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Welcome Back, Kings Fans!

After an 18-month break, the Kings are treating capacity crowds to a unique entertainment experience

by Deborah Lew @by_DeborahLew / LAKings.com

It's been a long time coming for the hockey community in Los Angeles, but on Thursday, October 14, 2021, STAPLES Center was rocking once again, after a more than 18-month period of relative quiet due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Fans in attendance for the Kings' opening night were treated to an experience to remember, which featured the Kings' 6-2 rout of the Vegas Golden Knights, including a hat trick from captain Anze Kopitar. 

"It feels amazing to be able to be back with the people. It's one thing to watch the game on TV but when you're with the crowd, the excitement, it's like electricity, you have to be there," said Alex Simpson, a season ticket member since 2011, who was thrilled to be back for opening weekend.

Defenseman Drew Doughty, who tallied four points on opening night, was impressed with the atmosphere, a stark contrast from the mostly empty buildings the teams played in for the majority of last season's 56-game schedule, as mandated by league and local ordinances.  

"It was great, I think the biggest thing was having all the fans back. That was cool, to be in front of all of the fans again. Hearing the chants, it just felt good. What better way than to start the season with the fans back and to get a win against a really good team. It felt great out there, I can't say enough about it," said Doughty following the win against the Golden Knights. 

On the other side of the coin, welcoming crowds back to a charged atmosphere was no small feat for a staff that had spent the majority of the last year-and-a-half working from home, and the excitement was not lost, even on those behind the scenes.

"Coming into it, it's definitely one of the most anticipated opening couple of games that I've ever been a part of just because of how long it has been since we've had fans. It's been great talking to fans whether it be phone, email, text or in person and just seeing how excited everyone is to have live hockey back," said Mason Donley, the Kings vice president, ticket sales and service. "The ability to be in the arena when the Kings score a goal and high-five the person next to you as opposed to just cheering at your TV, that's something that all of our season ticket members and all of our fans have been looking for forever, and it's a lot of work by the entire organization to get us to this point. It's definitely special and looking at the thumping we put on Vegas that made it even more fun."

One such person who was responsible for spearheading a good chunk of that work is Wanton Davis, the Kings' executive producer, live events, who was hired on in December of 2020.

Davis was tasked with refreshing the in-game experience, and, coming from an entertainment background, was able to take full advantage of the shortened season sans fans, which he used to experiment with new ideas, identify holes and elements that worked, and to better understand how to implement different sounds and feelings. The limited capacity that was permitted to come back in April allowed him to roll out some new pieces early. 

"We're trying to approach the entire season and the entire strategy of being 'fan first.' We want to reward the fans for being in the building, especially coming off of such a rough year-and-a-half," said Davis. "We know that fans have been longing for these live experiences, so we want to reward the fans and welcome the fans back. We want to make it a party, we want to make it a fun, lively atmosphere where people can really enjoy being out again and being with fellow fans. The goal is to really build a sense of community all centered around the Kings."

Among the new in-arena elements that the Kings have and are planning to introduce this season include a more inclusive music strategy; "Stage 308," which is a performance stage in section 308 that will house DJ Vick One, guest DJs, and other invited talent. Additionally, a rebranded ice crew with two distinctly different teams dedicated to on-ice and in-bowl duties and "Kings Bling" giveaways, which is a special Kings chain that cannot be obtained or purchased any other way, are a part of the in-game presentation. 

The LA Kings Royal Army, the team's official supporters group, in section 303 will be known for drums, chants, and a culture loosely based off of the supporters' culture from soccer and the Kings' sister ice hockey team, Eisbaren Berlin, where there is an avid supporters section. Their energy was certainly felt on opening night. 

"We're working towards surprising and delighting fans, creating a sense of FOMO amongst Kings fans and creating a demand to be in the building," said Davis.

A big highlight this season is the new Kings win and theme song, written and performed by B-Real, a Kings fan from the American hip hop group, Cypress Hill. The song is an original piece of music centered around the Kings, called "Victory."

"Partnering with such a legendary local Los Angeles artist who has been nominated for a Grammy, who has sold over 20 million albums, who has a star on the Walk of Fame, is just something that we couldn't have imagined and we're really happy about that partnership," said Davis, who was previously the head of creative for REVOLT TV, the television network owned by Sean "Diddy" Combs. 

Video: B-Real's new win song for the LA Kings

There will also be a new ticketing initiative rolled out, called LA Kings Reserve, which will be a subscription-based product where fans can pay monthly to decide which games they attend and where they sit each game, which will provide more flexible options than the traditional season ticket package. 

The entire Kings organization has had to be extremely flexible and ready to pivot at any moment, given the COVID-19 protocols put in place by the state, county, city, and NHL, which are constantly changing and arguably the biggest challenge of all. STAPLES Center is now a contactless venue, so tickets are mobilized, as are concession stands, where food can be ordered directly from your seats. 

Once fans are inside the building, the Kings are committed to making the fan experience a safe and memorable one for all in attendance.

"With all the protocols that [the Kings] have put in place I feel pretty safe. They're actually checking the vaccine cards and IDs and everyone seems to be wearing their masks for the most part," said Simpson, whose father has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and has already survived one bout with Covid-19. "I don't want to get it and give it to my dad or anyone else, that's the last thing I want."

Precautions and safety measures are a small price to pay to get back to live events with real fans, and Donley certainly prefers the authentic crowd noise to that of the auxiliary crowd noise he was responsible for piping into an empty arena last season during the Kings home games. For the shortened season, a number of full-time staff took on extra game night responsibilities, including public address announcing, ice maintenance, and assisting the off-ice officials in an effort to keep the staff intact and payroll costs down. 

"It was very bizarre to see an NHL game with no fans in attendance, but it was really cool to be able to be the voice of the fans and be able to cheer and stay engaged, and I hope that helped the team and the players feel a little bit more normal," said Donley, who, at that time was still working remotely and only able to see the few people he worked with from his perch simulating crowd sounds. 

What is even cooler now, is the fact that fake crowd noise is no longer necessary. Goal horns have sounded, hats have been thrown, the new win song has been played, Kings fans have been able to sing their own praises together, a new normal is emerging, and we're only two home games into the season. 

Said Davis: "We have built a game entertainment team that is 100 percent committed to delivering the best fan experience possible and this team has worked countless hours, nights, weekends and early mornings and everything in between to really roll out this game experience and we're just getting started."

This season is for you, Kings faithful. Welcome back. 

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