In a series amid the coronavirus pandemic, Billboard is asking individuals from all sectors of the music business to share stories of how they work now, with much of the world quarantined at home and unable to take in-person meetings, attend conferences or even go into the office. Read the full series here.
This installment is with Kim Stone, a veteran arena executive who rose through the ranks with the NBA’s Miami Heat at AmericanAirlines Arena in Florida, where she promoted and served as general manager for 12 years. In 2019, Stone was named the GM of the Golden State Warriors’ Chase Center in San Francisco. She remains one of only six female GMs of an NBA Arena.
Kim Stone: I haven’t counted the months, but I think I have spent more time working for the [NBA’s Golden State] Warriors in “shelter-in-place” than I did opening the building and running events. (The Chase Center in San Francisco opened its doors on Sept. 6, 2019.) You have to take life as it comes at you. I’ve had experience [at AmericanAirlines Arena] in Miami through hurricane recoveries and we had Zika and MERS [Middle East Respiratory Syndrome] down there. I just never thought the COVID-19 pandemic would last this long.
I got here four months before we opened. That was an amazingly challenging but rewarding timeframe. Somebody told me then, “You are sprinting to a marathon,” and that sums it up well. We had so many amazing shows and events between September and when we had to close in March. We were just hitting our stride operationally. We were a well-oiled machine and then we hit a brick wall.
In the first two months of shelter in place, we had our Return to Events plan, which is almost 100 pages. We had to shelve it because we knew the health departments are going to tell us what we can ultimately do. We will have to redesign everything we designed.
When the NBA started talking about reopening in December, we were still well ahead. It’s about refining those plans and putting them into action. We weren’t in the NBA Bubble [which took place in Orlando between July and October]. We were one of the eight teams that was not invited. What we ended up doing were individual workouts with players and coaches. We created a 14-page plan, submitted that to the city, got approval and made sure we were compliant with NBA protocols.
Then the NBA said the teams that have been outside the bubble could do mini-camps. Now you are getting five-on-five scrimmaging where they make contact. So that was another plan that was approved by the city and the NBA. We had a successful two-week mini-camp. It proved that the safety protocols we put in place, which included daily testing, went really well. It was decreasing touch points, disinfecting. You no longer clean, you have to disinfect. And then social distancing. We are making sure there’s six feet between people and there is one entry point, an area of use and an exit point to limit the cross. Then there is mask wearing.
Watching how the industry was transformed after 9/11 in terms of security and entry sequences, I knew this was going to be something that was going to transform our industry. So I immediately created a Facility Health and Hygiene department. That department is responsible for monitoring CDC updates, ASHRAE [American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers] updates and making sure that they are informing our protocols for our entire company.
The person that heads up that department, our director of hygiene, is Jackie Ventura. Jackie worked with me for 18 years in Miami and she was the person who helped me with hurricane recovery and MERS and Zika. She has a very scientific approach, so she is perfect for reading all these scientific journals relating to COVID. She pulled together the plans we did for the individual workouts, and for the mini-camp she worked with the basketball operations team, our government affairs department and our facility operations to pull together that plan and make sure that it met NBA and city standards. I think we will see more directors of hygiene, because the NBA strongly recommends you have one and I believe we will live with this pandemic for a while.
I certainly hope [our experience with the NBA] gives us an advantage when concerts come back. In conversations with promoters, I can give them concrete examples of how we have been successful. We have been in close contact, especially with our partners at Live Nation, about what the live music industry wants to see when they come back and we are incorporating those things into our plans. One simple example of this is, in our dressing room corridor, which is where the artist and their talent will be, we’re putting in all touchless features.
As a new facility, pivoting in COVID has been much easier for us. Our ventilation system is state-of-the-art. It has capabilities and functions that didn’t exist years ago. Our infrastructure is new and modern, so it’s more flexible. Another thing is, we haven’t been open long enough for things to just become “the way we do it.” So it’s been easy to get people to pivot.
I am excited to go back, but I also understand that we are doing this with COVID. It is not business as usual. We have to prioritize compliance to those protocols in order to make sure that we keep everybody safe. We’re going back to the NBA games and this new normal, and we’re ready for it. No matter what, the ball will be bouncing Dec. 22.