While the Los Angles Lakers, Dallas Mavericks, Miami Heat and all the other National Basketball Association franchises are at a standstill waiting for a new NBA labor deal to be finalized, it's business as usual for Bakersfield Jam.
Actually, things have never been better for the NBA D-League team, which opened its season Friday.
On the court, the Jam is coming off the most successful year in franchise history, a 29-21 record and second playoff appearance.
Business-wise, things are also positive. The Jam Events Center, the team's home for the past two years after it moved from Rabobank Arena, is nearly sold out for the upcoming season even though the only way to get a seat for a game is by purchasing a season ticket.
"Since we've been in this building, business has grown year-over-year to the point where all of our executive suites, which we have 24 of, are completely sold out," Jam Owner/Managing Partner David Higdon said.
"We have just 20 seats left in the building. And on the sponsorship side, that's grown as well. I think because our market and our business model is unique and different, the NBA doesn't really play into what we're doing here. What we're trying to establish is a business-to-business model. And I think that based on word-of-mouth, people are starting to see that they can use this as a tool."
The season tickets still available cost between $1,500 and $2,000 each, based on where they are located along the court. Higdon is quick to point out that the least expensive courtside ticket when the team played at Rabobank Arena was $1,500 per year.
Fans who purchase Jam season tickets get more than just a close-up view of some of the best basketball being played in the world.
Before every game the team provides its fans a meal catered by Hodel's.
"I know right before Christmas we are doing a prime rib carving station," Higdon said. "What we're trying to do is create the spot where a business guy can bring a client here right after work. He doesn't have to go to a restaurant or do anything. He comes here and he gets a good meal. So in the arena, service is a huge selling point for us. We want to make people feel special when they walk in the building. We really go above and beyond."
The Jam Events Center can accommodate 550 people on game night. But because of the growing demand for tickets, Higdon and Jam majority owner Stan Ellis are considering a plan to expand to around 750.
"The building has a circular tube that runs through both sides," Higdon said. "It's set up for us to be able to push out the side," Higdon said. "... Stan would've liked to have already done it. I'm the one, I'd rather make sure that we have everybody committed long-term, which we haven't done before. Right now we're on a year-to-year renewal basis. We probably need to get our customers, our partners, to commit to 3-to 5-year deals. And then it makes sense to expand the building."
Despite its small seating capacity, the Jam Center has been a much better fit for the Jam than the team's previous home, according to Higdon. He says the move has helped make owning the team enjoyable again.
"It wasn't just because we were playing at Rabobank that didn't make it fun," Higdon said. "But you're losing a lot of money. There wasn't any interest in the team over there. Now we have interest in the team. Here, even with the small building, we have a nice home-court advantage. It gets loud in here. People that come here really love the team and want to see the product. And we didn't have that before. Part of it is Stan and my fault, I'm sure, not ever owning a sports franchise before and not being engaged like we were. We were involved in our other businesses and had people in place that we thought could probably take the ball and run with it. We just probably didn't do a very good job of explaining the product and marketing the product."
Making it easier to market the team has been its recent success under third-year coach Will Voigt.
Using all the resources provided by Jam ownership, Voigt, 35, has scouted the globe to bring in team-first players.
"What he brings to this organization is an incredible work ethic," Higdon said of Voigt. "Stan and I are hard-working guys and what Will brings is that same type of attitude. The guy is here non-stop. He puts in an incredible amount of hours. And he knows the game very well. The guys that he assembles are team guys. This league can really be about individuals. He's always looking for guys that can come in and be a part of the team."
And while assembling the right mix of players in order to be successful on the court is important to the Jam, it isn't the team's only mission.
Higdon said he is extremely proud of the franchise's work to help youth organizations in Oildale. Last year a program the Jam helped implement with Standard School District Superintendent Dr. Kevin Silberberg won a prestigious Golden Apple Award.
"We've been able to participate and do some after-school activities and then a program that we fund on the weekends where we can have kids come out and participate, not just in sports, but arts and crafts. We're really proud of being able to do that. And we also do some work with the Hope Center. So we've gotten the chance to participate in Oildale and work in this community and be exposed to some needs that are out here that we didn't know really existed. It's been nice to be able to participate and give back.
"The Jam is a little bit out of sight and out of mind but we're out here trying to be a good partner, and I do think we've been good for the community."