Training Staff for a New Venue

At Disney, there were three things we consistently heard from Guests when we asked how they wanted to be treated. 

  1. Treat me like an individual 
  2. Be Knowledgable
  3. Engage with my kids and treat them with respect

These principles can really be applied to any sports & entertainment venue around the world. As we help Austin FC open their new MLS stadium, we based much of our training off the top two principles. 

How might we train our staff to treat each fan like a VIP (Very Important Individual)?

Here’s the approach we took. As part of our Service Standards, we built an Austin FC specific standard focused on the individual. Austin has become one of the most eclectic cities in the US, with cowboys and hipsters, first generation Americans and tech bros from California. So the focus on the individual was extra important for us here.

To make every individual fan feel at home, we crafted specific behaviors and training points to encourage staff interacting with fans on an individual basis. We trained staff to look for little details that would give clues to a fans’ passions. Staff are encouraged to let a guest know they love their cowboy boots. If a fan has the same hat as a staff member, the staff member is rewarded for telling the fan “that’s a great hat, I have the same one!” Staff are incentivized to seek out fans from the other team, asking where they’re from, and if they’re from out of town, suggesting they check out the local Austin concession stand.

In a stadium of 20,000 people, each of our fans want to know that we value the time and money they are investing in coming to watch Austin FC in person. And we know if we want to keep them coming back to our venue, we’ve got to make them feel like an individual, like the best versions of themselves. They don’t want to be lost in the crowd, or thought of as “one of 20,000”.   

How might we deliver training that equips staff with the knowledge they need to answer questions?

In a new venue, it’s easy to overwhelm your staff with even the most basic information. So there are a number of routes we could have gone. We could have handed staff an FAQ sheet and told them to memorize it. We could have shown them videos and pictures of the new space they were entering and told them what each area was. We could have given them stadium tours and asked them to memorize facts and figures about the venue. Instead, we created an interactive competition.

We know that adults learn differently. Adults are more kinesthetic learners and adults are selfish with their time. If they don’t know, “what’s in it for them,” they’ll simply go through the motions. To combat those things we know to be true about adult learning, we built an interactive training. When our gamely staff showed up to training, they were greeted by supporters playing instruments and chanting. Using the same tactics the supporters use to get fans excited in the stadium, the supporters were at our trainings to excite and rally our employees before sitting down. 

After an interactive conversation with the group where we discussed the service standards, the entire group was broken up into teams. The teams were then tasked with racing around the stadium to complete a series of “challenges.” These challenges either taught a new skill or provided them with knowledge and answers to FAQs we’ve anticipated. The challenges were everything from having to encountering a spill and having to call in an incident on the gamely reporting tool,  to meeting the supporters, where they learned and had to complete two chants as a group to move on. Along the way, there were bonus trivia stops and extras that the teams could take note of to share in the debrief and take time off their final team race time. 

One of the activity signs groups encountered as they raced around the stadium

Along the way, we crafted “surprise and delight” moments for the employees, like having the full-time employees whisper “hey, there’s no activity here, but do you guys want to see the locker rooms?” Just changing the way we presented the locker rooms made employees feel like they were getting exclusive access, raising their level of excitement and ownership. And of course, at the end of the race, the winners were provided with prizes, prizes that didn’t cost us much but were truly limited run items. 

When you’re opening a new venue, you only get one first impression. While it may be tempting to train employees the way you’ve always done it, you won’t have the impact you’re looking for. Since adults learn differently, you must evolve your training styles to meet that need. What you do shouldn’t be shaped by what you did before or what you did last year, it should be shaped by the needs of the people you serve. If you know you need to better train your staff to deliver incredible experiences, we’d love to help you. 

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Shifting Perspectives for Customer-Centric Marketing w/ Elisa Padilla

On today’s episode, David and KG are joined by guest Elisa Padilla, former Senior Vice President, Creative Strategy & Partnership Marketing for Roc Nation, and former Senior Vice President of Marketing for the Miami Marlins. Elisa, David, and KG talk about customer-centric marketing and how the way you lead and the perspectives you shift allow you to achieve it more successfully. 

