July 11


Learning from State Farm Arena & the ATL Hawks, 10% to 100% Capacity

David Millay

July 11, 2021

One of the biggest challenges we’ve heard from venue operators this summer is the fear of gameday staff availability. For a myriad of reasons, such as fear of COVID returning, stipends continuing to be issued, the availability of remote work, and more, it’s going to be hard to staff your full capacity venues this Fall.  

In the midst of an NBA playoff run, we sat down to talk with Kevin Gober, the head of learning and development and employee experience at State Farm Arena in Atlanta. We discussed this very issue, as the Hawks went from 10% capacity to 100% capacity in a matter of days. Great for the fans, tough for the events and operations team. 

Listen to the full conversation here.

Here are three key takeaways from the conversation to help you deepen emotional connections with the people you serve.

Partner with your third parties and host a hiring fair

We helped one of our MLS clients with their hiring this spring, and we’re working with one of our Power 5 partners to do this now. Kevin and the Hawks have done this with great success. Using your brand’s marketing engine, you can attract a higher quality and quantity of qualified candidates.

When you use third parties for staff event days, they bring their staff. And depending on the third party’s headquarters, reach, staff on their contact list from previous events, those staff members may or may not be from your city or even state. In that case, to the employee, they work for the third party, not your brand. But I believe you want people working in your venue who are passionate about your brand, not people who are content collecting a paycheck to check bags no matter the venue. 

If you want gameday staff to be excited about your brand, it helps for you to get involved in the hiring process, even if you’re not directly paying the employees. Here’s what KG and I talked about on the podcast. 

As the brand behind the venue, host a hiring fair. Coordinate a date with your third parties that they can come out and be heavily involved in. Market the event through your own social channels. As you advertise the event to your fans and followers, make the language about coming to work at your stadium or arena, or coming to represent your brand on the event day. When potential new staff arrive at your hiring fair, have them check their preferences for which position they’d like to work. 

When you’re interviewing staff to work with your third parties, make sure the third parties are interviewing in a consistent way, trying to find people that embody your brand’s value. Most gameday event roles aren’t hyper-technical and don’t require much background knowledge or expertise in a particular job function. So you can write your interview questions to really understand if the potential candidate has the right mindset or has demonstrated the right behaviors in the past to work at your venue. 

With each third party operating off the same interview questions, and the employee’s job function preference noted, you can decide quickly after the interview which team to place that employee on. Now, you’ve got employees who are passionate about your brand working with third parties.  

Craft your content and distribution for the staff personas you want

If you want part-time staff who are passionate about your brand, job postings should be promoted from your own social channels. If you want staff who exhibit specific behaviors, ask them to tell you “about a time when _____,” and see if those behaviors are core to that person.  

From a content perspective, think about the type of people you want to attract to work your venues. Do you want people who are great at taking tickets and you’ll try to teach them to be excited about your brand? Or do you want people who are excited about your brand and you’ll try to teach them to be great at taking tickets? Depending on that answers, your marketing language should be very different. 

We believe for gameday staff, you should be hiring staff who are first and foremost excited to work for your brand. So put yourselves in their shoes. Where do those people receive their information? How might we find those people? It’s likely those people follow your social media accounts, so make sure you’re advertising there. 

But further than just being passionate about your brand, what characteristics do these ideal gameday workers have? Are they retired men and women looking for something to keep occupied? Or are they young student workers who want to work in sports? Those two demographics, as an example, are tapped into two very different information streams. If you’re trying to attract retired employees, you might want to put up flyers in communities where that demographic exists. If you’re trying to find young people who want to work in sports, you might partner with the University sports management program or post the job on Teamwork Online

Your staff hiring advertising channels should change based on the ideal employee you’re looking for. 

When we’re helping our clients create consistent interview questions that ensure you’re hiring people who will add value to your culture, we use a method called the STAR method. 

  • Situation
  • Task
  • Action
  • Response

We help our clients formulate questions like “Tell me about a time when you had to tell a customer ‘no’,” or “tell me about a time when you delivered customer service above and beyond what the customer expected.” Once you understand the situation, you’re looking for the task that had to be done, the action that was taken by the potential candidate, and you want to make they tell you what the response was afterwards. 

Formulating your interview questions in this way will help you attract the candidates you’re looking for.  

What if we spend time & money to train staff, but they turn over?

What if you DON’T train them and they STAY?  You only get one chance to welcome fans back to your venue after this 18-month hiatus, are you developing and equipping your staff to make an emotional connection with your customers who’ve stayed loyal to you?

As the learning and development director at State Farm Arena, it’s obvious KG and the leaders at the Hawks’ home arena value training. They’ve spent an inordinate amount strategically thinking about what new skills they can equip their gameday staff with, and they’re constantly creating new training sessions for the staff to learn those new skills. And that’s why they’ve won “best fan experience” in the NBA multiple times. In fact, seventy-nine percent of the Hawks gameday survey respondents categorized their overall experience attending a game as “Great” or “Outstanding.”

KG and I talked about the difference between a big stadium with 1000+ gameday workers versus a smaller venue with only 100+, or a venue that hosts 100+ events per year versus a venue that only hosts a few football games each year. Here’s what he had to say. 

“Does it make a difference if you’re doing 200 events or 50 events? It doesn’t make a difference because you think about it, the bigger venues are going to have triple the people. Right? And so you’ve got triple the opportunity for even fewer events to make that emotional connection, to connect with the people and create a great experience so that they come back, come back.

In the aggregate, it’s the same thing because of the numbers of people. So if you don’t invest in your leaders, if you don’t develop them, if they don’t develop their part-time staff to make that impact… I think you’re missing the boat.”

Kevin Gober on Flip the Switch (podcast)

Right now, our team at EngageMint is actively helping athletic departments and pro sports teams around the country hire and train their gameday staff to deliver on the brand promises of serving fans. Whether it’s through a one-time pre-season big group training, or a more robust learning and development program, complete with rewards and recognition, we’re happy to help you achieve your goals and equip your staff to put a smile on the faces of your fans.

David Millay

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