Upon opening its doors in New York last September, the NBA Store became the first-ever retail establishment to be owned, operated, and merchandised by a North American sports league. Besides featuring the most comprehensive assortment of NBA and WNBA merchandise in the world, the store is an interactive showcase of the league for its fans.
The store, located on Fifth Avenue at 52nd Street, encompasses 35,000 sq. ft. (3,150 sq. m) on three levels, including two floors above grade and a lower "Court Level." "One of our primary goals was to be a retail store," explains Chris Russo, director of retail construction for the NBA. "The floor is set up so you are going to shop, and obviously for us it is a benefit to have NBA products there." He goes on to say that another objective is to increase public interest in the NBA. "It expands the overall fan base. For people who can't attend games, it gives them a chance to experience the NBA."
This experience includes areas for shopping as well as for getting a feel for basketball. All three levels include specific merchandise for babies, children, and men and women.
The Court Level also includes the Hang Time Restaurant. The store also features a fully equipped broadcast studio, incorporating sophisticated lighting capabilities along with four digital cameras and 15 racks of state-of-the-art equipment. Steven Brill of The Lighting Design Group was responsible for the studio lighting design.
A multisided scoreboard, which is suspended from the ceiling and is visible from all three levels, shows basketball action footage such as the All Star Game, NBA Finals, NBA Draft, or special broadcasts such as "Classic Finishes" or "Great Centers." The levels are connected by a 7'-wide (2.1m), 170'-long (52m) maplewood ramp that winds from street level to the Court Level, where an actual basketball court is present and can be viewed from outside both the Court and Fifth Avenue levels. The connecting ramp also serves to heighten the NBA experience, as it features the sounds of a basketball game, sneaker squeaks, crowd noise, organ music, buzzers, and balls bouncing.
But besides the sights and sounds of the NBA, the lighting also plays a key role in bringing the game to Fifth Avenue. The overall goal for the lighting was to create an illusion of a live basketball game at Madison Square Garden, and to make people feel like they are a part of it.
"We talked with people from the NBA," says Bill Schwinghammer of the New York lighting design firm Johnson Schwinghammer. "They were adamant about not having halogen lighting in the space. [NBA Commissioner] David Stern wanted to forge ahead with new technology."
Since most of the store is below grade, the NBA was concerned that it would feel like a basement, Schwinghammer explains. To avoid this look, fluorescent lights were used in some areas, while metal-halide lighting from LiteLab was used in others, such as to illuminate the merchandise. "It doesn't feel like metal halide; it feels like halogen. But I think if we had used halogen lights, it would feel dingy, like a basement space."
And while the NBA specified that they did not want halogen lighting, they also encouraged the designers to use their creativity when designing the lighting for the new retail store. "The NBA wanted to break ground and go places where no retail has gone," said Marsha Stern, who initially worked on the project for Johnson Schwinghammer. "They wanted to create a new look. These people were very savvy clients."
One area where the designers were able to demonstrate their creativity was with the moving lights, found throughout the store. These fixtures are used to highlight various areas and provide a dramatic effect. "Moving lights in the store are only limited by the imagination," said Stern. "If the client gives the designer free reign, you can come up with incredible, different, wonderful looks."
The use of moving lights actually begins outside the store, where Studio Spots(TM) from High End Systems are used to project images of the NBA and WNBA logos onto the Fifth Avenue sidewalk. "These are used in the front windows," Schwinghammer explains. "They are programmable, and they rotate in all directions." A total of six Studio Spots are used at the storefront, three on each side.
Dichroic glass gobos are used to create the logo images. "These are not just metal frames," Schwinghammer says. "The color is actually applied to the glass. They are more costly, but they give very accurate images on the floors or on the walls. We sat down with the NBA and decided what could be used with regard to trademarks and so on. Certain patterns and colors couldn't be used, but we had logos for all of the NBA and WNBA teams."
Besides team logos, the Studio Spots give the NBA Store an opportunity to generate revenue, explains Michael Mignone of Production Arts, which handled the installation and integration of the lighting system. "The NBA has reached out to its corporate sponsors. The key thing about the NBA Store lighting is that it's actually a money-making venture." By projecting sponsors' logos along with NBA and WNBA logos, the depreciation cost of the lighting system is offset by the revenue from the sponsors, Mignone says.
The lighting was programmed by Steve Garner. "The system had to be interchangeable to run different teams at different times," Schwinghammer says. "We told [Garner] which gobos there are and which groups they wanted to run together. After only a few hours he already had all the presets done."
