Scotiabank Arena’s events organizer on the ‘game of Tetris’ that’s planning against sports

TORONTO — The Toronto Raptors’ first appearance in the NBA Finals is a cause for celebration for many Canadians, but it also has put a damper on plans for some concertgoers.

Fans of both country superstar Carrie Underwood and alt-pop duo Twenty One Pilots learned recently that shows at Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena were being cancelled or postponed as the Raptors devoured the venue for their showdown against the Golden State Warriors.

Earlier this month, The Who also bumped their show to September in anticipation of the Raptors making the finals.

The decisions left fans turning to social media to vent their frustration, but Melissa Bubb-Clarke, vice president of music and live events at Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, says sports colliding with concerts is a “fairly common occurrence” in the live entertainment industry as arenas juggle their busy schedules.

“I like to joke and say that it’s a little game of Tetris,” Bubb-Clarke said in a phone interview on Wednesday.

Scotiabank Arena, formerly the Air Canada Centre, hosts roughly 220 annual events, including Toronto Maple Leafs hockey games and the Raptors. There’s also a steady flow of concerts by some of the world’s most popular performers.

But the world of sports and music entertainment don’t always mix, partly because they work on different timelines.

Concerts are often booked six to 18 months in advance, Bubb-Clarke said, meaning that organizers end up having to “work diligently to move things around” if a local sports team makes a deep playoff run.

It’s a risk the music performers — and the people who book their shows — know before they choose their concert dates, she said.

“There’s conditions in those contracts and there’s certainly collaboration with those artists,” she says.

“It’s communicated to them well in advance that (the) time frame needs to be nimble.”

Bubb-Clarke says cancelling any concert is a last resort. Her team of three planners work closely with organizers at the National Basketball Association and National Hockey League to ensure most events don’t collide.

Even then, it’s hard to predict exactly what will happen.

In the case of Twenty One Pilots’ gig that was booked for Wednesday, the day before Game 1, the NBA required access to the Scotiabank Arena to begin preparations for the Thursday night contest. Fans were notified earlier this week.

Underwood’s show on June 9 would have clashed with the potential fifth game in the seven-game series set for June 10. Ticketbuyers were notified about the change earlier this week.

However, the Who anticipated the Raptors making the NBA finals long before it was certain. The British band shifted their June 1 performance date to Sept. 3 nearly three weeks ago, giving fans extra notice to cancel hotels if they were travelling to the city.

Toronto’s spot in the NBA finals is hardly the first time sports have pushed a major concert out of a venue.

Corey Hart was forced to move the date of his Montreal hometown farewell show in 2014 when plans ran against a possible Game 7 in the Stanley Cup playoffs at the Bell Centre. Turns out he didn’t need to — the Montreal Canadiens lost the series to the New York Rangers in Game 6.

Garth Brooks ran into hurdles when he booked three shows in Tampa, Fla., as part of his 2015 tour before the Stanley Cup Final bumped him from the Amalie Arena. The country singer opted to cancel and refund all three performances, which would have been the first time he played the city in more than 16 years.

At Scotiabank Arena, the runway for the NBA Finals is clear at this point, with the exception of one major event.

Oprah Winfrey is scheduled to appear at the venue on June 14 with her “Your Path Made Clear” speaking engagement. While her event doesn’t directly conflict with an NBA Finals date, it’s possible the Raptors could need the venue for Game 7 two days later.

Bubb-Clarke is cautious not to make any firm commitments as to whether the media mogul’s show will go ahead.

“All I can tell you right now is presently Oprah is unaffected,” she said.

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