Show Notes:

(06:52) Infusing the Jay-Z “Star” mentality from “Street to Seat”

(10:51) Walking the walk over and over again – creating sensory experiences in Barclays Center

(14:28) Refining the customer journey experience for personas and current trends 

(16:55) Apple’s obsession with details

(21:53) Changing perspectives to change processes 

(24:06) The 360 degree approach to the customer experience

(28:20) Reflecting the town culture in the game day experience

(29:40) The hybrid model of engagement – evoking emotion to drive action

(33:38) Leveraging digital revenue streams and expanding the fandom

(39:11) Monetizing the storyline – lessons learned from Trapital and Drake

(41:00) Takeaways from Roc Nation Unified

(43:55) Flipping the narrative – “KickItByEP“

(52:05) The Disney Influence on Brooklyn Sports and Entertainment

(53:50) Elisa’s Friday Leaders Walk

(59:20) Lead with empathy and compassion

Additional Resources:

Dan Runcie – Drake’s Best Year


Elisa’s favorite episode – KickItByEP with Katrina Palanca

Where to Reach the Guest:

LinkedIn –

Twitter –

Instagram –

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Designing Effective Remote Work Teams w/ Steph Smith

In today’s episode, Steph Smith, Head of at the Hustle and Founder of Integral Labs, joins the show.  Steph and David discuss the ideas and insights of how to build a more effective team in both a remote work or hybrid environment.

Show Notes:

(6:54) The bell curve of giving and taking – amplifying giving in remote work

(10:54) How to encourage giving behavior

(15:50) What benefits can organizations now offer to entice the best talent?

(18:05) Applying the “First Principles” to your business and employee experience

(21:34) The new wave of benefits to offer employees

(25:05) Replacing the water cooler – how to generate the personal and professional relationships in a virtual setting

(27:27) Replicating an office environment with co-working spaces

(30:54) Defining success – the importance of metrics-driven assessments

(32:50) Algorithms to live by and the Nash equilibrium

(35:50) Game theory & working backward from the ideal outcome 

(40:07) Personal user manuals – learn about your people upfront  

(49:24) Being versatile in a leadership role

(47:53) Trends in remote work – what’s next?

(52:05) What’s coming? – The Biotech boom

For more information on topics referenced during the show:

“71-Tips to Navigate a Virtual Work Culture” Ebook

Get $100 off Trends with our referral code:

First-principles thinking

Game theory 

Give and Take by Adam Grant

Algorithms to Live By by Brian Christian and Tom Griffiths

Steph Smith’s Personal User Manual

Where to reach the guest:
Steph’s LinkedIn
Steph’s personal Website
Steph’s Twitter  @stephsmithio

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47. Bringing the X-Factor to Guest and Employee Experience w/ Kami Testa

Today’s guest is Kami Testa, Guest Experience Program Director of the Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Mercury. Kevin Gober and Kami dive into how to drive change in your organization, the process of hiring a large team of employees all at once, training your staff, and how mindsets impact actions.

Kami’s unique background with the Walt Disney Company has helped her bring fresh insights to the NBA’s Phoenix franchises. Before the NBA and WNBA, Kami held a wide array of roles with different parts of the Walt Disney Company. She’s spent time as a Facilitator for Disney Institute; a Training Manager for Disney Cruise Line; she’s been a Traditions facilitator (training Cast Members on their first day at Disney); she’s worked in premium sales for Adventures by Disney (the company’s travel planning agency); and more.

