Color of Hockey: Planning to put on big shows for Kraken, Kings

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William Douglas has been writing The Color of Hockey blog for the past nine years. Douglas joined NHL.com in March 2019 and writes about people of color in the game. Today, he profiles Lamont Buford and Wanton Davis, who orchestrate in-game entertainment for the Seattle Kraken and Los Angeles Kings, respectively.

Lamont Buford and Wanton Davis can’t wait to bring the action and noise that gets Seattle Kraken and Los Angeles Kings fans jumping out of their seats.

No, Buford and Lamont aren’t hockey players, but they’re key players in the game.

Buford is the vice president of game presentation for the expansion Kraken, hired in August. Davis is the Kings’ new executive producer for live events and has been on the job since December.

They’re responsible for almost everything that fans will see and hear during games at still-under-construction Climate Pledge Arena and Staples Center, from the music to pyrotechnics to live performing acts.

In-game entertainment has evolved over the decades from the lone stadium organist to the Vegas Golden Knights’ glitzy theatrical pregame show. Buford and Davis each is looking to make his own imprint with the presentations each will develop.

“We’re the ones who try to create memories that are outside the playing field or ice,” Buford said. “For us, it’s what we want people to experience and how we want them to feel. We kind of layer it from there, from the lights, cameras, the music, the smoke or fire. We’re thinking about the big splash moment and the opportunities that we have to make those moments.”

Buford and Davis are among the few people of color in the NHL in high-level in-game entertainment jobs, and they hope their presence will inspire more to join their ranks.

“When I’m on calls, do interviews or when I’m in front of crowds not expecting to see a person of color stand up and be in a position that I’m in,” Buford said, “I feel it’s important to show them that we, too, can be a part of this. Hockey is truly for everyone and we’re trying to show it, not just say it.”

Buford and Davis took different paths to the same job. Davis comes from the music and entertainment world, where he previously worked with MTV and NBC Sports and helped Sean Combs launch Revolt TV.

“I’m from Los Angeles and I’m a big L.A. guy and a big L.A. sports fan,” Davis said. “I have worn a Kings jersey and supported the Kings my entire life. So when this opportunity arose, I couldn’t have jumped at it faster or pursued it any harder.”

Buford rose through the hockey ranks. He began in production with Hershey of the American Hockey League, worked seven seasons with the St. Louis Blues, where he also helped run the organization’s youth hockey program, and five seasons with the Arizona Coyotes, where he was senior director for game presentation, when Seattle came calling.

A Virginia native, Buford didn’t know much about hockey when he arrived in Hershey, Pennsylvania, in 2002.

When the head of in-game entertainment at Hershey’s Giant Center told Buford he was being assigned to help set up pyrotechnics on the ice after the Zamboni resurfaced it for the season opener, he had one question.

“‘What’s a Zamboni?'” Buford said. “They were like, ‘Oh my gosh, we’re going to have to do Hockey 101.'”

Now Buford and Davis are busy formulating what the in-game experience will be like at their arenas. Each has a unique goal ahead of him.

For Davis, it’s putting together a show without an audience, with the Kings playing home games without fans in attendance due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus. Davis calls this season a “dry run.”

“You don’t have the fan reaction, the instant gratification isn’t there, so you kind of have to trust your instinct,” he said. “The overall challenge is figuring out what the Kings fans identified with in the past and also bringing sort of my flair, my touch to it, adding new elements and really carving it out to be the experience I envision it being while still identifying and making sure that everyone is included in the journey.”

Davis said he’s also mindful that when fans return, his job will be to enthrall an audience that includes movie and television industry types who know a thing or two about production.
“I feel a sense of responsibility to really put forward a show that entertains everyone,” he said. “Entertain the Hollywood crowd but also entertain the five-year-old attending the game.”

With Climate Pledge Arena not yet complete, Buford spends much of his time working with architects and designers to make sure the stadium fits his in-game needs; the Kraken will play their first game next season.

“We have to prepare like we have an arena but yet at the same time we’re helping those folks who are building the arena to make sure that they don’t forget about certain things,” he said.

Davis and Buford each said he’s looking forward to showcase his skills and use the in-game entertainment experience to help highlight the talent on the ice.

“Looking at where the NHL is headed, there are some bright spots there,” Davis said. “There are young players and players of color who are making noise and some people who are sort of going to be on the list to watch now and in the near future. It’s fun and extremely rewarding to be part of it as well.”

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