Director of Game-Day Operations: Bob Smith, 123 Company

Below is the results of an interview between J. Scott Baker, an Entertainment Management student at Missouri State University and Bob Smith, Director of Game-Day Operations of 123 Company. The interview was conducted in the fall of 2011.

Please state your position and a short description of what you do: My name is Bob Smith.  I am the Director of Game Operations and Corporate Sales Executive here with the 123 Company, and just kind of in a nutshell I oversee the game-day operations here.  Anything from music selection to video board music and production to in-game entertainment, such as our mascot, mascot coordinator, in arena host, ice girl team.  Also, on the side I do some corporate sponsorship sales.

Does your day change for a home game, or an away game, or if there’s no game that day? Well I don’t do anything actually for away games.  The only thing I really did was I got our radio deal signed with a local radio station 30 minutes away.  With bigger bandwidth this year, so we have a little more of a reach but just making sure the game is up and running on that station on an away game.  But in game is probably the craziest days we have here.  We start real early and basically need to get a game script ready on a game day.  We’ve got to make sure all our sponsors are taken care of, such as their PA readings, planning out the T.V. timeouts when Chicago’s in town, or just promotional time-outs when it’s an in-house broadcast.  Basically when we go off the air, we need to fill a minute-ten of just kind of fan fun elements.  Once you get a break.  And then, I mean making sure the concourse is set up how we need it to get the building ready to have all these fans come in.  And then on a non-game day, it’s generating a lot of new ideas for the fans, updating our intro videos, and then a lot of sales.

What do you do in the offseason? A lot of golf, man.  You shift kind of into corporate.  That’s my corporate season.  I mean you get the most time there to make sure the sponsors get maximum exposure. I mean you want them there for the whole season.  I mean that window of opportunity drastically closes as you get deeper into your season because nobody really wants to spend in 20 games.  Hopefully by that point your inventory is about out that you can sell.  But I mean I spend a lot of time too looking for new ideas and new fan elements that I can bring to our game.  A big chunk of the time goes to making the new intro video, or just in game production.  We try to update a lot of items, such as lighting.  We had our ice girl signed this year which is huge for us.  So they’re out in full force every single game now.  We use to just have them on the weekends.

How’s your stadium fill up every night? Weekday crowds are tough but that’s pretty standard around the league.  It’s a real tough sell.  I mean, we’re a difficult market in the sense that we don’t have a lot to draw from downtown.  I mean we’re an average size market I think for our league.  But, Friday and Saturday nights are always better.  I mean it’s a weekend.  People want to go out, want to go out have a beer or two, watch a hockey game.  We do the majority of our promotions on Friday and Saturday nights.  Like our hats, our calendars, our kids shirts give-a-way.  Any time we pack the house or do anything we definitely focus on weekends.  Sundays is our kid’s day game.  They aren’t as good as a Friday/Saturday crowd but still better than a weekday crowd.  We do dollar kids tickets, and then do a lot of fun stuff for the kids.  We’ll bring out like inflatables for them to jump in, face painter, and balloon art.  Little things like that.

When you were looking for a job, were there a lot of opportunities?  Were you looking just in minor leagues or were you looking in all sports? I was looking in all sports, but definitely focused predominantly on hockey.  I mean I took a different route than a lot of people did.  I didn’t really know what I wanted to do while I was in college.  I mean I was more focused on playing hockey at that point.  Once I graduated in December, I had to keep my eligibility in order to play out that semester I needed to have an internship.  So I went out and I was very fortunate for 123 Company out here to pick me up and let me work for them and so I ended up playing out my fifth year here.  I just kind of fell in love with what I was doing.  I showed an initiative that I could sell, and I was initially hired through ticket sales and then moved into game-day opportunity.

What degrees have you earned? I have a degree in Business Administration with a minor in Economics.

