Office manages game day logistics
Tom Naatz | Friday, September 7, 2018
In a given semester, Notre Dame’s campus consists of about 8,600 undergraduate students. Nevertheless, on six Saturdays throughout the fall semester, many thousands more fans descend on campus for Notre Dame home football games. Mike Seamon, the University’s vice president or campus safety and event management, estimated that about 100,000-120,000 come to Notre Dame on a given weekend. For last weekend’s game against the University of Michigan, that number was probably closer to 150,000, he said.
Coordinating the logistics for these large events is Game Day Operations, the office responsible for ensuring home game weekends proceed as smoothly as possible. University President Fr. John Jenkins established the office, which began work ahead of the 2009 football season, Seamon said.
“In 2008, [Jenkins] commissioned a task force … to look at the game day experience on campus,” Seamon said. “[It was] a 17-person task force. Student body, alumni association, athletics, student affairs — they used the 2008 season to look at the Notre Dame game day experience. Then, they provided a report to Fr. Jenkins on how the University could better manage the game day experience. So that’s when Game Day Operations was born.”
Though on a technical level the office is in charge of running the logistics of game weekends, Seamon explained that its larger role is to help present the many faces of the University to visitors.
“We know people are coming for the football game. We understand that. But what Fr. John and the trustees and the leadership want to do is let Notre Dame be the best it can be and open up the University so people can experience everything from the athletic tradition, to the academic elements of it, to the faith elements and then also the social elements,” he said. “We know people come here to see a game, but we want them to experience everything good about the University.”
Game Day Operations is designed to coordinate all of the necessary logistics to make sure fans walk away having had a positive experience during their visit, Seamon said.
“Game Day is this office that tries to help organize that in a way to make it easier for everybody,” he said. “I would say it’s this organizing element that works with all these different divisions. Game day is such a massive operation for the University. No one office can do it by itself. It’s all these entities: it’s the athletic department, it’s student affairs, it’s the alumni association, it’s food services, it’s campus safety, it’s landscaping, it’s parking. All these elements come underneath it. We just ensure we’re all rowing in the same direction.”
Planning for the season begins long before opening kickoff of the first game, Seamon said. Game Day Operations will start developing plans for year in the preceding winter.
“The planning for game weeks and the home season … actually starts in January and February,” he said. “The cycle is basically that we use December and January to get all the feedback from the previous season. We all think about different initiatives and how we would change it. We do a little bit with the Blue-Gold Game in April, but by the time we get to summer, we’re really finalizing details of our offerings and how do things.”
For home game weeks, staffers from various campus offices and departments gather early in the week before the game to start implementing the plans for the weekend, Seamon said.
“On a home game week, on Tuesday morning, there’s probably 125 people, all leaders across the University, everything from football operations to food services to landscaping to safety to police, medical fire, we all meet to talk about the week and what we want to do and how we want to do it. Our teams work throughout the week to get it ready and to implement it,” he said.
Though there is a “backbone” of plans used throughout the season, Seamon explained that plans vary from game to game. For instance, kickoff time can affect planning, as can the opponent and where that team is traveling from. Seamon cited weather as “a consistent challenge because it is so inconsistent.” About 4,000 personnel works each game day.
Alison Thigpen, director of game day operations noted the importance of guest services teams in ensuring a positive experience for fans.
“That’s roughly 70 individuals and they’re the ones you see across campus in the green polos or green blazers. They’re stationed strategically across campus at various posts and they’re helping guests with everything from handing out maps, to directions, to game day shades for the kids, to answering general questions about Notre Dame and welcoming,” she said. “They also drive the courtesy carts around campus, helping guests get from one spot to the other. That’s Friday and Saturday. During the game, they’re also stationed throughout both levels of the concourse and guest services booth.”
Other schools have taken notice at the success of Notre Dame’s Game Day Operations. For example, the University of Georgia recently launched a game day ambassador program, SilverDawgs modelled after what Georgia fans and officials encountered at Notre Dame during the Bulldogs’ visit to South Bend a year ago.
Seamon said Notre Dame is unique in the college football world, and that fact imbues a lot of meaning into the office’s work.
“We hear over and over again that coming to Notre Dame for a football game is a bucket list experience. If you’re a baseball fan, you want to go to a game at Wrigley or Fenway. If you’re a race car fan you want to go to Daytona. If you’re a golf fan you want to go to Augusta or Pebble Beach,” he said. “There’s these things that if you have something in your mind that there’s something unique about there. What we’re finding out more and more is it’s a bucket list. People, regardless of if they’re cheering for Notre Dame, if it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience or they come here every game, every week, or anything in between, we want them to understand that it’s different. We’re no better or worse than any other university game day experience in the country, but we think we are distinctly unique. And that’s what we are trying to work with all our colleagues on, across campus.”