Aug. 27, 2014
With the kick-off of the 2014 season counting down, a small village of workers is preparing everything in and around Williams-Brice Stadium to ensure a great fan experience on game day. Coordinating events and services on game day is a lot more complicated than opening the gates, icing the sodas, and turning the lights on as hundreds of workers from dozens of departments are on hand to make it all work.
“We probably have twenty different departments involved just within the athletics department on game day,” said Shawn Burke, assistant athletics director for operations and management. “That includes marketing, development, media relations, the Gamecock Club, parking, tickets, compliance, event operations and UTS (University Technology Services). You also have Global Spectrum at the Colonial Life Arena, which gives us the ticket scanners, the highway patrol, the Division of Law Enforcement and Safety (DLES), concessions and catering. We’re fortunate that all of the folks that we have are just fantastic to deal with.”
Put it all together and it’s a mass of humanity to coordinate before the larger group of 80,000 fans pass through the gates.
“The contract security, or yellow shirts, that’s 500 people right there,” Burke said. “There’s anywhere from 90-100 highway patrol personnel that work every game. There are close to 70 from DLES, and concessions and catering has about 1,200 folks who are all helping put this ball game together.”
“We are very conscious of the fan experience to make it the very best we can.”
Shawn Burke, Assistant AD/Operations and Event Management
A concentrated group of 50 or 60 individuals from these various entities will pack into the lettermen’s lounge each week of a home game to make sure everyone is on the same page. This meeting covers everything involved with football operations on game day including cheerleaders, medical staff, halftime events, highway patrol, custodial needs, media relations, marketing, and the football staff.
In terms of what the fans will actually experience when they come to Williams-Brice Stadium, that planning goes back even further and involves everything from how many rally towels will be placed in seats for each game, to booking a celebrity starter to lead the cheers prior to each contest.
“We’ll start back early in the summer planning halftimes, special presentations, teams that will be honored and things like that,” said Josh Waters, director of marketing. “Once that is compiled, you have to determine the number and length of timeouts with which you will have to work based on which network is broadcasting the game. It’s a big puzzle.”
The marketing department plans everything that will go on to the video board, what sounds fans will hear, and a comprehensive 65 page script for the public address announcer.
“The pregame can be very stressful because you have an exact time for kickoff, so you cannot get behind and you can’t get ahead,” Waters said. “Every element has to fall in place, and we have it timed out to the exact second.”
With so much going on, occasionally some unplanned events can happen.
“Years ago, we used to use smoke machines when the team came out to `2001,'” Burke said. “One game I gave the signal to start the smoke and nothing happened. So I still had to let the team go out and it didn’t look as good. It turns out that someone had kicked the chord out, so from that point forward we decided to change it to fire extinguishers and that’s what we’ve done ever since.”
Once a game starts, having the Gamecocks score a few touchdowns back to back can make things tricky.
“When we score a touchdown, we bump whatever was scheduled for that timeout because we want the band to play and then we want to play `Sandstorm,'” Waters said. “So it can get tight, especially if we score a lot like we did in the Georgia game a few years ago. We had to figure out how we were going to make up all of the things that got bumped. That gets nerve racking, but it’s a great problem to have.”
The marketing staff will be at the stadium six hours before kick-off, but they won’t be the first ones to arrive by any stretch.
“For game day this Thursday, we’ll start with the law enforcement folks conducting a bomb sweep from 5 a.m. until 7 a.m.,” Burke said. “Then the facilities staff will come in right after that. It’s a long day.”
After the game, the grounds crew begins maintenance on the field, and the cleanup crews will come in the next day to clear all of the debris left behind by the 80,000-100,000 tailgaters.
Fans visiting the stadium will notice the new backlit “block C” logo on the exterior of the west side of the stadium as well as progress on the new practice facility that is being built. The game day staff has also adjusted how some of the lines will flow for elevators inside the stadium to get fans where they need to go quicker.
“We are very conscious of the fan experience to make it the very best we can,” Burke said. “From the time they park, to the time they get into their seats and get concessions, we try to make their experience a great as possible. We may do seven or eight things really well, but if one little thing doesn’t work, that is what they’re going to remember. So it’s all very important.”