More than just turf care

The Superdome is in the center of the action for special events. Here, fans gather outside the Superdome for the parade honoring the Saints’ Super Bowl Victory.
Photos courtesy of the Louisiana Superdome unless otherwise noted.

While some focus strictly on the playing field, many of those managing multiuse sports venues have responsibilities that extend to maintenance of the facilities inside and outside the stadium structures, as well as the coordination of events. These individuals must have the ability to see the big picture, be proactive in planning and execution, comply with budgetary and governmental requirements and keep the communications flowing.

It takes constant vigilance and attention to detail to keep the Superdome in top operating condition.
The Superdome operates like a small city, with in-house staff handling nearly all maintenance and repairs.
Equipment of all types requires maintenance.

Qualcomm Stadium

The home of the San Diego Chargers opened in August of 1967 as San Diego Stadium, with renaming to Jack Murphy Stadium in 1980 and to Qualcomm Stadium following a major renovation in 1997. It’s an open-air, multiuse facility hosting such nonsports events as concerts, conferences, and monster trucks, and major sports events including two All-Star Games, two World Series (when home to the Padres) and three Super Bowls.

Qualcomm Stadium is a city-owned facility. As part of the city’s real estate assets management team, Steve Wightman oversees field care and has multiple responsibilities for interior and exterior facility management of Qualcomm and the Chargers’ training center building. He’s involved in budget development, working with key management personnel.

Wightman says, “I write the specifications for many of our contracted services. These are then run through the city’s purchasing and contracting departments to incorporate the appropriate legal terminology.” Wightman develops a service level agreement (SLA) between the stadium and other areas within the city government, for example, with the general services division of the transportation department to take care of the sweeping of the parking lot. All contracts and SLAs must follow specified formats and include tracking numbers to facilitate monitoring of budget allocation and payment approvals.

Many contracts and SLAs are devoted to areas such as custodial, janitorial and trash disposal, all focused on keeping the facilities clean. Wightman says, “We contract with the San Diego County branch of the Urban Corp of California for post-event trash removal. They’re a nonprofit association, partially funded by the state to hire disadvantaged youth to work on projects that minimize waste disposal. They bring in 50 to 100 people immediately after a game to do the ‘bowl pick,’ keeping any recyclable items and depositing trash in the bins. Our custodial staff arrives at 6 a.m. the next day to tackle the cleaning. We contract a provider for trash removal, which occurs under staff supervision. All post-event parking lot sweeping is provided by city services as allocated via SLA.”

Wightman coordinates all aspects of the personnel training programs, including OSHA-related issues; conducts or arranges for the training; ensures all is documented properly; and supplies those records to the city’s human resources and risk management departments. He monitors the storm drain protection system involving the 25 storm drains on the 166-acre property and provides documentation to the city’s environmental department. He coordinates and documents the hazardous material disposal programs, which cover everything from lightbulbs and paint to fertilizers and pesticides. He also coordinates all required regulatory reporting for county, state and national entities.

Any new government regulation can result in extensive tracking and monitoring. Within the last two years, regulations related to California’s diesel emissions standards require cataloging product and operational details on all portable diesel equipment 25 hp or greater, and a separate report on stationary diesel equipment, such as backup generators.

With the combination of space, equipment and facilities made operational through backup generators, sites like Qualcomm become public havens during major disasters. Wightman says, “During the last two fires, we had up to 20,000 people on site. Our staff manages the operational details, serves as the first responders for the medical services until the other entities involved are dispatched and provides multiple services to support those entities with everything from materials movement to crowd control.”

Government agencies throughout California have taken a hit from the economic downturn, and total staffing on the structural side has dropped from 51 full-time to 23.

Wightman says, “All of our personnel are tackling their added responsibilities with dedication and pride. My assistant and the entire grounds crew staff are absolutely superb. We’ve not had a game cancelled or delayed due to a facility or field issue. With TV coverage and 71,000 people in the stands, we can’t afford the loss of revenue that would result from not playing the game.”

When possible, the off-season is used to focus on “back of the house” administrative issues, from training to budgeting, and facility upkeep. Projects range from repainting to the two-year diagnostic review of the electrical systems throughout the building.

