Steve Ballmer, the former Microsoft executive turned Los Angeles Clippers owner, broke ground Friday on the Intuit Dome, which aims to be pro basketball’s premier arena. Just as Jones’s glittery Arlington, Tex., stadium once dropped jaws, the building conceived by Ballmer is genuinely staggering. After six years of painstaking proposals and negotiations, the NBA’s richest owner plunged a shovel into a dirt lot in Inglewood, beginning the countdown to the arena’s planned opening in 2024.
“I like to think about it as a basketball palazzo, an homage to the game,” an animated Ballmer told a crowd of media members, fans, local politicians and construction workers. “It’s not the Hall of Fame, but with as many championships as we’re going to win here, it’s going to be better than the Hall of Fame.”
The Intuit Dome, which will be part of a complex that also houses the Clippers’ business offices and practice facility, could eventually cost more than $2 billion. To get here, Ballmer, whose net worth has reportedly spiked to roughly $100 billion, bought the Clippers for a record $2 billion in 2014. He then purchased the arena site from Inglewood for $66 million and as part of the deal also agreed to contribute $80 million more to affordable housing initiatives in the area. He also paid $400 million to buy out The Forum, a nearby rival arena. To help offset those costs, the Clippers inked a 23-year naming rights deal with Intuit, a financial software company, that could be worth a record $500 million, according to CNBC.
“Mr. Ballmer has shown he’s willing to do anything for our community, our team, our fans,” Clippers Coach Tyronn Lue said.
Above the Intuit Dome’s court will hang a two-sided oval scoreboard with 4K LED lights, which, at 44,000 square feet, will be roughly five times bigger than the NBA’s standard. The arena will lead the NBA in seat width and leg room, and its distinctive roof design — meant to look like a basketball going through a rim — will be outfitted with solar panels. A spacious outdoor plaza with a full-size NBA court and massive video board will flank the building.
The arena’s bowl will be steeper than that of Staples Center — the downtown arena that houses the Clippers, the Lakers, the WNBA’s Sparks and the NHL’s Kings — because it doesn’t need to accommodate a hockey rink. The bowl’s signature element will be “The Wall,” 51 consecutive rows of baseline seats complete with a standing-room-only section for die-hards. Ballmer hoped that “The Wall,” which will be uninterrupted by luxury boxes, would become “as recognizable as the Green Monster in Fenway Park” and “as rowdy” as college arenas such as those of Duke and San Diego State.
Generating fan interest and engagement has long been a problem for the Clippers, who are overshadowed by the more successful and more glamorous Lakers. Ballmer acknowledged that “it doesn’t feel like home court in [Staples Center] today” and griped that the Clippers are often forced to sleepwalk through 12:30 p.m. weekend games because they are the building’s third tenant.
The Clippers’ ultra-caffeinated new vision prioritizes intensity. While the Golden State Warriors appealed to Silicon Valley tycoons with opulent luxury boxes equipped with wine cellars when they opened Chase Center in San Francisco two years ago, the Intuit Dome will have fewer suites, concentrating them on one level.
“[Suites, restaurants and lounges] muffled the noise,” Ballmer said. “There’s a big debate right now with arenas [because people say that] millennials want to socialize. Not as much in the Intuit Dome. Restaurants and clubs are scattered around the venue, not in the bowl. The bowl is for one reason alone: the game.”
Ballmer’s desire to overhaul the Clippers’ staid ambiance took him to some impressive and strange places. The Intuit Dome’s concourse will be decorated with a jersey from every high school team in California, and the building will use cashier-less concession stands with electronic transactions.
The Clippers even commissioned a computer model to project how long it would take fans in a sold-out arena to use the restroom, purchase food and return to their seats. To ensure that fans could complete the process during the length of a standard NBA timeout, the arena design boasts one toilet for every 27 seats in the upper deck, an unmatched ratio in the NBA.
“The thing I hate most in life is arenas where you have to wait in line for the bathroom,” Ballmer said. “I’ve become a real obsessive about toilets. Toilets, toilets, toilets.”
For all his quirks, Ballmer’s deep-pocketed approach has largely worked. After decades of losing under disgraced former owner Donald Sterling, the Clippers have made the playoffs in six of Ballmer’s seven seasons, reaching the Western Conference finals for the first time in their 51-year history in June. He has assembled a strong front office and coaching staff while also luring Kawhi Leonard in free agency, landing Paul George in a splashy blockbuster trade and forking over substantial luxury tax payments when necessary.
Baked into Ballmer’s dream arena, though, was an acknowledgment that it would take more than money to fulfill the Clippers’ championship goals.
“At the Intuit Dome, you’re not going to be a spectator; you’re going to be a participant,” he said. “Your job is to help our guys.”