As the University of Missouri football team charges onto the field, fans — whether cheering in the stadium or from their living rooms — feel the surge of many emotions: anticipation, pride, a sense of belonging and even outright exhilaration. However, the team is not solely responsible for creating the fans’ experience. A large team labors behind the scenes to serve the team, the fans and the university.
Chad Moller, associate athletic director and director of strategic communications for the MU Athletic Department, thinks most Mizzou fans would be surprised by how much behind-the-scenes planning and work it takes to host a home football game. Although these workers don’t take the field with the team, he still considers them part of a competition; they are “competing to throw the best party for 70,000 people that they possibly can.”
Who are the people who make up the approximately 500 staff involved in game day? Besides the team, some of the first people to jump to mind might be coaches and staff associated with the cheer squad, band and Golden Girls. Fans who’ve seen Mizzou football live will also note the parking lot attendants, security officers, ticket office sales staff, ticket takers, ushers, concessionaires and the people selling Tiger merchandise, including at the Team Store. The press box has another crew of ushers, and food and drink service is provided on the third through sixth floors. The game operations staff, equipment staff and grounds crew are integral parts of keeping a game running smoothly. Of course, team doctors and sports medicine crew are also on hand. The public relations staff and workers from the Tiger Scholarship Fund, which provides MU student athletes with scholarships to cover their college expenses, are there. The marketing staff handles pre- and end-game atmosphere, score and message boards, on-field ceremonies and recognitions and halftime. Computer support staff also has to make sure the network system is working smoothly for game day ticket sales and to support the press covering the game. Finally, the janitorial crew does most of its work before and after the game.
Although the vast majority of the workers are MU employees, parking attendants and ushers are contracted out, as is food service. Game day security is a mix of MU police, city of Columbia Police and Missouri State Highway Patrol officers.
On game day, anywhere from 350 to 500 credentialed media workers are in the stadium covering the game. That figure doesn’t include TV outlets. If a Mizzou game is telecast, that can bring in upward of 100 additional broadcast workers.
Brent Lewis, assistant athletic director, ticket operations, says that though ticketing is one of the obvious areas where fans notice workers during the home game experience, most of the department’s work is done before game day. For example, 46,000 season tickets have already been received before the season begins. Although the football season starts in the fall, the ticket office has been working on related issues since the beginning of the year. Lewis says the ticket office works on pricing in conjunction with the business and marketing offices, and an Intercollegiate Athletics board approves the pricing. They work with the football office to figure out featured players. Special security precautions are taken to make counterfeiting more difficult. Renewals also fall to the ticketing office in the spring, and then the crunch of seating changes must be handled over the summer. Lewis describes it as “a giant jigsaw puzzle.”
On game day, approximately 30 people work in ticketing; this includes five full-time staff, plus part-time staff and student workers. The staff keeps the main ticket office open for major issues that come up, as well as operating several satellite offices at the stadium.
Because the ticket office’s work is so detail oriented, it makes a major impact on fans’ experiences. If it’s not easy to get tickets, or if customer service is subpar, then fans might not chose to watch a game in person in the future. He calls the ticket office “the front porch of the athletic department”; its work is visible to fans and the first step to their overall game day experience.
Marketing the game day experience
Andrew Grinch, associate athletic director, external operations and content, explains how some of the marketing efforts on game day are achieved. The Mizzou Athletics marketing department consists of five full-time staff members who help coordinate all the different aspects of game presentation. Grinch says Scott Orscheln, assistant athletic director for marketing, is in charge of creating a game presentation that “puts on a good show for our fans and also fulfills any sponsor obligations.” Student volunteers assist the other four marketing staff members in coordinating halftime as well as pregame and in-game activities. Grinch says, “Much of the work is logistical, as far as getting people on and off the field at the appropriate time, working within a short timeframe of a timeout or quarter break and making sure everything runs smoothly.”
In terms of multimedia advertising rights, Mizzou Athletics has long worked with Learfield Sports, which connects big business brands to college sports through customized marketing. The official media rights holder for Mizzou Athletics is Mizzou Sports Properties, a property of Learfield Sports. This local team creates marketing plans for corporations that want to work with Mizzou Athletics, whether through radio, television, signage, promotions, hospitality, MUTigers.com, social media, print or other marketing options. Mizzou Sports Properties identifies primarily potential local and regional advertisers; fans will also see some national advertisers mixed in on the boards during the game.
The marketing department is continually reviewing strategies and fan feedback and looking for ways to improve performance and give the fans a more satisfying experience. Grinch says, “We are making a more concentrated effort this year to avoid inundating fans with standard advertising messages throughout the game.” Instead, more videos and music will be incorporated throughout the game to enhance the overall experience.