Wightman says, “Approximately 30 percent of my time is directly related to the field preparation and management; 50 percent to the building structure and non-field site issues; 10 percent to administrative duties related to contract specifications and meetings on operational and budgeting issues; and the final 10 percent dealing with all of the forms and documentation we’re required to provide for state and local government entities.”

The Superdome

The Superdome was completed in August of 1975 in time for the NFL New Orleans Saints’ season opener. Called Louisiana’s most recognizable landmark, the Superdome’s 680-foot diameter covers 13 acres of the 52-acre site, rising to a height of 273 feet. The adjacent, bridge-connected New Orleans Arena opened in October of 1999.

The Qualcomm parking area with a special event underway. The setup, post-event cleanup and any damage repair are part of Steve Wightman’s responsibilities.
Photo by Steve Wightman.

These facilities will host the 2013 Super Bowl, the 2012 Men’s Final Four, the 2013 Women’s Final Four and the BCS championship game in 2012. With all this on the horizon, extensive upgrades are taking place, including replacing the exterior skin with bronze-toned aluminum panels, extending the Plaza Concourse from an 18-foot width to 60 feet, taking over the three-story building that previously housed the New Orleans Mall and creating a ground-level Plaza Festival area that will connect with the central business corridor.

Randy Philipson, director of engineering and operations, is part of the SMG management team. Philipson says, “Doug Thornton, SMG senior vice president, stadiums and arenas, is based at the Superdome. He has set an expectation level that has become the goal for our entire staff. Safety is our number one concern. That’s closely followed by the level of services delivered. Every event, no matter how small, is that client’s Super Bowl, and we have to treat it as such.”

Philipson oversees between 85 and 90 full-time employees split between operations, which is comprised of the housekeeping and field crew departments; technical services, which is comprised of the IT and production departments; and engineering.

Philipson says operations are similar to a small city, with everything from its own phone and Internet services, to audio and video technicians, armed security force, elevator mechanics, plumbers, painters, electricians and machinery operators. Everything is done in-house, with the exception of post-event cleanup and specified contracted services, such as the remediation work and reconstruction following Katrina.

An event coordinator is the main contact for everything related to an event, with that individual contacting the departments that need to be involved and all requisitions running through Philipson’s office. He says, “It’s a fluid business. We plan a month out, then set personnel schedules a week in advance to match the degree of expertise needed in each position. We have an AutoCAD program for space utilization and event operational services, plus a program to track compliance for codes and regulations. We’ve built in our requirements in terms of weight loads and capacities, with anything approaching limits referred to our structural engineers for review and adjustment. Along with monitoring all this, I make a lot of walk-throughs with various departments to analyze and evaluate ongoing activities.”

Little things, like a fresh coat of paint, add to the visitor’s perception of the quality of a facility. At the Superdome, the goal is a Super Bowl-level experience for all visitors.

The field crew is part of the operations department. The full-time staff of 14 is supplemented with 15 or 16 part-time personnel. The synthetic field is removed and replaced each year.

Utilities needed for events, such as the home and garden show, are located beneath the concrete floor and accessible through connection sites in it. Philipson says, “We work from that base surface until the last event concludes at the end of July, then install the new synthetic field in time for preseason football. With high school and college-level play here, as well as the Saints, our crew handles the painting for the field conversions. A total of 18 were required last season, and six of those had less than a 12-hour turnaround. That crew also performs all field maintenance and serves as the conversion crew at both venues, setting up basketball courts or concert stages.”

All the facility updates, high-tech operating systems and the well-trained, highly functioning staff contribute to user satisfaction, but Wightman and Philipson agree that it’s often the little things that make the biggest impact on the users’ perceptions of a venue.

Philipson says, “High-visibility facilities miss the mark if they fail to provide properly operating systems, effective lighting and cleanliness throughout. Every aspect of our facility maintenance is vital to the image we need to project. A dirty floor, commode or wall; a dripping faucet; a dark corner or fading paint will be seen and remembered, and will detract from user satisfaction.”

The author is a contributing editor for SportsField Management.