Five 18-wheel moving vans drove off from Time Warner Cable Arena last week, hauling most everything a fan would associate with the Charlotte Bobcats:
Basket supports…shot clocks...uniforms and practice gear…The costumes and props for team mascot Rufus.
All of it – more than 72 tons, filling 20,000 cubic feet – was placed in storage to make way for the Democratic National Convention. It won’t be back until late September, 11 days before the Bobcats play their first home preseason game.
The Bobcats will be well compensated by the DNC for the six weeks they’ll vacate the event level of their home base. Still, this is a major shakeup so close to the outset of their ninth NBA season.
“They’ve assured us we get our building back on the 26th (of September) just as they found it,” said Bobcats president Fred Whitfield. “That was our biggest concern.”
Technically, August and September are the off-season, but in reality this is the Bobcats’ ramp-up time, both on and off the court. Players assemble in Charlotte by Labor Day for weeks of daily pickup games preparing for training camp. The business side is in a final push to sell tickets before the team opens the regular season in November.
Whitfield and his staff started planning this move-out six months ago. The single biggest concern: Not disrupting the players’ preparation. The Bobcats have a new coach in Mike Dunlap and a slew of new players via the draft, free-agency and trades.
They’re hoping for significant improvement after last season’s 7-59 record, worst in NBA history.
“Especially with Mike Dunlap’s player-development agenda and our players getting into the mindset of coming in every day (of the off-season), we wanted to have a system in place where it would be very easy for them to go through their normal regimen,” Whitfield said.
So the Bobcats arranged to use Johnson & Wales’ gymnasium on the edge of uptown as their temporary training facility. The college will turn over the gym, two locker rooms, their training room and a player lounge to the Bobcats’ exclusive use from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., until fall classes begin the second week of September.
For the rest of September, the Bobcats will get Johnson & Wales’ gym two hours each morning. As a perk, J&W students will be invited to watch pickup games from the gym’s bleachers.
Gutting the arena
The Bobcats needed Johnson & Wales because nearly every basketball-related area – the practice court, the locker room, the weight room, etc. – will be off limits as of Aug. 16.
Workmen have already started gutting the arena bowl. Miles of new electrical cable is being installed weekly. All the usual signage has been removed and about half the suites have been stripped to the walls and repainted beige.
“They’re going to be (television) studios – the ones that face the stage, so that if a correspondent sits in a chair, you’ll see the stage behind him,” Whitfield said. “Now they’re basically just a shell of a suite, with no seats.”
The Bobcats lost their team store quickly after the season, since the DNC planned to use that space for its offices. It worked out well that the Bobcats were changing team colors, prodding them to discount inventory rather than store it for next season.
The Bobcats’ business offices on the arena’s upper floors will only be shut down for about a week, but that doesn’t mean business operations won’t be affected.
Late summer/early fall is the team’s last chance to sell season tickets. With the arena bowl gutted and off-limits, the chance to tour the facility with prospective customers is gone. So the Bobcats developed a smart-phone app to recreate views from the stands.
“We still have to generate revenue. We still have to make our numbers,” Whitfield said. “The business marches on.”
In fact, the arena will host a business meeting for telecommunications firm ACN two days after reopening and a preseason game a week later.
Based on how efficiently the arena was taken apart, Whitfield isn’t worried about putting it back together.
“They are like a machine,”Whitfield said of the DNC workforce. “Just lock our doors and leave. I have all the confidence in the world.”