How important is it for you to watch the game?” Raul Perdomo, supervisor of guest services for U-M athletics events, poses this question at interviews, and it’s surprising. How could someone not watch the game while working the Big House? Seems pretty easy.
Perdomo asks because would-be employees need to know that a job at the stadium isn’t just a free pass through the gates. On those fall Saturdays—and at every other U-M athletic event—he and his colleagues are focused on the fans, not the game.
“It’s about engaging them in the Michigan experience,” says Sarah Hoffman-Rowe, team leader of the East Tower. Among other things, her staff there operate elevators to assist guests with mobility issues, and maintain security of the stadium’s elite club and suite seating—all sans view of the game.
It takes a dedicated staff of close to a thousand employees to prepare the stadium for football Saturday in Ann Arbor. “It’s a city within a city,” says Hoffman-Rowe, and the event staff works enthusiastically to give that city a good first impression. Key team leaders arrive up to six hours before kick-off for briefings, with the last employees arriving two hours before the game.
Once the gates open, everyone is in position. They scan tickets, usher people to their seats, and deal with other issues. Though alcohol is banned, fans who drink beforehand can get rowdy; if they do, Roger Engholm’s response team is called to ensure things remain under control.
One unfortunate incident created an unforgettable opportunity for engagement. A drunken fan vomited on a neighboring couple—and when they came back from cleaning off, their seats were still messy. They really wanted to be moved, but no seats were free. The husband jokingly said he didn’t care if they had to stand on the field, they just wanted to see the game. Perdomo ran with it, and got permission to seat them on the field itself.
Picking up the seat-rearranging theme, Hoffman-Rowe recalls the time a boy in the East Tower experienced a peanut allergy incident. Staff moved him and his mother to the press box to stop his reaction. And the East Tower no longer carries peanuts or any other peanut products.
Workers may not be able to see the game, but they do feel it along with the fans. Roger recalls fans’ reactions to the 2013 Notre Dame game. “You could almost feel the swings in emotion,” he says. Working portal thirteen that night, he remembers the back and forth action of the scoreboard, possessions between the Wolverines and the Irish, and fans who’d left running back to their seats once cheers were heard.
It’s the big plays people remember, but stadium event staffers are the people fans interact with the most. From having your ticket scanned by a ticket-taker you might remember from game to game, or cheering along with an usher, these three employees, and hundreds of others, are all about creating an experience. As Engholm puts it, “it’s easy to be nice.”