General Manager: Jeff Cumley, Jordan Valley Ice Park, Springfield, Missouri

Below is the results of an interview between Jesse Wright, an Entertainment Management student at Missouri State University and Jeff Cumley, General Manager of the Jordan Valley Ice Center. The interview was conducted in the fall of 2001.

 

Describe a typical workweek for you.
Right now my week consists of a staff meeting on Monday or Tuesday getting all the staff members focused on what is happening that week, overall big picture because they are really, really good at what they do and because they are so good they really focus on their areas and sometimes they need to expand their focus a little bit. Scheduling ice time for practices or something like that, we need to make sure that it doesn’t conflict with other things that might have been scheduled that evening. Maybe our party rooms have been rented out, but there is a game that night, an SMS hockey game, we would prefer to sell it to a corporate group, so to answer your question, getting everyone on the same page at the same time to get everyone who does separate things to that big picture.

So you have someone that strictly does scheduling, a person that does different jobs separately?
Right, we have one person that really does it, but there are several others that have their own areas. We have a hockey director; we have a figure skating director, myself and the other manager. We will book a party room because we are out at a meeting and somebody will say well, I would like to bring my corporate by and have a meeting in the large club-room. We’ll look on our handy-dandy little hand schedule and we’ll say, Great I don’t see anything else on there, but we’ll have to come back and coordinate that with the others.

So you just book rooms right there?
If we know there is nothing else going on, which right now is easy to do during the day time through the week. Now you will never ever see us booking time for a weekend on the spur of the moment.

How do you keep from double booking?
We have a software program that will help us out with that. It handles all the ice programming, room programming, it handles all our point of sales systems, concessions, pro shop, admissions as well as business reports.

Along with that a typical week is not real typical because this is a new building. We have been open for three weeks, but there are still things with the building that aren’t done. We had a meeting today about the signage on the exterior of the building. A general manager shouldn’t probably be taking care of that aspect, but it is aesthetically pleasing as well as functional. I would be more concerned about the functionality because I know the architect is primarily concerned about the aesthetics. He’ll argue up one wall and down the other that it looks good so I’m not worried about that part. But do you want to put a sign up in front of every door in the building? Do you want the storage room to say storage room? Probably not, because you never know somebody out there will think well what if there is something nice in there why don’t we steal it? So we are still taking a walk through the building much like you would with a new house with a big punch list deciding what needs to be fixed, changed, or finished. On the operations side of the building we are making sure the building is clean, functional, and operational. From the little things all the way up to the big things like making sure the ice is still operational. Making sure our marketing director is out there selling the advertising for the building. She’s out there trying to sell the dasher board signage, banners up on the big wall, trying to sell corporate stuff for games as well as just anybody who wanted to buy a sign for this building. A dasher board, the local florist, taking care of their needs making sure people get what they want out of it. From a marketing standpoint making sure it fits our needs. All the way to her–she’s out there promoting the building so she’s running commercials, TV, radio, big print ads, things of that nature. The guys up here in this office have to look at everything in the big picture. So, right now we’re fighting the battle. In the future, we’ll realistically have the whole place staffed and then we’ll be up here trying to make sure everyone’s doing their job as well as looking toward the future by adding new programs to the building, reaching out to the community PR wise, being seen making sure the building has a good image.

What employment opportunities are available?
I come from more of an arena and stadium background, even racetrack venues. So my answer would be, right now there is a huge growth in arenas because typically arenas are 20 to 50 years old and they aren’t functional today to hold these types of events. The expectations for concerts, baseball teams, football teams, even hockey where NHL got popular a few years ago it still is popular. Take America West Arena in Phoenix for example. NHL was brought into Phoenix because it is extremely popular, Phoenix is a very up and coming city because it has a lot of resources. People want to see hockey there so great they brought them there and put them in the American West Arena. Well the American West Arena was built for the SUNS and concerts. A basketball floor is about half as big as a hockey rink. Well, you can’t see the entire ice rink from every seat in the house, so…their happy to build a new rink on the west side of Phoenix to house the Coyotes. There are a lot of opportunities in my opinion if you want to travel.

What is the typical range of earnings for someone in your position?
It depends on where you work and what market you work in. Depends if you work for a city, municipality or a private group. You might get more flexibility working with a private management group. If you are looking at general managers or what some places call a director I really think your looking at, depending on the market it could go as low as 30 or 35 all the way up to the hundreds. A private group may also pay you bonuses.

What brings people into this type of work and what keeps them there?
I started out as an usher at Hammons Student Center. The men’s basketball team was very popular, they would sell out at every game. It was very exciting! I got hooked and I’m not an autograph seeker. I am up there for the event. If you’re a customer and you come here and you have a great time and go home safely, that’s what drives me.

What kind of education or skills does one need for this type of business?
PR, Communications, Management would work. There’s also Entertainment Management degree as SMS now, I believe. It’s good, I believe, but its new, there aren’t a lot of schools that provide that. Quite frankly, you don’t need it. If you had a degree in Marketing, or Management or something like that–or heck maybe you didn’t even have a degree. But you started working at an arena maybe helping pick up snow when the Zamboni gets done. Maybe he was a shovel boy. Who knows, but I can honestly say my marketing has come in handy, because I have a degree in Advertising. That has come into play more than once. I’ve never been asked my grades not once. Although it is important because it tells people that you are willing to put in that extra effort. But, I think people in this line of work will see that effort in different ways. If they see you busting your butt shoveling snow they will know you will work hard in other ways.

What kind of personality would be best suited for this type of job?
There can be extreme stress in jobs like this. Events particularly. Again once those lights go out there’s things happening in the crowd there’s the lights the smoke coming off the stage, people are going nuts. All the way down to budgets, why did you spend this why did you spend that or why didn’t you make this or why didn’t you make this much money on this. There can be a lot of stress so someone who handles themselves well under pressure, has a real keel level headed brain. Again I’m not all of that, but no one’s perfect. Certainly you want a higher percentage of those traits in people. It can get extremely ugly when people start mouthing off saying the wrong things at the wrong time in a situation where you don’t know who that person is and why their upset–it could come back to haunt you. You’re going to want to listen, ask what’s wrong, empathy, sympathy, and find ways to alleviate that problem and then follow through in the end.

What kinds of changes have occurred in the business since you started in the field? I think ADA which is the disabilities act, has come a long way and has posed certain challenges for a lot of buildings because public facilities had to follow certain laws and regulations. That has really come out in the past few years. The new buildings you don’t have a problem with because the builders know what to do, but the old buildings had the problems. The old Boston Gardens some of the basketball players couldn’t even walk through the doors. While basketball players can bend over, but the patrons in wheelchairs have every right to see what everyone else can see if they have a ticket. They have a right to go where anyone else can go. People had to reconfigure stadiums to be able to handle those needs, which they should have been doing in the first place; I don’t know why no one thought of those things 20 or 30 years ago. But it was never really thought about. Concerts have died out. They were really popular in the 80’s but now they are going more towards festivals. A lot of groups are brought in at one time and people can pay a really high ticket price but they are seeing a lot of bands and getting a lot for their money.