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Inside the Event Management Playbook for College Football Bowl Games

If working all year to organize one bowl game sounds absurd, think again. There’s plenty of opportunities to make your mark by working in events management.

Jarrod Barnes

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Photo credit: Belk Bowl

With 40 — yes, 40 — college football bowl games taking place this season, the business of college football’s postseason is booming.

If working all year to organize one game can sound absurd, think again. Last season’s Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl, hosting the UCF Knights and Auburn Tigers, generated an estimated $49 million in economic impact for the city of Atlanta. There has even been research conducted to predict which teams will compete in bowl games and how the attendance rates will fare.

While each city hosting a bowl game boasts a different market, it’s safe to say that there isn’t a shortage of activity or opportunity — especially for those managing the events, logistics, and operations behind the scenes.

Are you looking to break into the controlled chaos of event management? Three professionals offered some wisdom regarding the top skills needed to find success while working a college football bowl game.

Project Management

What’s unique about bowl games is they are often organized by the host cities sports foundation or sports commission. Will Lawson, director of sponsorship sales for the Charlotte Sports Foundation, plays a role in organizing the team experience for both teams competing in the Belk Bowl hosted in Charlotte, N.C.  It has been estimated that for a typical bowl game, a stadium operations volunteer team can consist of over 50 people, with the event management and production teams potentially rising to over 200 people.

READ MORE: Why Stadium Uses AI-Powered Video Highlights to Reach Fans

“The planning takes place year ’round. We have a smaller internal team so everyone wears multiple hats and is working on multiple projects at one time,” said Lawson.

Outside of the game itself, the week leading up to the game is a highlight for players, coaches, and fans with teams typically arriving to the host city four-to-six days prior to the game. Hotels, transportation and practice sites are just some of the ongoing projects that need to be prepared for both teams.

One of the most anticipated events during the Belk Bowl week is the NASCAR outing at the Charlotte Motor Speedway.

“Players and coaches have a chance to ride along with a driver and have a legitimate NASCAR experience,” said Lawson.

Community events also take place during the week, partnering with the Second Harvest Food Bank in the city of Charlotte. Lawson added, “We work hard to make this the best time of year for the players participating in the game.”

The bowl week is full of events and activities that can be a highlight or headache — depending on your level of preparation.

Forecasting

While it’s one thing to create projects, it’s another to execute them and solve potential problems before they arise.

“There are odds and ends that few people would ever know,” said Will Baggett, internal operations for the College Football Playoff. “Ordering signage, graphics for the host city, team bus wraps, lanyards — and the list goes on. I work behind the scenes to oversee operating credentials and security, making sure everything continues to run smoothly.”

This is no small task. In fact, the Solomon Group created and tracked over 10,000 credentials for the 2016 National Championship game and upped the ante in 2017 National Championship by projecting live video onto the Sykes Building in downtown Tampa Bay, where the game was being played in nearby Raymond James Stadium.

Baggett would go on to say, “During the game, I’m in the control booth, acting as the eye in the sky and thinking about anything that could go wrong. We have 40-60 cameras to see what is going on at all times. We clear the field 45 minutes before to make sure both teams can warm up and then head back up to the booth. That’s where the real action is.”

Looking to volunteer at this year’s College Football Playoff National Championship Game? Opportunities to volunteer are available through the Bay Area Host Committee.

Humility

“The minute you leave your car in the parking lot to the moment you successfully arrive to your seat has been planned by event managers,” said Rayna Yvars, a member of the University of Southern California game operations team who has worked at the Rose Bowl Game.

Communication and making sure everyone is on the same page is key, as parking, gates, and re-routes all at some point trickle up to event managers. Yet, despite the level of responsibility, it’s quite a humbling role.

READ MORE: 4 Ways to Making Breaking Into the #SportsBiz Much Easier

Yvars said, “From my perspective, at the end of the day, we did our job if no one speaks to us — and we did a bad job if we were addressed. The difference between a bowl game and a regular-season game is the focus is on the experience for all parties involved. From the community to the fans in the seats, we want the fans all wanting to come back to the bowl.”

Attention to detail isn’t just a phrase; it’s a mindset that is carried out through consistent actions.

Not only does the experience at college football bowl games stand out, so do the people working on behalf of the teams and fans. Life in event management and operations can be challenging. But the fulfillment of seeing hundreds of moving parts come together for a unified experience can be breathtaking. Networking may get you an opportunity, but the ability to manage projects, forecast, and remain humble will keep you in the field of event management.

Jarrod Barnes has served in athletics administration at Clemson University and is also a former Defensive Back's coach at Ohio State University, where he worked directly with coach Urban Meyer and Greg Schiano. Jarrod was a two-year letterman and first ever Ohio State football player to pursue a Ph.D. while on the active roster. Jarrod currently resides in Charlotte, NC and works with Rise Sports Advisors, a brand management firm for professional athletes and also runs Prime U, a talent & leadership training company for collegiate student-athletes and young professionals. Jarrod has been widely recognized by Who’s Who Magazine, ESPN, Fox Sports and The Big Ten Network as a top up-and-coming young professional. Jarrod can be reached at Jarrod@frntofficesport.com

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Kyrie Irving Expected to Sign with Roc Nation

Kyrie Irving is expected to sign with Roc Nation, according to multiple sources with knowledge of the situation.

