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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



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.


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.


“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


Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: A Look at Super Bowl Sustainability Efforts

The NFL Environmental Program started a focus on Super Bowl sustainability 25 years ago, providing an example for sporting events across the country.




Photo via the NFL

Twenty-five years ago, the NFL Environmental Program started its Super Bowl sustainability efforts in Atlanta prior to Super Bowl XXVIII with recycling bins around the Georgia Dome. Now, the program returns to Atlanta prior to Super Bowl LIII at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

The bins were meant to help offset the massive amount of waste the annual event produces. Since then, the NFL Environmental program has grown tremendously with multiple green initiatives.

NFL “Green Week” started Jan. 15 with more than a dozen urban forestry projects in the Atlanta area.

“The NFL decided to support our effort 25 years ago at the Georgia Dome,” said Jack Groh, director of the NFL Environmental Program. “We still try to push the envelope every year, pushing it a little further and see how much we can go.”

READ MORE: College Football Playoff Green Initiative Goes Beyond Just Recycling

The NFL Environmental Program only oversees the sustainability efforts of the NFL’s major events — like the Super Bowl, Pro Bowl, and the NFL Draft — because team stadium operations are still the responsibility of each stadium owner. Still, Groh said more teams are moving in the direction of sustainability and often consulting he and his wife, Susan, who is the program’s associate director.

“As the years go by, more teams take advantage of it,” Groh said. “The Philadelphia Eagles are a shining example, with a wide range of sustainability projects. People really would rather do the right thing.”

The sustainability efforts around the NFL’s major events act as an example at the sport’s highest stage, which can be influential as the Super Bowl is likely the sporting world’s most wasteful event. A typical NFL game produces approximately 35 tons of waste, Groh said, or approximately 1.5 pounds per fan. The Super Bowl, however, can boost that number up as much as 50 percent.

“Our challenge is how to reduce that as much as possible with recycling, composting and even preventing things from coming in that aren’t recyclable and compostable,” Groh said.

Along with the typical reduce and recycle, Susan Groh said another major initiative for Super Bowl sustainability is to repurpose materials. Now, up to 90 nonprofits are enlisted to reuse items like temporary carpets and leftover foods.

“We’ve had really creative uses as we team up with local partners and find out what their needs are and some folks have taken fabrics and turned it into evening gowns and baby clothes,” she said. “Last year, in Minnesota, they took wood pallets and built birdhouses. Lots of creativity, but no reason to throw them away.”

On Jan. 17, Super Kids-Super Sharing will welcome more than 100 schools as students will come in the morning to donate books, sports equipment, and school supplies. Later in the day, designated schools and organization serving children in need will select the donated supplies they can use. The children’s program started in Atlanta 20 years ago prior to Super Bowl XXXIV.

READ MORE: International Sponsor Council Drives Sustainability for Sponsorship Industry

Sustainability efforts are often hindered by two aspects, Groh said: a lack of knowledge and affordability. The NFL Environmental Program creates a massive database of a city’s nonprofits and contacts for their efforts, and they’ll share it with whatever event might be coming to the city next. The database helps eliminate the lack of knowledge. In Minnesota, they handed over their network to the X Games, which was coming to town following the Super Bowl.

Jack Groh said while the NFL competes with other leagues for fan attention, they all need to cooperate to take care of the earth.

The Grohs’ simple idea 25 years ago to put recycling bins around the stadium has led to Super Bowl sustainability efforts setting an example at an event looked up to across the globe.

“The Super Bowl is the crown jewel of events,” Jack Groh said. “They’re looked at by other event managers, sports leagues, team owners as a model to run their events. Whenever they try an experiment, if you wait a year or two or five, you see those strategies implemented in other venues and sports.”

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Rigorous Preparation Rewarded As 2019 Winter Classic Generates High Ratings

The 2019 Bridgestone Winter Classic drew the best ratings the event has had in four years, thanks to a lot of hard work between the NHL and Notre Dame.




Photo via NHL

It’s safe to say the Winter Classic has become one of the National Hockey League’s best traditions. This year’s edition between the Chicago Blackhawks and Boston Bruins contained added intrigue as the event was played at one of the most hallowed outdoor venues in sport: Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, Indiana.

It turns out, the engagement results were interesting too.

The 2019 Bridgestone Winter Classic, played on New Year’s Day, drew a sizable television audience with a 1.94 overnight rating, according to NBC Public Relations. That’s the best rating the event has had in four years and was up from a 1.4 rating in 2014. 

Across NBC,, and the NBC Sports app, the game averaged a Total Audience Delivery (TAD) of nearly three million viewers (2.968 million), forging a 20 percent increase compared to last year’s game, according to Fast National Data from Nielsen, and digital data from Adobe Analytics.

READ MORE: Lenny & Larry’s, Kings Showcase How to Grow a Partnership Over Time

Considering the marketing efforts leading up to the Winter Classic, stakeholders certainly earned the whopping number of eyes. From an operations standpoint, the work involved in setting up the event — a complex process involving mass cross-functional collaboration — also paid off as the ice looked great from the stands and on television.

To prepare the stadium, it was an intensive process not only for the NHL’s operations team, but for the Notre Dame facilities crew as well. 

First, the field was cleared of its goalposts and any other objects on the field. Then, Notre Dame’s grass field was protected by panels of a thick overlay. After that, the rink was built in the middle of the football field. The NHL brought in special refrigeration units to create layers of ice that reportedly set in over the course of about eight days and reached a depth of about two total inches, according to the South Bend Tribune.

