Inside the Event Management Playbook for College Football Bowl Games

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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.

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“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.

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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.