopefully they can win some games,

Lee Zeidman: and then people point to that banner and say,

Lee Zeidman: "You know what? Maybe there was a curse." [LAUGHTER]

MALE_1: And maybe the Swifties come back around.

MALE_1: Really quick before we let you go,

MALE_1: we know the Clippers have a proposed new arena

MALE_1: in Inglewood, you know.

MALE_1: What's your pitch to get them to stay at Staples?

MALE_1: [LAUGHTER]

Lee Zeidman: Well, first of all, I think that

Lee Zeidman: the reasons why the Clippers want to move, you know,

Lee Zeidman: have been well-documented, and I think

Lee Zeidman: Steve Ballmer has made

Lee Zeidman: a case on why they want their own identity.

Lee Zeidman: That said, they're at

Lee Zeidman: Staples Center for another five years.

Lee Zeidman: We are going to make it the best

Lee Zeidman: experience not only for the franchise,

Lee Zeidman: but the Clipper fans,

Lee Zeidman: and any NBA fan that comes

Lee Zeidman: into the building for the next five years.

Lee Zeidman: As it relates to if they get that

Lee Zeidman: building built, that's out of my hands.

Lee Zeidman: As you've read and have seen in the news,

Lee Zeidman: that's in the court system, they'll figure that out.

Lee Zeidman: The NBA will figure that out with Dolan,

Lee Zeidman: and MSG, and Ballmer and his group.

Lee Zeidman: We will make it the best

Lee Zeidman: five years of the Clippers here and who knows,

Lee Zeidman: maybe they gonna win a couple of championships,

Lee Zeidman: hang a few banners right next to Taylor Swift's banner.

Lee Zeidman: [LAUGHTER]

MALE_1: They definitely have a chance. [LAUGHTER]

Female Speaker: Well, Lee, thank you so

Female Speaker: much for joining us. We really appreciate it.

Lee Zeidman: Thank you guys for having me.

Lee Zeidman: I really appreciate being on.

Female Speaker: Lee Zeidman everyone, President of Staples Center,

Female Speaker: Microsoft Theater, and LA Live,

Female Speaker: basically the big man on campus [LAUGHTER] right here.

MALE_1: Very exciting few months to come for Lee.

MALE_1: And after the break, we continue with

MALE_1: our sports edition of Only in LA.

MALE_1: One of the most famous gymnasts of

MALE_1: her time joins our L.A. studio, that's us.

MALE_1: The top paying college athletes.

MALE_1: You won't want to miss it. Stick around.

MALE_1: [MUSIC]