When news broke that AEG had agreed to a deal with Crypto.com for the naming rights to Staples Center, it came as a shock to virtually everyone, and spawned a rain of jokes on social media. It was a jarring change for the Lakers’ arena, a building long considered a staple — pun intended — of downtown Los Angeles.
It was a move that came as a result of many things, and once more details began to surface, it became clearer why AEG made the decision it did. Specifically, they had about 700 million reasons to hand the naming rights over and absorb all the jokes that came with it, a fairly easy decision in the grand scheme of things.
But it’s also the type of bold entrepreneurial move that AEG that will reportedly make as a result of that cash injection that should have Lakers fans most excited. You see, AEG is not simply pocketing the cash they got from Crypto.com: They’re re-investing it in the arena, planning a wholesale remodel of Staples Center that will help them — and by extension, the Lakers — get a leg up in the stadiums and sports arena arms race on Los Angeles.
This has been a long-building but mostly unspoken war for the attention and dollars of L.A. residents. Think back just a few months ago, when the Los Angeles Clippers were widely mocked about their new arena and their commitment to ensuring every fan in attendance had about 13 toilets to choose from.
But those jokes aside, the Clippers’ Intuit Dome is a state-of-the-art arena loaded with modern technology, not surprising considering the unparalleled levels of spending power owner Steve Ballmer — the ninth-richest person in the world — possesses, even among NBA owners. The Clippers’ new arena represented yet another challenger in the competition for best sports venue in Los Angeles.
Perhaps nothing is topping the gaudiness of Stan Kroenke’s SoFi Stadium that houses both the Rams and the Chargers that is worth an estimated price tag just shy of $5 billion. After all, there is no competing with the money the NFL rakes in regularly, as well as Kroenke’s deep, deep pockets. But each new stadium pushed the Lakers further down the list of venues in Los Angeles, at least as far as modern amenities and quality of the building go, if not in terms of the actual on-court/field product, given the near-constant postseason foibles of their competitors. Staples Center’s status as an iconic venue full of winnings history was untouched, but as other stadiums became more modernized, Staples began to stick out more and more like a sore thumb.
All of which makes AEG’s two-part decision to sell the naming rights and invest that money into the arena equal parts wise and necessary. Fans need only look at the renovations that took place at Madison Square Garden in the early 2010s to get a sense of how a storied venue can undergo changes to be modernized while keeping its same feel.
How AEG may upgrade Staples Center is unknown, especially considering they haven’t even formally announced plans for remodeling, and the building name won’t even officially change to the Crypto.com Arena until next month. But scanning the NBA for various similar arena renovations could give a clue as to where the Lakers might look to make improvements.
The aforementioned MSG remodeling saw the arena receive a new scoreboard — a common item across nearly every renovation project in the league — as well as new suites and food options. Ballmer’s Intuit Dome featured fully electronic concession stands to reduce wait times and — in a post-COVID world — less person-to-person interaction.
The Suns and the city of Phoenix partnered for renovations less than a year ago to the PHX Arena that included “infrastructure upgrades with new and enhanced amenities aimed at boosting the fan experience, including new seating and social areas, renovated clubs and suites, technology-rich videoboards and state-of-the-art sound and lighting systems.”
When the Jazz renovated Vivint Arena in 2017, improvements were made to the entrance of the arena both on the exterior and interior to accommodate larger crowds. Nearly every renovation included upgrades to concessions and restaurants, including Vivint Arena and the Capital One Arena in Washington.
The remodeling of Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis also included plans for an outdoor public plaza. While LA Live outside Staples Center is certainly not in desperate need of renovations, it could still be part of the plans in some capacity. With AEG owning not just Staples but also the area around it, the possibilities are seemingly endless.
How much AEG will need to commit to the project varies rather widely, though. The Knicks’ renovations topped out at $1 billion and featured a rather full-scale overhaul, though the fact the arena is over 50 years old likely played a role in that. Arenas closer in age to Staples Center (built in 1999) include the aforementioned Gainbridge Fieldhouse (1999) and Capital One Arena (1997) and their respective projects cost an estimated $360 million and $55 million, respectively.
Staples Center rarely lacks in attendance, so the renovations likely won’t target bringing in larger crowds necessarily, but instead on ensuring those attendees spend more money. Improved amenities like concession stands, restaurants and team stores would draw in more money while a renovated arena in general would lead to increase ticket prices.
Those improved game-day experiences will also directly lead to a larger income for the Lakers at home games, crucially without them spending any money of their own, something they’re not always willing to do. They also net a cryptocurrency deal with Crypto.com, and, for all the jokes about crypto and Bitcoin, it’s an avenue that sees lots of money funnel through it in the modern world.
Why is that good news for Lakers fans? It’s not because we’re excited about rich people getting more money. Not only will this likely lead to a better fan experience at Staples in terms of services, but for the cash-poor Lakers themselves — who are a rarity among NBA teams in that they’re a family-owned business that has to run a profit rather a billionaire’s plaything — all of this is potential money in their pocket without having to spend a penny. Money the Buss family might even reinvest in the team, much like AEG did in the arena.
On top of that for AEG, improved venues are often targets of major sporting events like the NCAA basketball tournament games and potentially the Final Four (though it’s generally held in stadiums) or NBA or NHL All-Star games and weekends among many other possibilities.
Staples Center hadn’t fallen behind the power curve too far yet, but changes were needed to keep up with the Joneses, so to speak, especially in Los Angeles. AEG’s decision to invest in the arena, funded largely through its naming rights deal, is one that could and should allow it to stay in the mix among the best arenas or stadiums in L.A.
It certainly required a bit of boldness from AEG, and some thick skin to handle the jokes that did — and will continue to — come their way. The result, though, is a future for Staples Center/Crypto.com Arena/The Crypt that could tangibly help the Lakers without the team needing to spend a cent.