Show Notes

(7:00) Kami Testa Intro and Background

(9:30) Parallels of Guest Experience and Employee Experience – The Disney “Chain of Excellence”

(14:30) Lessons from the Phoenix Suns’ Virtual Hiring Fair

(16:00) Hiring for Attitude vs. Aptitude

(17:30) Shaking Up the Interview Process

(18:30) Training the Hiring Managers – Getting Your Staff on Board to Your Vision 

(20:40) Disney Insights – Skills-Based Recruitment is Fatally Flawed

(22:00) Challenges of Virtual Training / On-boarding

(27:00) Discovering Talent – Outlining Opportunities for Growth for Part-Time Staff

(30:00) Cultural Overall of Changing the Phoenix Suns’ Game Day Staff Uniforms 

(34:30) How to Change Your Staff’s Perspective Beyond “Job Description” 

(39:00) The Suns’ Vision for the Future

(46:00) How to Formulate a Culture Committee

(49:30) Tools for Balancing Your Team’s Mental Health

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Importance of Versatility and Vulnerability in Leadership

David Millay and Kevin Gober are back with another Jam Session as they discuss ways to create your own value and finding ways to bring that value to your organization. With Covid changing the working environment and structure, David and KG get into adapting your skillset to fit in any situation and learning universal ways to lead during the pandemic.

Time Stamps:

(2:00) What it’s like for sports to be back but not able to be in the building

(4:30) Worries of making an impact in your organization during Covid-19

(6:00) Find a way to bring value – the importance of acquiring new skill sets

(8:50) Kevin’s retail experience & demonstrating versatility

(11:00) Adapting the principles of sports business to other industries

(14:40) Different strategies of energizing your team as a leader 

(17:47) Speaking from the heart vs. speaking from a script 

(20:44) How should you be leading in these times?

(22:12) Inside the relaunch of events at State Farm Arena – Crawl, Walk, Run Mentality

(32:38) Recruiting and hiring in the midst of social distancing

(37:37) Enhancing your skill sets to be ready for the next opportunity

(40:06) Re-imagining the onboarding process – creating a mentoring buddy system

(42:49) Acknowledging and caring for the mental health of employees in this time

(47:59) How can we create better workplace cultures with hybrid work schedules?

Resources Mentioned in this Episode:

Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World by David Epstein, New Orleans 

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38: Modern Work and Digital Experiences w/ Jared Spataro

Our guest for this session is Jared Spataro, Corporate Vice President at Microsoft. Jared oversees Microsoft 365, including Microsoft Teams, as well as the company’s focus on Modern Work. 

Obviously, the different elements of Microsoft 365 are deeply embedded in all of our daily work, from Outlook to Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Teams, and more. His team has tremendous insight into the data behind how we’re using these tools, allowing his team to see trends before others see them. As a result, Jared and his team have been spending more and more time reimagining the future of work. And this is where we’ll spend the majority of our discussion.

Overseeing Microsoft Teams, Jared’s team played a huge role in the NBA bubble, as their Teams “Together Mode” allowed for the NBA to create virtual fans at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex. We discuss Microsoft’s broader activities in the sports & entertainment and live events industries, where properties everywhere are having to place a more intentional focus on the digital experiences they provide their fans. It’s here that our group found some particularly interesting insights. 

Like many of our guests on this show, Jared’s experience is not limited to just sports & entertainment. He’s seeing trends from all industries around the world, and that insight can help us think differently than our peers, to better engage our fans and our employees. 

Time Stamps:

7:25 – Sporting leagues adapting to digital technology

8:15 – Digitization and the NFL

12:15 – Creating digital experiences for world fans

14:15 – Asynchronous and synchronous transformations

16:05 – Application of Microsoft Teams “together mode” to the NBA and NFL

18:52 – Trends of physical proximity oriented spending being reallocated to digital funds

24:40 – How to combat change-resistant people

28:45 – The role of humans in technology advancement

32:29 – The pandemic’s acceleration of technology

35:00 – Future of Work: Microsoft’s 7 principles

39:39 – What will the new “normal” be after Covid-19?

