How Climate Pledge Arena Will Go From Coldplay To Kraken In 12 Hours

The Goal of the Bowl
Mast Images / CPA
– The Goal of the Bowl
Climate Pledge Arena’s concert-to-hockey conversion can happen as quickly as three hours, according to Tom Conroy, senior vice president, operations and assistant general manager of Climate Pledge Arena.

Roughly 12 hours after Coldplay’s final notes and Chris Martin’s mellifluous voice echo throughout the brand-new Climate Pledge Arena at Seattle Center, the NHL’s newest team, the Seattle Kraken, will need to hit the ice for a morning skate before the team’s home debut that evening. That’s a quick changeover for staff on what is the official opening of the new arena. 

“It is exciting, but there is also a stress level,” says Tom Conroy, senior vice president, operations and assistant general manager of Climate Pledge Arena. “We haven’t done it before. We will have opportunities to pick up the floor and put it back down, but not under those tight timelines.”

Getting Climate Pledge Arena ready for the Oct. 22 official opening night Coldplay concert has been a multi-year effort. The new home of the NHL team, which kept historical pieces of the old KeyArena roofline and dug deeper underground to completely remake the bowl and back-of-house in a $1 billion, privately funded project, places a focus on both concerts and hockey, creating a venue that can easily handle the changeovers and provides ease of use. 

“We have whatever a tour needs,” Conroy says. The set-up opportunities inside Climate Pledge Arena feature end stage 180, end stage 270 and end stage 360 designs along with concerts in the round, allowing the stage to sit directly in the middle of the floor with the full arena feel encompassing it. 

The Coldplay concert, the first public event, highlights the concert-in-the-round configuration. 

Whatever the setup chosen by the tour, Climate Pledge is there to “deliver,” Conroy says. And the design of the space was created to make it happen. Even with a downtown building, the loading dock provides an environment for load-in and load-out.

The loading dock drops more than 60 feet below street level with a 400-foot-plus-long tunnel running about a city block and a half. The 30-foot-wide tunnel, enough for two trucks to pass, and high clearance of 15 feet bring trucks to eight different bays, even if it will be “pretty rare all of them will be filled.” In the loading area, there’s room for trucks to turn around and back in and the entire area comes climate controlled, important with the rain and moisture of the Pacific Northwest. “It is pretty slick,” Conroy says.

Challenge Accepted
Mast Images / CPA
– Challenge Accepted
The carbon-zero effort starts now at Climate Pledge Arena, including all mechanical systems, engines, heating and cooking using 100% renewable electric power.

The Sustainable Pledge
The goal of arena operators OVG is to run the most sustainable arena in the world, reaching net zero carbon, eliminating single-use plastics and waste, and conserving water. 

The zero-carbon effort starts now, including  mechanical systems, engines (including those used in the concert-to-hockey conversion process), heating and cooking using 100% renewable electric power. When carbon emissions occur from transportation, such as at load-in, the arena will purchase carbon offsets. 

Rainwater conservation starts with the Rain to Rink program, meaning Seattle’s precipitation creates ice for the rink. In the process, the system captures water from the roof, gravity feeds it into a tank through a series of filters and then fills a day-tank that the Zamboni crew can use to resurface the ice. 

Conroy says this doesn’t change the day-to-day operations of the rink, but adds another mechanical system to manage and, if sufficient water remains in the tank, means Seattle’s rainwater goes from sky to roof to rink. 

Ice for the 2021-22 NHL season is already in, with the final week of September welcoming the process of setting the base, painting the ice and finishing the surface. The rink then sat under cover for weeks as construction crews continued final work around the venue. 

The 8- by 5-foot polyethylene black ice deck pieces cover the ice, needing just one layer to protect it from construction cranes to Coldplay stages. “It has pretty good insulation properties and you can run a floor scrubber or drive a forklift on it,” Conroy says. “It is really dense and not heavy. You can put a stage, carpet or 1,800 people on it.”

Tom Conroy
Mast Images / CPA
– Tom Conroy

The Concert-to-Hockey Conversion
In a perfect world, Conroy says, his team can handle the concert-to-hockey conversion in roughly three hours. They’ll have a bit of wiggle room during the Oct. 22 to Oct. 23 switchover, but not much. 

“I’m not nervous at all,” he says, “I have assembled the best arena operations team in the National Hockey League.” Still, though, he knows that for staff there will be plenty of on-the-job training. “People are going to come in drinking from a firehose,” Conroy says. “From my managers down, I only went out and got individuals who had worked in an NBA or NHL arena.” 

The moment the concert wraps, multiple crews get moving, all working in unison. Say, for example, if a show ends at 10:30 p.m. the load-out happens immediately. The stagehands and road crew begin tearing down sound, lights, video and backline rigging as the performers leave the stage. 

Once the final road case is pulled off the stage, crews tear apart the house stage to free up continual work on the rink. 

At the same time, the arena crew is putting the hockey glass back in, breaking down the general admission section of the floor seats – the Coldplay concert will not have chairs on the floor, so that will speed the process on Oct. 22 – and get the hockey floor access areas back in place. The arena’s retractable riser system won’t be in full use for Coldplay, also aiding the process. 

The hockey glass goes in at the same time the ice decking gets picked up, all working back toward the Zamboni entrance. 

At the same time, there’s another 125 staff in the building, cleaning everything from the suites and premium spaces to the general seating, concourses, washrooms and exterior grounds. 

Once the arena conversion finishes, the ice recovery crew gets on the ice with one of two Zambonis to scrape, rehydrate the ice and clean it all up. 

NHL protocol offers a morning skate at 10:30 a.m. for the home team and an 11:30 a.m. skate for the visitors. That means if a concert wraps at 10:30 p.m. the night before, the team has 12 hours for the arena conversion plus ice reconditioning. 

“We want it ready,” Conroy says. “We would love our conversion to never be more than three hours, but maybe we get it done at six in the morning. This is the first time we have done this, a full concert-to-hockey conversion. We think we know what we are doing.” 

There’s nothing all that different about the conversion protocol in Seattle at Climate Pledge Arena than the other 31 arenas in the NHL. Every rink proper is the same size – 200 feet long by 85 feet wide – and all have hockey glass and an ice floor. “There is no real science in this,” Conroy says. “You put glass in, pick up the ice deck and stack it.” Sure, there’s a few small nuances, such as bringing in the penalty boxes, but nothing unusual. 

Having a slightly simpler opportunity for the team’s first major conversion sets the stage for the more complicated efforts in the future. 

And while the first conversion sets the rink up for three straight Kraken games, an Eric Church concert on Oct. 30 offers the second one-night conversion opportunity, with the Kraken’s fourth home game the following evening.