While the physical transformation of the stadium took just over a week, the Notre Dame hockey program and the university had been working hand-in-hand with the NHL to make this event happen. Notre Dame Director of Athletic Communications for Men’s Ice Hockey Dan Colleran explained further.

“Once University Vice President James E. Rohr and Director of Athletics Jack Swarbrick worked with the NHL to bring the game to Notre Dame Stadium, our Senior Associate Athletics Director, Business Operations/Hockey Administrator, Tom Nevala, had been a key cog in working with the NHL.

“From the team’s perspective, all support units such as equipment, sports medicine, operations, facilities and communications had been involved since the summer with various meetings, conference calls and site visits to help out our counterparts with both teams and the NHL offices.”

In addition to hosting the game this past Tuesday, the Notre Dame men’s hockey team will face Michigan this coming Saturday in the outdoor stadium. The Irish will also wear special uniforms that pay tribute to the program’s 50-year history.

One unique challenge that will come from the pro game being played on the first of the month and the college game being played on the fifth is the fact that students will not be back on campus for a couple weeks.

“With the games right in the middle of break, there certainly will be fewer students able to attend,” Colleran added.

READ MORE: Inside the NHL’s Evolution as a Digital Media Company 

Regardless, it turned out that attendance at the Winter Classic was still very high. The game attracted a sellout crowd of 76,126 — the second-highest attendance in the event’s history next to Michigan Stadium’s 105,491 in 2014. This can be attributed to, among other things, the university’s proximity to Chicago and the upper Midwest’s strong connection to hockey. 

The average attendance for the Winter Classic after 11 games is now 58,663.

This past week’s crowd size is a huge jump from 2018, in which the New York Rangers and Buffalo Sabres brought in 41,821 fans at Citi Field in Queens. Stadium capacity certainly plays a major role in these totals, but it’s impressive nonetheless that the NHL can pack any venue for this yearly spectacle.

Between the high ratings, strong engagement, and the amount of interest this year’s game created, look for the NHL to pursue more college football stadiums as host sites for future outdoor events.

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Inside the Meteoric Rise of College Football Bowl Games

As the number of bowl games continues to expand, the original concept of community-based events remains true, according to the Football Bowl Association.



bowl games - college football - sports

Photo credit: CFP

The number of college football bowl games has more than doubled in the past 30 years.

Originally, they were meant as community-based attractions to bring people to town, like the Rose and Orange bowls, said Wright Waters, the executive director of the Football Bowl Association. As the number of games has exploded — from 19 in 1990 to 40 this year — Waters said the general concept is still the same.

“There is still a benefit to the community,” he said. “It’s like an Olympic city; you’re listed in USA Today every day for at least a month and you’re on TV. Local communities want to be a bowl city.”

While the overall economic impact of each bowl varies greatly — especially as it deviates from the traditional and major bowl games; there were only 11 in 1970 and eight in 1960 — Waters said there are significant benefits for the communities and schools involved.

“I’m OK with the number of bowl games,” Waters said. “The reason we have so many is the benefit of going to a bowl game is so significant.”

READ MORE: Are Bowl Games Really Worth It? 

He said spring practice season has become so greatly restricted, the extra three weeks of practice for bowl games is important for the teams. It also provides an extra win for many teams.

“The neat thing is, in the bowl system, half the teams end the year with a win, unlike other championships,” Waters said. “It allows coaches to recruit with ‘We won a game and are on the way up.’”

Waters also pointed to the ability for universities using the bowl games as a fundraising opportunity, and he believes the “Flutie Effect” is real — applications for admission go up with a team’s win on national television.

The surge in bowl game numbers really started in 2000, Waters said, and it was in the ensuing decade ESPN really began pushing Bowl Week — the early slate of bowl games leading into Christmas. Those bowls are great for content fillers and provide the local communities with an event to rally around.

They, however, have little economic impact, said Bruce Seaman, associate professor in the department of economics at Georgia State University. Seaman regularly studies the economic impact of bowl games and sporting events, especially of those in Georgia State’s home of Atlanta.

Seaman, unlike Waters, is concerned there might be too many bowl games, but jokes with a jovial tone about the subject. With a larger field, the importance of bowl games becomes greatly diluted.

“We have too many; that’s clear,” Seaman said. “At some point we’ll have so many the only criteria will be two wins.”

There is a slew of teams with 6-6 records in bowl games this season, and there have been five teams with 5-7 records in the past 12 years.

“I’m OK with that,” Waters said of the records. “As long as we’re ranking them by academic progress, I’m OK. Isn’t it neat we’re rewarding them for being good students instead of penalizing them?”

READ MORE: Inside the Event Management Playbook for College Football Bowl Games

It also keeps the end of the regular season competitive for more teams, Waters said.

“I’m old enough to remember when we didn’t have but 20 bowls,” he said. “Now, it’s the last week of the season and teams are jockeying for their sixth win or getting to seven because it improves their bowl outlook.”

If teams start to decline their bowl invitations, then the bowl season might start to look different — but for now, Waters said the communities across the country will continue to want to host and teams will want to play.

“We rarely hear a team that qualifies say, ‘We don’t want to go,’” Waters said. “Teams and universities want to be on national TV, and it’s important to make the numbers work, but there are different ways to do that.”

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