48:55 – How Microsoft runs meetings

53:24 – Blending digital and physical

Microsoft Teams Resources and Implementations:

Microsoft Teams

NBA Bubble virtual fans experience

Microsoft Teams Together Mode

Future of Work: Seven ways we’re empowering every person and every organization to thrive in a new world of work

Microsoft Teams Planner

Microsoft Power Automate


Where to Reach the Guest:

Connect on Twitter @jared_spataro

Connect on LinkedIn

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7 Remote Work Employee Benefits

Remote work in the sports & entertainment and live events industry will obviously look different in the future than it will for other industries. Many employees in the industry are starting to come back to the office, especially those in facility management or roles that require you to be in person for the live event. But many employees are still working from home, creating somewhat of a hybrid workplace. How might we rethink the benefits and perks we provide those employees? Can we provide perks and benefits that actually boost productivity and health?

If you look at massive tech companies like Twitter, Facebook, Google, they used to pride themselves on their employee benefits in the war for talent. But those office perks like pool tables, free food, and free gym access are now obsolete. Your organization would never have been able to offer those types of Silicon Valley office perks due to the high costs. But as those companies go remote, the perks offered to remote workers become more affordable and reasonable to do at your scale.

This hybrid workplace allows you formalize a new set of benefits that you can use to win talent in the coming years. More than just free coffee in the office, or team lunches, you can use these benefits to truly boost employee well-being and productivity.

Here are seven remote work ideas I’d love to see sports & entertainment and live event companies offer in the future:

Mental Health Support

The Big Ten made a splash in May when they partnered with Calm app to provide mental health support for all Big Ten student-athletes, coaches and staff members. For a personal subscription, the app costs $59.99 for the year. With some negotiating power, I imagine you could bring that cost down and provide it for your staff.

Calm is just one of many mediation/mental health apps in the space. Apps like Headspace are competitors in the mindfulness and meditation space, but you could also provide a mental health stipend, allowing teammates to use it on alternative mental health support, with apps like Happify (for depression), Self-Help Anxiety Management SAM (for anxiety) or MoodKit (for general therapy).

Hopefully this pandemic has allowed senior leaders to take a step back and realize there are more important things in life than our work. Especially since our industry is primarily about entertainment, hopefully our leaders will come out of this pandemic with a greater focus on the well-being of their employees.

Individual Budgets for Outsourced Work

Think of all the time your team wastes on low value aspects of their job that has to get done. The employee hates those aspects of his/her job, and as a leader, it’s time that could be better spent, but someone has to complete the tasks. What if you could outsource those tasks to a lower cost per hour worker?

Enter platforms like Upwork or Fiverr. You can use it for help with creating decks for internal presentations, or for scheduling help, for something like research. Each employee might get a quarterly allowance, say $100- $250 to use on outsourced work on these platforms. Obviously, you’d primarily want to use this for internal work with non-proprietary information, but these platforms account for that with easy non-disclosure agreements integrated.

The best companies and leaders remove barriers for their employees and free up their time to do what they’re best at. This perk achieves that goal.

Access to learning platforms

One of the biggest skillsets need in a post-COVID world is the ability to continuously learn and reinvent. Unfortunately, that’s not been a strong suit in the sports & entertainment and live events industry. In large part, we’re so busy moving from one event to the next, putting out fires, so busy operating, that we don’t spend much time to reflect and seek out new information.

In recent years, platforms like Coursera, Linkedin Learning, Audible, have become more popular for professionals pursuing individual goals. But it’s up to the individual professional to pay for these courses, which can either present a barrier to skill growth or result in your employees developing skills that don’t necessarily move your business unit forward.

This is where I see learning platforms and senior leaders playing a significant role in shifting this paradigm. Imagine how much more innovative your organization would be if all of your employees had learning goals in their performance reviews, and a way for you to track the classes they were taking?

Instead of passing off professional development costs onto employees, senior leaders can drive direction of learning by providing access to different learning platforms. One platform we love that’s in beta right now is Sports Learning Online. The learning experience platform was designed specifically for sports & entertainment and live event companies to solve this very problem. They’re currently accepting emails to join their waitlist to access platform.

