There are few things more iconic in San Francisco than a cable car.
When the Warriors moved into Chase Center, Jason Lodato, the team’s director of entertainment programming, knew what sound should ring in a new arena.
Lodato tracked down an authentic 1950s cable car bell, polished it up, and created the tradition of sounding the bell to signal tip-off is coming.
“There's really no team in the league that can do anything like this because it's so significant of San Francisco in the history and the culture here. It’s taking those moments that you can make it truly yours, that other teams just can't do,” Lodato said.
When he thinks about a game day experience in Chase Center, Lodato considers what fans will hear and smell that can be unique to the Warriors. Of course he sprinkles in some favorites, like the Red Panda halftime shows or Carlos Santana playing the national anthem.
“We wanted to take a look at each element of the show,” Lodato said, “And take the [traditions] that worked, and how we could make them even better. You know the use of new technology and having a state-of-the-art video board, premium audio equipment and all these bells and whistles.”
Even familiar elements can make fans tingle. The fog in the air. The pyrotechnics.
“Even something the fans know is going to come during the national anthem, like they've seen it 100 times, but like when the pyro goes off, people still jump," Lodato said. "You can't make that up, it has to be truly authentic and meaningful.”
Lodato didn’t know he would grow up to be a showman. The Queens, N.Y. native thought he would be a baseball player. He went to college at St. John’s, the alma mater of Warriors legend Chris Mullin.
A sports management seminar changed his view. He learned about the business side of sports, writing press releases and diving into what it takes to run events.
“It just snowballed into learning more and more,” Lodato said.
When he was around 20 years old, Lodato got a job working game nights for the New York Knicks. He asked the Knicks if they needed an intern, and he earned more responsibilities.
“Being a native New Yorker and working for the Knicks and walking into that building ... I started in the prime of the Patrick Ewing, Charles Oakley, John Starks days,” Lodato reminisced. “Very competitive, winning teams and it was a little overwhelming at first, but it was very, very cool.”
Lodato kept climbing the ladder at Madison Square Garden, eventually shifting to the corporate events department. His duties expanded to cover the New York Rangers, New York Liberty, events for Radio City Music Hall, and Cablevision.
Some of his favorite events were the jersey retirement ceremonies for Mark Messier, Wayne Gretzky, and Ewing.
“I've spent some time with Patrick Ewing, gotten to know him personally. You want to do right by them, because you see how hard they work. And you also want to do right by the fans. You know how beloved those guys are, and they gave their blood, sweat and tears to the organization,” Lodato said.
One of Lodato’s proudest moments came from his attention to detail.
In 2003, during a rehearsal for Ewing’s No. 33 jersey retirement, Lodato noticed the banner had some wrinkles in it.
“Nine out of 10 people may not have even noticed it, but for me I was like, he deserves better than that,” Lodato stated.
Workers steamed out the wrinkles. An iconic moment in sports history was prepared perfectly because Lodato spoke up.
His next stop was the NBA’s league office in the events and attractions department. Lodato was in charge of grassroot events all over the world.
One of his favorite memories was a trip to Taiwan with Scottie Pippen around 2010. It was an exhibition game, but the young guys in the local basketball league wanted a piece of Pippen.
“Scottie was going about 50 percent, I think,” Lodato recalled. “And a kid wanted to dunk on him. That was not a smart decision by that young man.”
“I remember [Pippen] at halftime telling me, 'All right, I'm gonna play.' And he ended up with like 50 points," Lodato said. "He was years out of playing in the league. And he just dominated.”
Lodato briefly stepped out of sports to produce events for Grand Central Terminal, the national landmark building in midtown Manhattan. He was working fewer hours and making more money, but he wasn’t happy. It wasn’t sports.
A former connection at Madison Square Garden reached out about the creation of a new Major League Soccer team called New York City Football Club. Lodato joined the team as the director of game presentation, setting the entertainment philosophy from Day 1.
Lodato brought some of the NBA spirit to NYC FC.
“Soccer players traditionally don't get ... there's no media day in soccer, they don't put on scoreboard shows, and they don't do a lot of video content," Lodato said. "It was very, very different for them.”
He tuned into the players’ personalities to help them connect with fans. He created a hair cam to show off the freshest cuts.
“You know soccer players love their hair,” he laughed.
After about five years with NYC FC, Lodato looked West to the only team he would consider moving for.
“I’m a native New Yorker. All my family, friends, everyone's there," Lodato said. "But honestly, when I saw the position posted for the Warriors, something just told me to apply. It was one of those things. I saw the position. I knew.”
Lodato started with Golden State during the NBA Finals in 2019.
“So I obviously started at a really crazy, hectic time, right into the mix," Lodato said. "It was a great way for me to learn, and see the end of the Oracle era. Back home, I would see and hear the fans and it always stood out for me how loud they were. The nickname 'Roaracle' was a term for a reason.”
Lodato believes the move from Oracle Arena to Chase Center was a chance to amplify the fan experience. He wants to make memories. When the lights go out and the action starts, Lodato eavesdrops on the crowd.
“I listen to fans. I watch and listen to how fans react to stuff because that’s our meter," Lodato said. "That's how I know whether or not something was successful.”
“It is very fun and it's very fulfilling, but there's a lot of pressure and stress that goes into it,” he continued. “We constantly have to push each other to be better, which is good, it keeps us on our toes.”
As the Warriors strive to win NBA championships again, Lodato strives to improve the show. Based on fan reaction this season, Lodato didn’t just find the bell. He answered it.