Tuesday, June 19, 2012

A question for the SLA hearing on the Barclays Center alcohol service plan: how many other arenas serve VIP customers after the announced third-quarter cutoff, and does the NBA have an unannounced exception to its rules?

As the second day of a two-part hearing on the Barclays Center liquor license approaches tomorrow (7 pm, State Liquor Authority offices in Harlem), several questions remain, notably one regarding whether the arena plans to follow NBA policy, and whether that policy includes a previously unacknowledged exemption.

According to arena operators, they plan to offer alcohol service to up to 1,800 VIPs for an hour after NBA games, as well as an hour after all events.

They say that's in compliance with the NBA, and have said they plan to follow NBA guidelines.

That remains in question, since the NBA for more than seven years has had a cut-off after the third quarter, with no announced exception for high-rollers. In April, a lawyer for the arena said publicly that alcohol service would end after the third quarter, with no mention of exceptions.

No one will confirm for me whether that NBA policy includes such an exception, nor which other NBA arenas, if any, offer such an exception.

At the hearing tomorrow, the administrative law judge should be told to pose these very specific questions directly to the applicants for the liquor license:
  • For NBA games, do most/all other arenas, like Madison Square Garden, cut off alcohol service arenawide after third quarter?
  • How many are they like the Barclays Center plan, allowing alcohol consumption for those in VIP sections, for an hour after games? If so, which ones?
  • Does Barclays Center need a waiver from NBA guidelines? Or are those not binding? Or do they not apply to VIP seats?
(Other issues likely to come up regard Community Board 8's expected request for an earlier cutoff time than the announced 2 am, as well as concern about whether Jay-Z's 40/40 Club will offer bottle service.)

The NBA policy

The NBA policy, instigated after an alcohol-fueled brawl, seems pretty clear. On 2/17/05, the NBA announced NBA Establishes Revised Arena Guidelines for All NBA Arenas:
NEW YORK, Feb. 17 -- The National Basketball Association today issued to all teams a revised set of Arena Guidelines, according to NBA Deputy Commissioner and COO Russ Granik. The Guidelines include policies dealing with the deployment of security personnel, alcohol sales and a new Fan Code of Conduct.

The Arena Guidelines were prepared in consultation with NBA teams and arena operators, crowd management and security experts, law enforcement officials, members of the concessions industry and representatives of TEAM (Techniques for Effective Alcohol Management).

...The new Guidelines also set forth minimum standards regarding the serving of alcohol, including the provision that alcohol be served only until the start of the fourth quarter, restrictions on the size (24 ounces) and number (two) of alcoholic beverages sold per individual customer, the training of arena personnel in effective alcohol management, and the maintenance of designated driver programs in each NBA arena.
Is there an exemption for VIP seats? Do any other arenas practice the policy planned by the Barclays Center? (The New York Post reported that Madison Square Garden cuts off service at NBA games for all guests at the same time.)

Multiple queries to the NBA and the TEAM Coalition did not generate a response. (Go ahead, journalists with more juice than I, do query Mike Bass and Jill Pepper.)

Arena policies

Publicly stated arena policies seem clear. From TD Garden in Boston:
Our alcohol service will end at least one hour prior to the scheduled end of an event. We reserve the right to discontinue the sale of alcohol at any time.
The Staples Center in Los Angeles:
At NBA events, service of alcohol will stop when the official game clock indicates 12-minutes until the end of the game.
The Quicken Loans arena in Cleveland:
Alcohol service cut-off is made at the beginning of the 4th quarter for NBA games, at the end of the second intermission for AHL games, or at management’s discretion.
No one mentions an exemption for VIPs.

Could it be that the NBA allows such exceptions, but never told anyone?

Or could it be that the NBA had never been asked, but has agreed to go along with the Barclays Center's plans?

Forest City: "we are in compliance"

"We surveyed 12 NBA facilities, and all 12 have similar processes," arena GM John Sparks said last week, in a statement that has some wiggle room.

I queried Forest City External Affairs VP Ashley Cotton with those aforementioned questions about whether any NBA arenas serve VIPs after the third quarter and whether Barclays Center needs a waiver from NBA guidelines.

The response: "as you know we are in compliance with NBA and in the course of building and operating this arena we have of course looked at other operations."

That doesn't answer the question. If they're in line with other NBA arenas, wouldn't they be more specific? Could it be that the NBA allows arenas to depart from the announced rules when it comes to high-rollers?

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