Workout classes and/or home gym equipment

It’s no surprise to this group the connection between physical and mental, so we’ll jump more into ideas than belabor the impact of why peak physical shape benefits the workplace.

Stipends here likely work best, as everyone has different fitness goals and preferences. Some people love yoga, some people want to powerlift. Even if your stipend doesn’t cover the full costs, it makes a difference.

There are options like Classpass, which has a freemium model giving users access to 4,000 on-demand workout videos. There are other apps like Aaptiv, where for $99 for the year, you can have access to their full library of audio based workouts and goal tracking. Many of these apps have programs now specifically tailored for employers for this very reason.

Bonus idea: can you create “office hours” in your own training facilities where employees can use the state-of-art equipment you’ve already got? Or when you upgrade to new equipment, what happens to the old equipment? Is that something employees might have access to?

Childcare benefits

We’ve all had the colleague whose kid has jumped on the Zoom call in the last six months. While many parents have enjoyed spending extra quality time with their children during this pandemic, parenting is clearly an additional full-time job. In a recent survey by TD Ameritrade, 57% of parents said homeschooling children and working a job is too much to manage. Especially in our industry of working nights and weekends for events, balancing work and child care can be quite difficult.

And it’s not just your employees feeling the pain. When your employees suffer, the organization suffers. Juggling child care and work can result in major productivity losses for the organization. According to a 2019 report from the Council for a Strong America, employers lose $13 billion in potential earnings, productivity and revenue every year due to inadequate child-care resources.

With this hybrid workplace and colleagues working at home, how might we support our colleagues with children?

Businesses of all sizes have begun incorporating childcare into their employee perks. Starbucks and Best Buy began offering this perk at the end of 2018, where they provided staff members with a free premium membership to, and $10 subsidized backup childcare days per year for when parents and caregivers unexpectedly find themselves without assistance. There are tons of alternatives to, like Urban Sitter, Bright Horizons or KinderCare.

Subsidizing child care isn’t just for the big guys though. Even if you’re a minor league baseball team or small event company, you can do this. You can deduct the subsidized amount of childcare for your employees, up to $150,000.

Meal kits or food & beverage delivery credits

Life in our industry often requires late nights. Which means you don’t always get time to grocery shop or even to cook at home. And that’s not changing. But what if we could acknowledge that with our employees, and help them out knowing that’s the reality? Enter meal kits like Freshly or Blue Apron, which solves the grocery dilemma. Or Postmates, Door Dash or GrubHub, which solves the problem of not getting home till 9 or 10pm. Or heck, what about Drizly, which can deliver alcohol after a big win?

One of my favorite ideas is the perk of choosing between a coffee, tea, wine or beer subscription. Each employee gets to personalize their subscription, but it you can arrange the deliveries to occur at roughly the same time, prompting the watercooler talk we all greatly miss. Some of the best companies for this are: Trade (coffee), Free Your Tea (tea), Winc (wine), Craft Beer Club (craft beer).

New types of vacation

In the world of sports & entertainment and live events, we often bounce from one event to the next without taking much time to rest and refuel. And when we do, it’s often in the form of weeklong vacations. But these “time-off” vacations can be stressful. The prep work leading up to the days off, making sure your backup is prepared, worrying during the vacation if your backup is doing the job correctly; and after all that, you still probably answer work texts or emails.

Instead of advocating for more vacation, which requires tons of red tape to clear and has $ attached to it, let’s look at some no cost/low cost solutions that allow your teammates to refuel.

Let’s start with the easy ones. Half-days after an event make all the sense in the world. Employees are usually working long hours the day before, so give them a chance to rest when they need it. Many organizations already do this informally, so why not just formalize it and use it as a recruiting tool?

What if we made Wednesdays meeting free? A day where you could actually get the work done that you need to. At EngageMint, we try to never have internal meetings before 12pm. This allows our team to actually complete the creative work or tasks they need to.

