“We need to reinvent the entire fan experience and then communicate that to everybody.”

That is the view of Lee Zeidman, president of Los Angeles’ STAPLES Center arena, whose live events calendar has been decimated this year by COVID-19.

As the home of four professional sports teams – the NBA’s Lakers and Clippers, the NHL’s Kings and the WNBA’s Sparks – and a regular host of major music events, STAPLES Center’s calendar is typically jam-packed.

Like so many other arenas around the world, though, STAPLES Center has been closed to fans since March. The facility, which has a capacity of up to 21,000, has recently hosted the Emmys and the Mike Tyson vs Roy Jones Jr. boxing bout, but with events being held without spectators, STAPLES Center has, by Zeidman’s own admission, resembled more of a broadcast studio.

“(Broadcast) is all we have right now,” Zeidman said during the TheStadiumBusiness Summit 2020. Attendees can watch the session in full here.

“It’s not paying all the bills but it keeps some people working, which is one of the big things. We’ve got 4,000 part-time employees who haven’t really worked since March 12. We’ve been able to bring people back to work in obviously limited capacity with these events.

“And it’s kept our brand alive so we’re very fortunate that we’ve had events out there that have chosen us, and that the State of California and the County of Los Angeles have allowed us to host sporting events, albeit without fans right now.”

Zeidman added: “We’ve got to a point where we know how to work smarter and we know how to work harder. I think this is going to transform our industry, not only from sports and concerts but for every event.

“We were moving towards a more digital platform, this has just accelerated it. We’re talking about mobile ordering for food and beverages, digital ticketing, cashless. All of those things have been bandied about over the last year, year and a half, now it’s accelerated in my opinion because everyone is going to want to be cashless, contactless, digital. You want to take away all those touchpoints.”

It has been over 250 days since STAPLES Center hosted an event with fans. The NBA season is due to resume later this month but Clippers and Lakers games will be held behind closed doors until further notice.

Despite the absence of live sport and music, STAPLES Center has been open for other uses, including as a polling station during the US presidential election, meaning that plans had to be made to ensure the venue was COVID-secure.

“We felt that from the very get-go we needed to take an inventory of our building from top to bottom and take a look at everything that could be touched,” said Zeidman. “Paper towel dispensers, faucets, soap dispensers, flush valves.”

STAPLES Center was the first arena globally to be awarded the GBAC Star accreditation from the Global Biorisk Avisory Council (GBAC). The accreditation provides third-party validation that venues and organisations are undertaking thorough cleaning, disinfection, and infection prevention strategies.

STAPLES Center also partnered with nanoSeptic to install self-cleaning buttons on elevators.

“I don’t believe you’re ever going to replace the live experience of people coming with friends and family, so we as venue operators are going to have to show everybody that our venues are safe, they are secure, they are clean and they are sanitised,” said Zeidman.

While Zeidman admitted that the arena is facing a “long, tough winter” amid the continued absence of fans, he pointed to the recent news regarding COVID-19 vaccinations as a reason to be optimistic.

A number of NBA teams have detailed tentative plans to allow fans back into arenas when the season resumes this month. Zeidman anticipates that it will be some time before fans are back across the league.

“I think by the time we get to May, June, July, we’re going to be at a point where we’re introducing fans to not only outdoor venues but indoor venues,” he said. “I don’t know what those capacities are going to be but I’m very optimistic that as we move into the late spring, early summer and fall we’re going to get back to whatever we think normal will be again.”

On the return of concerts to the arena, Zeidman added: “We had probably 20 shows on the books for this past summer, prior to the pandemic. We were fortunate enough to move 16 of those and 13 of them are scheduled for the months of August and September (next year). We still have three that are on the books for March and April. I’m not sure we’re going to be able to get there just yet.

“I feel confident that at some point in August and September we’ve got a good shot at hosting those shows. I don’t know if we’re going to be at any mandates where we’re going to be at 25 per cent capacity, or 50 per cent capacity, or 100 per cent capacity, so if and when the county addresses that and more people are vaccinated and we get some sort of herd immunity, we’ll have those conversations with promoters well in advance to see how they want to address that.”

Attendees are able to watch sessions from all three days of TheStadiumBusiness Summit 2020 for the next 30 days through the event platform

The Summit returns to Manchester – in person, in the real world – on June 22-23, 2021.