With COVID-19 putting the world on pause for months, 2020 certainly presented an array of new challenges for us all to overcome. Specifically, the world of sports came to an instant halt, and professional sports organizations were forced to redesign the remainder of their seasons. With the 2020 NBA Finals underway, we’ve seen just how swiftly the NBA was able to shift and adjust to the new way of living. From a single-site campus or “COVID-19 bubble” where all staff and players lived to creating a virtual fan experience, the NBA has pulled through to create an unforgettable season. To learn more about how it happened and what exactly went into the success of making the 2019–20 season work, SBJ Host Emily Grigely spoke with Kelly Flatow, the EVP of Events at the NBA. Check out what she had to say below.
Emily Grigely: The NBA has truly done such a tremendous job with returning to sports despite the pandemic, with no in-person fans yet accommodating the fans and the players, and navigating through the rest of this past season. What are some of the secrets you can share on how you made this modified season so successful?
Kelly Flatow: Well from day one, it was an incredible partnership with everyone internally and externally — from our partners at Warner Media to Disney, not just our media partner, but also here at Walt Disney World in Orlando had the great benefit of hearing and working with players directly. We had very close relationships every step of the way in the planning with the executive committee. So Chris Paul, Kyle Lowry, Dwight Powell, and a number of other players joined us on a regular basis so that we could plan this in partnership and design, something that would truly be fitting for what meets the best needs of the teams and the players and also make this a comfortable environment, knowing that at a minimum, teams and players would be here for six weeks and at a maximum over 12 weeks.
So that was a really important component of this, and having a collaborative effort internally as well. In the events space, we work very closely cross-functionally with every department in the organization. In this case, we had a team of people that not only leveraged their expertise, but that we relied on with no blueprint or playbook for this particular type of program. We relied on everyone’s best thinking and no one stayed in their lane.
It was an incredible team effort across the board to design a campus and create a space that would deliver a digital courtside experience for our fans, state of the art experiences and fields of play for our players and our teams, and ensure first and foremost, our number one priority, health and safety for everyone living on campus.