One way the athletic department works to build the Missouri brand is by partnering with the MU Office of Licensing and Trademarks. Any company that wants to use a university logo, including the Tiger head, on anything from T-shirts to coffee mugs must enter into a licensing agreement with the university. Sonja Derboven, marketing manager, licensing and trademarks, explains that the Office of Licensing of Trademarks and MU’s licensing agent, The Collegiate Licensing Co., handle the application process. An interested company will submit an application to the CLC, and then MU reviews the request and weighs the following key criteria: the business plan, sales history, previous licensing experience, product uniqueness, appropriateness of product, product viability, market demand and current retail relationships.
The two employees of the Licensing and Trademarks office work to protect the name and logos of the university. Derboven says: “The university’s image is enhanced through the signing of licensing agreements authorizing the use of the marks on high-quality and tasteful merchandise. It is also the responsibility of the office to actively enforce the unauthorized use of marks, name and logos of the university.” On game day itself, unauthorized sales are prohibited on campus, and the MU Police Department enforces this policy.
In 2012, royalties from licensing totaled $3 million, making Mizzou 20th among the more than 160 colleges and universities represented by the CLC. These royalty revenues first pay program expenses; the remaining funds are used to support Marching Mizzou, academic support and the athletic department.
Pulling all the teams together
Colleen Lamond, associate athletic director of facility operations and event management, and her event management crew coordinate all the behind-the-scenes aspects of game day. That involves acting as a liaison between departments and entities as diverse as parking, ticketing, television crews and emergency services such as police and hospitals, among others. They also serve as the point of contact for the visiting team and officiating crew. In fact, the event management department of four full-time staffers touches all areas of the game day experience.
The events management staff arrive around 4:30 a.m. on game day, but their work begins the afternoon prior, when they make sure no one is parked in lots who shouldn’t be. The parking lot staff of donor and general public lots must all be monitored to assure policies are being followed and fans are getting into the lots quickly. With an estimated 6,500 parking spots in the vicinity of the stadium, this is a challenging task.
Derek Doolittle is the liaison with the visiting team and officials; anything that happens on the field — such as the cheer squad and television crews — falls in his domain. Other individuals handle the concourse and gate areas where fans are entering the stadium. Still others check bags and take tickets. Someone else works with guest services and event staff. Many part-time workers do the ground work: for example, 200 ushers, 15 ushers in the premium seating area by where team runs out, six guest service staff at kiosks throughout concourse, 55 bag checkers, 80 ticket takers, 200 police officers and 90 parking attendants.
The events management team also has to stay in close communication with other departments, such as ticketing. Everyone involved has to know what a student ticket looks like compared to a donor ticket and train the ticket takers so that students are put in the appropriate section.
Lamond would like fans to know how much time and organization it takes to put on a home game “in regards to how far in advance we start planning for things, designing parking passes, credentials, issuing all that stuff” and how hard all the teams that make up the team behind the team work to stay on the same page.
The financial score
MU is in the black with football. Moller says football is widely considered the lifeblood of current college athletics programs; a healthy football program helps fund other sports, the vast majority of which are not revenue generating. Beyond mutual benefits within the athletic department, though, a strong athletic program benefits the entire university via the exposure it brings the school to the general public. A strong athletic program can even boost enrollment itself. The athletics program is often called the “front porch” of the university because it’s the first exposure many people have to the university brand.
Based on 2012 numbers, an average game nets around $1.5 million ($1.9 million in revenue, $400,000 in expense). (All numbers are approximate.) The revenue is generated from ticket sales ($1,726,000); concessions and merchandise sales ($97 ,000); rentals, which are the cushion seats with backs ($47,000); and parking ($111,000). Expenses include event staffing ($58,000); MU Police/ambulance services ($62,000); cleaning ($26,000); guarantees, which are the moneys paid to nonconference opponent schools to play here (similar fees are paid to MU when playing at nonconference schools) ($232,000); and equipment and other expenses ($41,000).
On a typical home football game day, Moller may spend 18 hours or more on the job. Stadium gates typically open to fans about an hour and half before kickoff, and there’s no set time that fans have to leave. On a day with a 6 p.m. kickoff, workers may begin their day around 8 a.m. and not leave until after 1 a.m. the next day. However, Moller says it’s worth it. “The game days are why you’re in the business. That’s the fun. If you didn’t have game days, if all you had was practice, I don’t think anyone would be in the business.”
And as far as the public’s perception of the team behind the team, Moller hopes that fans do take all the work that they do for granted. To him, that invisibility is a win. “If people go to the game and have such a good time that they aren’t cognizant of all the effort that goes into it, then we’re doing our job.”