Michael McCarthy

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Photo Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Kyrie Irving is expected to sign with Roc Nation, according to multiple sources with knowledge of the situation.

Irving, who was most recently repped by Jeffrey Wechsler of 24/7 Sports Management, joins an NBA client roster at Roc Nation that includes the likes of Kevin Durant, Josh Hart, Justise Winslow, Danny Green and Caris LeVert.

The switch in representation comes on the same day that Irving took the first step toward his prospective free agency this summer.

According to Shams Charania of The Athletic, Irving is not opting into his $21.3 million contract for the 2019-20 season and will become an unrestricted free agent.

By not opting into his contract, Irving can sign with any NBA team when free agency opens on Sunday, June 30th.

If he signs with a team other than the Celtics, he will be eligible to sign a max deal worth $139 million over four years.

If he were to stay with the Celtics, Irving can sign a five-year deal worth $188 million.

An industry source speculated that Roc Nation could be waiving the fees on Irving’s contract in order to retain his marketing rights.

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Meet the WNBA’s New Boss

Deloitte CEO Cathy Engelbert will become the first commissioner of the WNBA and the first woman to lead a Big Four professional services firm in the U.S.

Front Office Sports

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Photo Credit: Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

*This piece first appeared in the Front Office Sports Newsletter. Subscribe today and get the news before anyone else.

For the first time ever, the WNBA will have a commissioner. Before now, all of the league’s previous leaders like Val Ackerman and Lisa Borders were given the title of president. 

Cathy Engelbert, the current CEO of Deloitte, will take control of the role on July 17th and will report directly to Adam Silver. 

What should you know?

1. By the time she is done at Deloitte, Engelbert will have spent more time at the company (33 years) than the WNBA has been a league (23 years)

2. Engelbert is the first female to lead a Big Four professional services firm in the U.S.

3. She is the fifth person to lead the league after Val Ackerman (1997-2005), Donna Orender (2005-10), Laurel Richie (2011-15) and Lisa Borders (2016-2018)

4. Engelbert has spent the past four years in charge of Deloitte’s U.S. operation.

Basketball is in her blood…

Although she might be an accountant by trade, Engelbert is no stranger to the game of basketball. 

According to Bob Hille of Sporting News, she played at Lehigh for Hall of Fame coach Muffet McGraw and was a team captain as a senior. Her father Kurt also played and was drafted in 1957 by the Pistons.

What are they saying?

“Cathy is a world-class business leader with a deep connection to women’s basketball, which makes her the ideal person to lead the WNBA into its next phase of growth. The WNBA will benefit significantly from her more than 30 years of business and operational experience including revenue generation, sharp entrepreneurial instincts and proven management abilities.” – Adam Silver on the hiring of Engelbert

“I think that’s probably one of the reasons I was selected for this role, to come in and bring a business plan to build the WNBA into a real business and a thriving business, quite frankly.” – Engelbert to ESPN’s Mechelle Voepel

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Adam Silver Wants More Gender Diversity

The NBA commissioner states his desire to get more women into the sports industry. The NBA currently has a 31.6 percent ratio of women in team management.

Front Office Sports

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Photo Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

*This piece first appeared in the Front Office Sports Newsletter. Subscribe today and get the news before anyone else. 

If Adam Silver has his way, 50 percent of the new incoming NBA officials will be women.

That number applies to coaches too, Silver said speaking at the Economic Club of Washington.

How do the leagues stack up?

The following numbers, outside of MLB, come from 2018 reports put together by The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports (TIDES) at the University of Central Florida. MLB is the first league to have a report done on it this year.

1. NBA – 31.6% of team management are women / 37.2% of team professional admins are women

2. NFL – 22.1% of team senior admins are women / 35% of team professional admins are women

3. MLB – 28.6% of team senior admins are women / 26% of team professional admins are women

4. MLS – 26.5% of team senior admins are women / 31.6% of team professional admins are women

5. WNBA – 48.6% of team VPs and above are women / 58% of team managers to senior directors are women

6. NHL – No report done

Quotes from Silver… 

“It’s an area, frankly, where I’ve acknowledged that I’m not sure how it was that it remained so male-dominated for so long. Because it’s an area of the game where physically, certainly, there’s no benefit to being a man, as opposed to a woman, when it comes to refereeing.”

“The goal is going forward, it should be roughly 50-50 of new officials entering in the league. Same for coaches, by the way. We have a program, too. There’s no reason why women shouldn’t be coaching men’s basketball.”

That’s not all Silver wants to see change…

Silver, who has been adamant about getting rid of the one-and-done rule, provided some clarity as to when that might be achieved.

According to the commissioner, the 2022 NBA Draft will likely be the first one since the 2005 NBA Draft to allow high school players to go straight into the league rather than playing a season in college first.

Citing “active discussions” with the NBPA, Silver noted that they are still “a few years away.”

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