After returning from the NBA All-Star break, the Utah Jazz were faced with a busy-if-theoretically-advantageous schedule of five home games in an eight-day span.
Which, it turns out, made the people who play in Vivint Smart Home Arena actually far less busy than the people who work in it.
Including those Jazz games, the Viv hosted nine events in as many nights, almost all of which required a floor changeover — a busy streak unprecedented in the 24-year career of Jamie Galileo, senior vice president of facilities for Larry H. Miller Sports & Entertainment.
“There’s a lot of overtime this week,” Galileo told The Salt Lake Tribune on the penultimate day of the streak. “But there’s a lot of revenue going on this week, right? So the two kind of go with each other.”
Galileo oversees both the four- to five-person day staff (responsible for moving furniture, setting up chairs, tweaking arrangements, hooking up electronics, et cetera) as well as the more extensive nighttime “changeover crew,” which consists of between five and seven full-time people, and then anywhere from 10 to 20 part-time or temporary workers.
Meanwhile, Chad Keefer, LHMSE’s director of guest services, is in charge of a group of about 215 “frontline team members — ticket-takers, ushers, directionals and the people who are serving our guests during events.” Those employees’ jobs are “event-based,” meaning that they work when there’s something going on in the building, and they don’t when there’s not.
“We had five Jazz games, and [after four of them] there was a concert,” he said. “Those concerts varied from kind of a smaller show on Sunday [Feb. 23] with TobyMac” to “the Blake Shelton concert, [where] it was all hands on deck.”
Yeah, it turns out that alternating from a basketball-ready arena to a concert-ready one (and back again … and back again) requires a ton of behind-the-scenes work, as does staffing each of them. But between the Jazz vs. Spurs game on Friday, Feb. 21 and the Ludacris and Hip-Hop Legends concert on Saturday, Feb. 29, that’s what happened on nine consecutive nights.
‘ALL HANDS ON DECK’
Vivint Smart Home Arena hosted events for an unprecedented nine consecutive days, with a floor changeover required between almost all of them:
Friday, Feb. 21 • Jazz vs. Spurs, classic court
Saturday, Feb. 22 • Jazz vs. Rockets, classic court
Sunday, Feb. 23 • TobyMac concert
Monday, Feb. 24 • Jazz vs. Suns, classic court
Tuesday, Feb. 25 • Miranda Lambert concert
Wednesday, Feb. 26 • Jazz vs. Celtics, purple mountain court
Thursday, Feb. 27 • Blake Shelton concert
Friday, Feb. 28 • Jazz vs. Wizards, classic court
Saturday, Feb. 29 • Ludacris and Hip-Hop Legends concert
The building operations team’s procedures are pretty well-honed at this point. On an average night where they’re swapping from basketball court to concert floor, their process basically begins once the game ends.
While whatever company that has paid for the opportunity to go onto the court to shoot some postgame free throws does so, the crew starts cleaning up the lower bowl and removing the freestanding chairs that are placed in the first three rows of seating. Then, once the amateur hoopers have left and security has cleared the building, the risers of permanent “demountable” chairs are pushed back, and the process of deconstructing and picking up the 8-by-4-foot court pieces gets underway.
“They just stack, so you just pull them out — kind of like laying cards on the table almost,” Galileo said. “So they’ll start at both ends and work their way to the middle, and they just stack them on pallets, [and] forklifts take them away. Just kind of goes back and forth — it disappears.”
The court removal can go as quickly as 90 minutes or as long as three hours, though he estimated it typically takes two to two and a half. From there, if an artist is bringing in a stage of their own, the changeover crew will make way for the performer’s roadies for a while. Sometimes, though, they’re tasked with doing a stage-build themselves. Then, if the concert floor is not a general admission setup, they’ll begin marking the concrete floor to establish where the roughly 1,200 to 1,500 floor seats will go. By the time the band is doing soundcheck, those chairs are typically being put into place.
“Without [the changeover crew], nothing’s going to happen, right?” Galileo said “… They’re under a ton of pressure, but they’re so good at what they do. And we try to leave them two, three, four extra hours just in case, because it’s very mechanical and things can go awry, or something doesn’t quite come out right and has to be redone. But it’s very rare.”
As for the frontline staff, Keefer said that the majority of them worked all five Jazz games, plus the sold-out Blake Shelton concert, while portions of the group worked the other shows.
This notorious stretch actually happened by accident. What was originally supposed to be a four-on, one-off, four-on period wound up becoming the nine in a row as a result of Miranda Lambert’s show being rescheduled from Jan. 31 to Feb. 25 due to illness.
“That was supposed to be our day off between two four-day stretches,” Keefer said. “… But I really made it a point to remind our staff on our fourth, fifth consecutive day that even if we’re starting to get tired, it may be one of our guests’ first times at the arena, so we want them to have a great experience. Once those doors open, we have to flip that switch. We have to provide the best service we can, because people are choosing to spend their discretionary income on us, and we don’t take that lightly.”
Of course, even had the Lambert concert occurred as originally scheduled, the changeover crew still would have had work to do in spite of that Feb. 25 date being bookended by Jazz games. After all, these days, the team doesn’t just have one court design — it has three. For the Jazz’s Feb. 24 matchup vs. the Suns, they played on their 232-piece standard floor, which features the multicolored basketball at center court. But for their Feb. 26 game against the Celtics, they played on their 217-piece retro “purple mountain” floor.
And on and on it goes.
Though the nine days of events in a row came to a close on March 1 (the Viv is typically dark on Sundays), there was still work taking place — as the crew installed a court for the Jazz’s G League affiliate, the Salt Lake City Stars, who played there on Monday, March 2, in conjunction with a Joe Ingles bobblehead giveaway. That was a somewhat unique event. Then again, “unique events” have also become somewhat commonplace.
“This has been pretty straightforward in the sense of games, concerts, games, concerts,” said Frank Zang, LHMSE’s senior vice president of communications, “but at other times of the year, we’ll have dirt events [like rodeo or motocross], and ice events.”
Like, say, Disney on Ice, which required two days of installation on Tuesday and Wednesday, followed by eight scheduled shows between Thursday and Sunday.
“We’re out Zamboni-ing the ice in between performances. We’re cleaning the arena in between performances,” said Galileo. “… We finish Sunday — I think the last show ends 8 o’clock; they have to load out, which will take at least till midnight. At midnight, we’ll shut down the ice plant, heat the floor up a little bit, push all the ice out into the backlot because we don’t have time to put it anywhere else, then we have to dry everything up perfectly, put the basketball floor down and be ready for [the visiting Toronto Raptors’ shootaround] Monday morning, 10 a.m.”
So yeah, there’s a lot of work going on at the Viv these days, while events are squeezed into available holes now in anticipation of holding dates open for Jazz playoff games down the road.
There’s also a lot of sacrifice that goes into this augmentation of the fan experience, too.
“Where I felt it most was with our families,” Keefer said. “You have to have a really good support spouse. It’s hard on them and on us. They have to be pretty understanding. And you have to have a good work-life balance.”