The New York Times recently published an extensive piece about what it’s like behind-the-scenes for celebrities at Madison Square Garden. There’s sometimes pushback on the I’ll scratch your back, if you scratch mine ethos — like Woody Allen, Suite 200 and fickle owner, James Dolan — but the opulent treatment is a complicated algorithm involving what connotes A-List vs. the lower-tiered celebrities. The whole system is fascinating.
It seems there are a lot of favors the Knicks offer their most well-known fans, and that plays a large role in the “brand” building the Knicks are trying to accomplish with their premier seats: the six prime court-side seats reserved for three celebrities (and their guests) at every Knicks game.
Via the Times:
“If you’re an A-level person and we know the fans are going to go bananas when your picture goes up on the scoreboard, then there’s a value having you there,” said Barry Watkins, the Madison Square Garden company’s executive vice president for communications and administration. “We think it’s a big part of the brand. Win or lose, it’s one of the reasons people come to the games.” (In fact, at 15-26, the Knicks have been doing a lot of losing this season.)
The seating policy, and who 00 out of all the celebrity requests — actually gets the front-row section, can be a complicated song-and-dance for the Garden’s communications team, as detailed by the Times:
The Garden, it turns out, has an ad-hoc celebrity-handling team whose members determine who in fact counts as a celebrity and to what degree; pursue relationships with those people (or their representatives); and deflect demands from lower-level personalities who wish they were celebrities but in fact are not. On game nights, the team also has to contend with such tricky questions as, is Katie Holmes more important than Liam Neeson? And, when you have two rappers with the same last name — Mike D. from the Beastie Boys and Chuck D. from Public Enemy — should you seat them near each other?
At the recent Knicks-Heat game, the answers could be found, as is so often the case, on an Excel spreadsheet. Entitled “VIP Locations” and organized according to some mysterious proprietary formula, it mapped out exactly who would sit where — John McEnroe in the third row, the boxer Miguel Cotto in the fifth row, a gaggle of New York Rangers in the 17th row — and it reflected various unspoken rules of V.I.P. placement.
What are some of the perks of being a celebrity at a Knicks game, you ask?
Celebrities who become “friends of the Garden,” as they are called, get plenty of perks. Among them are a special side entrance into the Garden; a special elevator, so they do not have to ride the common escalators; a special V.I.P. clubhouse known as Suite 200 that is free of charge and that has an open bar, a frozen yogurt station and an extravagant buffet always featuring a special item by Jean-Georges Vongerichten; and a personal escort to usher them to their seats
And what do celebrities Liam Neeson and Michael J. Fox think of their handling by the Garden?
“You don’t get something for nothing, and if it helps the Garden if they see someone of my celebrity status — however high or low that is — I’ll put on my best Armani suit and go out there,” Mr. Neeson said in a telephone interview. He was there alongside the other V.I.P.’s — figures like Prince Amukamara of the New York Giants and Damaris Lewis of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition — in Suite 200 before the game. (The Garden let a reporter visit Suite 200, as long as she agreed not to approach any famous people or “talk about any celebrity interactions,” as one staff member put it.)
Michael J. Fox, who in his memoir “Lucky Man” discusses the celebrity-camaraderie phenomenon wherein they all know one another, even if they don’t, said that the Garden really takes care of its celebrities.
“It’s all very managed — the line blurs between what’s an extended courtesy and what’s a special attention to keep you from going rogue — but in a very nice way,” he said in a phone interview.
He added: “It’s not a thing that any of us deserve or any of us earn — it’s just something the Garden does to make our life happier.”
In return for the lavish offerings at MSG, celebrities are expected to smile for a few court-side shots during the game, film a few PSA’s where they encourage fans to support the Garden of Dreams foundation, or actively campaign for possible free agents:
But there is a quid pro quo, and agreeing to be filmed at your seat for broadcast on the GardenVision screen during games is only the beginning. Some of the celebrities work for the Knicks’ Garden of Dreams foundation, a charity that helps disadvantaged and ill young people.
Others appear in interviews and promotional spots during games and on the MSG Network; attend parties for Garden employees; shoot scenes from movies and TV shows at the Garden; or even appear in recruitment videos designed to lure potential players to the Knicks. The late James Gandolfini appeared in character in two such videos alongside his “Sopranos” co-star Edie Falco, explaining to Amar’e Stoudemire and LeBron James why New York was a good place to relocate. (It worked for Stoudemire, but not for James.)