- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 20, 2009

DENVER | The soothing sounds of Yanni and the chair-breaking chaos of pro wrestling have this much in common - they put bodies in the seats, money in the register and have caused the NHL and NBA a couple of headaches this playoff season.

They also remind that while teams like the Denver Nuggets and Pittsburgh Penguins play for cups and rings and trophies, the bottom line at their arenas - and most arenas - is still the bottom line.

“The facility is just as important - or in some cases more important - than the franchise itself,” said Wayne McDonnell, a professor at the New York University Tisch Center who used to handle scheduling logistics at Madison Square Garden.

Which is one way to explain how the Penguins recently found themselves getting iced by Yanni and the Nuggets currently find themselves in a smackdown with Vince McMahon, the chairman of World Wrestling Entertainment.

The company that owns the Nuggets had to scrub next week’s WWE “Monday Night Raw” wrestling date at Pepsi Center to make way for Game 4 of the Western Conference finals against the Lakers.

Earlier this month, a Yanni concert scheduled for Mellon Arena in Pittsburgh - along with a number of other events, including WWE - forced the Penguins and Washington Capitals to play playoff games on back-to-back nights, first in Pittsburgh, then in the District.

The Nuggets, Colorado Avalanche and Pepsi Center are all owned by the same company. Squeezing every penny out of that building through ticket sales, concessions, parking, luxury suites and souvenirs for all events - even those not involving the primary tenants - helps pay the multimillion-dollar salaries that keep the teams in business.

Though the Penguins and Mellon Arena aren’t co-owned, the bottom line is basically the same: A building that hosts an event normally makes somewhere between $100,000 and $500,000, and nobody wants to give up that kind of cash. That’s especially true in Pittsburgh, where the arena is nearly 50 years old and doesn’t draw as many top events as the newer buildings.

“Underutilizing the facility can be a detriment to the organization in the long run,” McDonnell said.

McDonnell said sloppy clerical work and the never-ending quest to make money were the most likely reasons for the double bookings. Most arenas have schedules and calendars and contingency plans in place months and years in advance.

The WWE-Nuggets issue, he said, almost certainly was not caused by owner Stan Kroenke’s lack of faith in his team. Trying to stir the pot, McMahon said if Kroenke had really believed in the Nuggets, he wouldn’t have been booking the arena during playoff time.

“He’s not sitting at his desk doing scheduling,” McDonnell said. “The bottom line is it probably doesn’t sit well with the Denver Nuggets audience, thinking he doesn’t have faith. But that’s probably not the case. All you have to do is look at the players he acquired and the team he assembled.”

Indeed, the Nuggets weren’t picked as a playoff team by many back in August, which is when the WWE date at Pepsi Center was secured - and nearly three months before the team traded for Chauncey Billups.

That, however, changed everything. But regardless of the roster, anyone looking to rent an American arena that has hockey or basketball teams as its primary tenants in May should do some double checking.

In 2007, Steve Penny, president of USA Gymnastics, was deciding whether to put his 2008 Olympic trials in Boston or Philadelphia.

“They did a thesis statement on the odds of the Celtics getting to the ‘08 NBA Finals,” Penny said. “I’ll just say, if you could’ve put money on it in Vegas, you would’ve done it.”

But that paper was written well before the Celtics acquired Kevin Garnett, who did, in fact, lead the Celtics to the finals in 2008.

Luckily, Penny had done his homework and chosen Philadelphia, mainly because that city’s backup venue, the Spectrum, was a better option than the No. 2 choice in Boston, 6,300-seat Agganis Arena at Boston University.

“Basically, I had a friend who said, ‘Steve, do you like to sleep at night?’ ” Penny recalled. “I said, ‘Yeah.’ He said, ‘Well, what happens if the Celtics make a run next year and you spend the first six months of your Olympic year wondering if your building is going to be available?’ ”

That sealed the deal.

It appears there was no such forward thinking in the case of the Nuggets and WWE. That has left McMahon scrambling and Pepsi Center facing possible litigation. McMahon needs to find a venue for his event, which is supposed to be televised on USA Network.

“We may be holding an event in a parking lot somewhere,” he said.

For the record, the Pepsi Center parking lot is booked Aug. 20 through Sept. 6, when Cirque de Soleil comes to town.

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