Another task for the storefront was to illuminate the merchandise behind the 31'-high (9.4m) windows that run along both streets. A low-voltage cable system with halogen MR-16s shows products in the windows, while a spot bank line of fixtures with metal-halides is used to fill windows at night. "It's really bright at night because you're filling in the space with light," Schwinghammer says.
Inside the store, moving lights are a continual theme, interplaying with the architecture of the space. For example, at the ramp connecting the Fifth Avenue Level to the Court level, a series of images of a basketball is projected on the floor, bouncing down the ramp from the upper level to the lower level. In another area, Bogen Elinchron EL Sport strobe lights simulate the flashbulb photos taken by fans at an NBA game.
At the Court Level, the basketball court area is illuminated by a High End Technobeam(R) system. "They do almost as much as the Studio Spots, but they don't have as much rotational ability because they work off a mirror," Schwinghammer says. But due to the difference in the application, the distinction was minimal. "The Studio Spots have more output, but when you're using the Technobeams for the interior, you really can't tell the difference."
Besides illuminating the court area, the arena space has spot banks, which can fill the wall space to the ceiling with metal-halide lighting. This area is also equipped with halogen lighting in case the cameras from the studio have problems with the metal-halides.
For uplighting of the maplewood ceilings, pendant-mounted headlights were used. "We used yellow gel to bring the color temperature down to 2700K," Schwinghammer says. "It's a subtle thing, but important because the wood was looking white [without the gel]."
For the broadcast studio, theatrical halogen lights predominate. "There is no lamp lighting at all," Schwinghammer says. "It's actual theatrical fixtures." Lighting fixtures in this area are by Arri and Electronic Theatre Controls, and the dimming of the lights is supported by an ETC Sensor dimming system. A Status Cue(R) lighting console from High End controls the studio lighting.
One of the top priorities for the store was to integrate the different lighting systems. "It's all tied in with an architectural dimming system," Schwinghammer explains, adding that a General Electric energy management system was used. This system allows the lights to be coordinated for special events. For example, if an NBA player is in the studio or on the basketball court, the lighting in other areas of the store can automatically be turned down. "It all talks to each other," he says.
The advanced lighting systems in place at the store will require technical expertise over time, Schwinghammer explains. "The store needs a technician to keep things up. The NBA has someone on staff to do this, but it's pretty involved. The programming takes a specialist, like knowing the software of the control system being used. It has to be learned, and it has to be reprogrammed from time to time. For a retail environment, there are many variations of what they can do; it's almost limitless. We're not talking about an arena environment, where you have a theatrical programmer on staff. The store won't have that, but since it will be hosting different events, it won't operate like a normal store. It will be an entertainment space besides selling retail, so it's not like they'll have a store manager take care of [the programming]."
While the NBA doesn't have immediate plans to open a second retail outlet, there are expansion possibilities for the New York location. "We gave them a system so they can really expand as the store grows in the future, as they do more special events," Stern says. "They have an incredible amount of flexibility built into the design."
Jennifer Adams and Michael Reis are New Jersey-based writers specializing in architecture and design.
Owner NBA Properties
Architect The Phillips Group
Interior Designer Richard Altuna
Lighting Distributor JDC Lighting
Lighting Designers Johnson Schwinghammer Lighting Design Group
Partial Equipment List Arri 650W fresnels High End Systems Studio Spots High End Systems Technobeams High End Systems Lithopattern custom gobos Arri 2kW fresnels ETC Source Four PARs Bogen Elinchron Sport 1000R strobe units with 50-degree reflectors Philips lamps GE lamps Osram Sylvania lamps LiteLab MaxTrack surface and pendant fixtures LiteLab adjustable HID accent lights LiteLab Lightrax surface-mounted HID 9-lights Indy Lighting recessed adjustable accent lights Artemus polished aluminum surface/pendant-mounted indirect/direct fixtures Nessen incandescent decorative wall sconces A+L Lighting surface-mounted fluorescent channels Zumtobel Lighting semi-recessed double reflector fluorescent luminaires Times Square Lighting MC70 metal-halide pattern and framing projectors Staff Lighting compact fluorescent recessed downlights Bruck Lighting USA surface-mounted low-voltage halogen wire system Elliptipar semi-recessed tungsten-halogen bracket-mounted step lights D'AC Lighting recessed halogen downlights Ardee Clikstrip surface-mounted low-voltage halogen light strip Exterieur Vert Lighting halogen luminaires High End Systems Status Cue controller Doug Fleenor Design DMX512 combine unit ETC Acclaim 124 console ETC dual 20A dimmer modules