No matter how wealthy you become, you will never be able to buy court side tickets to a New York Knicks game. You have a better chance of finding someone famous who will take you there on a date than you do of having a large enough sum of money to buy a ticket. Because, the only way to get those seats is to be famous enough that the Knicks want you to sit there.
An awesome article in the New York Times yesterday by Sarah Lyall gave an inside peek at the complicated process that a group of MSG staffers uses to figure out who gets the most prominent seats in the Garden.
“If you're an A-level person and we know the fans are going to go bananas when your picture goes up on the scoreboard, then there's a value having you there,” said Barry Watkins, the Madison Square Garden company's executive vice president for communications and administration.
“We think it's a big part of the brand. Win or lose, it's one of the reasons people come to the games.”
This creates a strange balancing act for the MSG staff; how to balance the relative importance of celebrities without offending their notoriously fragile egos. Despite some prissy, entitled stereotypes of the rich and famous, those attitudes do not parlay into better viewpoints to watch the game (and be seen by the masses).
Mr. Watkins said that the Garden occasionally gets snippy queries for “front row or nothing” tickets, to which the Garden's response is, generally, “nothing.” Leslie Sloane Zelnik, co-president of BWR Public Relations, said that most of her clients are grateful to get tickets at all. “I've honestly had A-listers sit in the second or third row and not complain,” she said.
There are plenty of seats which the Garden dispenses, with the compliments of the company, to well-known names. This is all mapped out and charted on an Excel spreadsheet titled "VIP Locations" which contains the Holy Grail formula of celebrity rankings used for Knicks games.
The NY Times suggests that MSG often must distribute 20+ celebrities at a single game, in addition to those that pay for their own tickets. There are some guidelines which have been shared with the public, guidelines which ensure an optimization of cultural spotlight and the celebrities experience as a fan.
"Make sure they all have decent seats. Make sure that some, but not all, end up sitting with other celebrities. Make sure to put the most important people in Celebrity Row —
this calculation is “based on the A-level nature” of those celebrities, Mr. Watkins said — while not hurting the feelings of the people whose level hovers down at the sad end of the alphabet."
There is even a complimentary lounge, Suite 200, which MSG maintains for its fans of note. In addition to food and beverages, it is stocked with the full zoo of gadget attachments and charges as well as basic needs like aspirin or Chapstick.
But even though the guests don't pay for Suite 200 (or, often, their seats), the Knicks organization does expect some favors in return for their proactive special treatment.
But there is a quid pro quo, and agreeing to be filmed at your seat for broadcast on the GardenVision screen during games is only the beginning. Some of the celebrities work for the Knicks' Garden of Dreams foundation, a charity that helps disadvantaged and ill young people. Others appear in interviews and promotional spots during games and on the MSG Network; attend parties for Garden employees; shoot scenes from movies and TV shows at the Garden; or even appear in recruitment videos designed to lure potential players to the Knicks. The late James Gandolfini appeared in character in two such videos alongside his “Sopranos” co-star Edie Falco, explaining to Amar'e Stoudemire and LeBron James why New York was a good place to relocate.
So keep dreaming about sitting next to Spike Lee. Never going to happen. Though if you are interested in a career of catering or customer service, working in this capacity with the Knicks and MSG sounds pretty fascinating.
Having some degree of power/influence over a collection of the most interesting people in the world, like the social arrangers do, is sure to fuel some incredible little anecdotes and provide some really cool opportunities to get to know some legends.
Via: New York Times, Top Photo Courtesy: Chris Trotman/Getty Images