Speaking of creative tasks, hopefully leaders have seen a spark of new creative ideas since this pandemic began. And much of that was out of necessity in a fight for survival. We talked about this at length with Disney’s former Head of Innovation and Creativity, Duncan Wardle. To drive innovation, Google famously allows employees to spend up to 20% of their time on projects outside of their tasks and responsibilities. It’s not a formal process, but this type of mindset can break up the monotony of employees’ day-to-day, all while driving business innovation.


Spin on ergonomic equipment

If you’re like me, at the beginning of the pandemic you sat at your dining room table to work. After week or two, you and your back realized you needed a chair that was a more suited to long hours. So you went out and bought an actual office chair, designed for long stretches of sitting.

While an ergonomic office equipment stipend would work for most industries, we’re on our feet too much in our industry for that. But how might we use that idea and apply it to our world? When we get back to hosting live events, maybe instead of stiped on ergonomic office equipment, there’s a stipend for ergonomic clothing.

In my time working with athletic departments and pro teams all over the world, too often I’ve seen employees on event day logging long hours in dress shoes not designed for the mileage we put in, or running shoes that don’t look the part, but provide the support we need. Same situation goes for pants and other clothing.

It’s not for not existing; the barrier is usually price point. Brands like Wolf & Shepherd are built for this, dress shoes you can literally run a marathon in. But they usually run at $249 per pair. You wont find me working at an event in anything but Lululemon’s ABC pant, but they run $128 per pair. With some sort of stipend, you can help support your employees bodies on those long, brutal days.

Random thought as I’m typing: It’s not in this category, but even a massage stipend would go a long way. The gist of this category as a whole – think of things you know would be a good investment to help improve your employee’s health, but it’s something they likely wouldn’t spend the money on themselves.

No matter which strategies you employ, the basic principle remains the same; the extent to which you genuinely care for your employees is the extent to which they’ll care for your customers and fans. Times have changed, and just as you’ve had to adapt to serving your customers, you’ve got to do the same for your employees.

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34: From Patient Experience to Fan Experience w/ Quint Studer

We’re joined today by the legendary Quint Studer. Quint is a philanthropist, an entrepreneur, and an expert in delivering quality experiences, for customers and employees. He’s the co-owner of the double-A baseball team, the Pensacola Blue Wahoos, and the founder of the healthcare consulting group, the Studer Group.

In Quint’s approach to patient experience and fan experience, it all starts with the employee experience. We’ll spend the episode discussing what you can do to better engage your employees so that they can better engage your customers. 

Time Stamps

0:20 – Intro
8:45 – 
Why does Quint live in Pensacola?
11:00 – 
Quint’s philosophy on driving great customer experience
17:45 – 
The most important people on your team to train
20:00 – 
Internal systems and processes that help drive CX
24:00 – 
Leadership is an inside job
27:00 – 
Leading metrics vs Lagging metrics
32:00 – 
Impact of retaining employees
36:30 – 
Strategies to engage your frontline employees
42:40 – 
Emotional bank accounts
44:30 –
 Re-purposing employees roles during the pandemic
47:20 – 
How the Blue Wahoo’s larger purpose drives real action

If you enjoy the episode and want to learn more from Quint, here are some great resources Quint has available

Books & Blog
Quint’s Leadership Blog
The Busy Leader’s Handbook
Hardwiring Excellence: Purpose, Worthwhile Work, Making a Difference
Results that Last
More books by Quint

Referenced in the Episode
HCAHPS (Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems)
The Busy Leaders Handbook
The Kid is Hot Tonite by Loverboy
Baptist Healthcare
Pensacola Vibrant Community Blueprint
Mark Clement – hospital CEO
Press Ganey
E-Myth Revisited
SOG’s & SOP’s
Cleveland Clinic
Switch by Chip & Dan Heath
Net Promoter Score
Steven Covey

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