Has Economics helped you in your career? Yes and no.  I mean it definitely gives you a better understanding of how price sensitive people can be.  I mean you focus a lot in college economics; they really hammer home elastic and inelastic demand.  Working in minor leagues you’ve really got to be tight with your money.  And just kind of where you want to save money away and is this something that if we cut this out of our budget are the fans going to go nuts for it.  Or if we raise the price on this are fans going to keep coming regardless.  We’ve played with our ticket prices here for the last three years that I’ve been here.  It’s something we hadn’t done in a while and we recognized an opportunity to.  I mean we hadn’t really done it in three years.  I mean you look at it like this; we increase our ticket prices we can afford better players.  And make a deeper run at the playoffs, and hopefully our fans will see it the same way as we did.

Did you ever think about going to grad school? I think about that a lot actually.  But I don’t know if it’s worth it or not.  It’s definitely a results driven industry.  I’m a firm believer in you let your results speak for itself.

Do you plan on staying with the team or moving somewhere else? For my age I would say I’m pretty happy where I’m at.  I think to be a Director at 25 is pretty good.  But always room for growth, I mean I’m always looking to get into the major league circuit.  The higher you can get up the more money there is.

Since you’ve been there has the organization changed or planning on changing? From when I started I’m one of three left here.  So there’s been some major turnover with the Blues staff and in our office.  And then you know we’ve made some minor changes too.  We’ve played around with an alternate third jersey.  Over the last year that, you know, a lot of fans love but then we get our traditionalists, the old school fans, that hate anything.  And you’ve got to find a healthy balance between that and not completely aggravate your old school fans.  But still try to come up with something new for your newer fans.  And then too, I actually changed our mascot this summer.  Which again I took a little heat from the old school fans that loved what we had before.  But the moms and the kids love the new mascot.  And ultimately that was who we were targeting.  Our mascot shouldn’t make the game for the 60-year-old person.  It should make the game for the three, four, five, six-year-old kid that—our fan base is getting a little old.  We’re trying to generate some new fans.  Being able to just make those fan moments for those young kids.  We’re hoping to turn them into longtime fans as they get older.

Do you have any tips for landing an internship? My ambition to sell at that point, that is definitely your ticket into anywhere in the     sports world is being able to show you can sell something.  If you’re going into sales, obviously you want to sell.  Or if you want to be able to go into marketing, I think you need to prove that you can sell before you know how to advertise it.  Then, even in the game, it takes a ground-up understanding.  I think that your market and what fans really like—when you work in ticket sales you’re really in tune to what the fans want.  And then as you kind of move up into the organization, you hear less and less from the fan perspective and more from a company aspect or what you’re seeing in the papers then.  But I think just work ethic, that’s huge.

Are you involved in the hiring process? As far as game day employees and interns yes, but as far as sales, marketing, and full-time staff here in the office, no.

In hiring interns, do you look for experience and certain skills over education? It is kind of a healthy mix of the two I mean you can tell usually by a resume what you’re getting before you get it, but then when I’m looking for games and video interns, definitely  look more for skill than education.

What type of experience did you have before your internship? Really a deep understanding of the sport of hockey.  I’ve played since I was four; I’ve played in a lot of cool buildings, just being a hockey fan going with my Dad to games to a lot different venues.  It is something I’ve always been in tune with, and brought a lot to the table here as an intern

What are the pros and cons of your job? The pros are; well I work in hockey which is pretty sweet, I absolutely love how good of an organization we are in the sense that 13 guys on our team last year played regular NHL minutes.  Taking players out to player appearances, I’ve driven guys out in my car that I’ll put on my TV the next night I’ll watch them give an interview on FSN Midwest, for the Blues.  The negatives are definitely at this level, salary time spent working.  You break your back for the industry and you really got to love what you do. It’s a big time commitment.

For the sales you make, do you get a commission or is it a salary only job? I get a salary plus commission.  Anything I sell here tickets or corporate I’ll make money on.  I kept a lot of accounts I have with a ticket base, when I was a ticket salesmen, I have kept a lot of long time relationships.

Do most director of game operations get a commission? Yes, but when you get to the major leagues, director of game operations doesn’t sell at all.

What is a salary range for director of operations around the league and major league level? In the minor league, anywhere from $25,000 to $30,000 for a guy my age, but I know other people in the league that make significantly more around $50,000-$60,000.  My biggest piece of advice is if you’re trying to make it in sports learn how to sell.