NEW YORK (CelebrityAccess MediaWire) — When the Republican National Convention was booked into Madison Square Garden for August 30-September 2, the 72-year-old venue would not be available for concerts, theatrical events, and its only professional sports summer franchise–the New York Liberty of the WNBA. The obvious choices was to move the team to either the Continental Arena in New Jersey or the Nassau Coliseum in Long Island, both with similar capacities. One of the New York armories was also a possibility as basketball had been played in them decades ago. There was a long load-in time span that precluded any events and as well as a shorter load-out period.
However, MSG came up with a novel concept: Radio City Music Hall. Both the Garden and Radio City are owned by Cablevision, so the fit was a natural even if Radio City's capacity of 5,945 is only about a third of the Garden's. Not to mention that the Liberty was averaging about 11,000 people per game at the Garden. Radio City's only other sporting event in its 72 history was a WBF light heavyweight boxing match between Roy Jones Jr. and David Telesco in January 2000.
Six Liberty games (two in July and four in September) and an exhibition between the WNBA All-Stars and the U.S. Olympic women's basketball team on August 5 were scheduled for Radio City; the first was against the Detroit Shock on July 24, which drew a full house. The Liberty won 78-69.
"We are doing something that's never been done in the history of a pretty well-known building, and I think that adds a little extra spark," Radio City Hall general manager John Urban said. "The historic nature of this — not to be too dramatic about it — isn't lost on anybody."
To transform Radio City's proscenium stage into a basketball court, truckloads of equipment were transported 20 blocks uptown from the Garden, including the Garden's 4,700-square-foot basketball court that separated into more than 200 sections. Computers, medical supplies and other necessities were also brought to Radio City. Radio City also has the world's largest stage, measuring 140 feet wide and 83 feet deep, and there was enough room for the 94-by-50 court, as well as a scorer's table, a press row and even some seats behind the baskets. Those seats were priced at $230.
To help make Radio City feel more like a sports arena, the concessions added hot dogs, hot pretzels and ice cream. A scoreboard and video screens were rented and purchased and then installed. And to maintain some of the Radio City spirit in the venue, the Rockettes performed twice–before tip-off and during intermission.
"We wanted to do everything we needed to do to make this environment feel like basketball while maintaining the elegance and everything that's cool about Radio City," John Urban told Newsday. "The front of the house is still Radio City, but it's Radio City in the context of big sports events instead of big entertainment events." –Bob Grossweiner ad Jane Cohen