Many agree that football will be a transformational event for UNC Charlotte. Leading up to the Aug. 31 kick off of the University’s first game has required a number of changes across campus. For Nina Simmons and her team in the Student Activity Center and Venue Management Department (formerly the SAC and Recreational Facilities Department), it is an opportunity to extend their expertise.
“Athletics built the stadium, and they receive the funding for it. However, we manage it for them,” said Simmons, director of SAC and venue management. “We understand large events, having managed the Barnhardt Student Activity Center and Halton Arena. Several of my staff members are professionally trained in and have experience in crowd, venue and event management with a heavy focus on safety. Several have degrees in the field, and a couple has additional venue management certifications. We attend conferences that pertain to large venue management, and three staff members are very active in the International Association of Venue Managers, the preeminent association for public assembly facilities.”
Partnering with the Charlotte 49ers to manage the football stadium and its events allows athletics to focus more on athletes, as well as media, ticketing and fundraising, Simmons noted. Not duplicating staff is more economical for the student fee funding. In consultation with other departments, she and her staff spent months developing new policies and procedures that will govern how the facility is operated.
Groundbreaking for the stadium took place on April 28, 2011, and plans to manage the facility and the home game experience started even earlier.
Athletics established an operations committee, comprised of 35 members representing units from across campus, to review various aspects of home football games.
“The advantage of working with so many departments is that everyone brings different perspectives based upon their expertise,” stated Simmons. “There has been a lot of planning to address the moment when football spectators arrive on campus – where to park and tailgate, how to handle concessions, issues related to recycling and waste management, safety concerns, dealing with the potential of heat as the games will be played during the day and emergency and evacuations plans, to name a few.”
This past year, Simmons added five full-time staff members dedicated to stadium management; they have counterparts who conduct similar duties for the SAC and Halton Arena. On game days, the Student Activity Center and Venue Management Department will use contracted vendors to augment department personnel in order to provide the most cost-effective services to campus guests. Jani-King, a national company, will provide cleaning and porter and setup services, and personnel with United Event Services will serve as ticket takers, T-shirt security officers and ushers and will assist with parking lot control. EMT service will be through Carolinas Healthcare Systems. All three vendors provide service for Halton Arena, too.
Simmons and her team are excited at this opportunity to be part of a new chapter in University history. “Anytime you can acquire a new skill set, it’s rewarding. New challenges and fulfilling those challenges provides us a new spark. I think the entire campus has a new spark thanks to football.”
Expectations are that home games will be sold out with tickets to Football Seat License holders (approximately 5,000), students (roughly 7,000 distributed in a lottery system) and opposing teams. Individuals on campus without a ticket will be able to watch games in the Student Union (in Norm’s and the movie theatre), and WCCB has purchased rights to broadcast home contests.
The Student Activity Center and Venue Management Department also has created a new phone number for anyone who has questions pertaining to game day operations - 704-687-5555. The number will be manned only on home game days. More information about football is on the Charlotte 49ers website.