Arena Facility Operator  What They Do

Just the Facts

Insider Info

dotThe next time you go to a hockey game or rock concert at your local arena, remember that it takes a lot of work to pull off this event. Besides attracting acts to an arena through good marketing, someone also has to set the stage. That might mean smoothing the ice or plugging electrical guitar and amp cords into the right outlets. People have to get in and out of the building safely.

The behind-the-scenes person directing and coordinating is the arena facility operator.

dotIn smaller community arenas, this person might do everything from driving the ice resurfacing unit to handling security.

When Heather Wright was hired as the facility operator for a small ice skating rink in Arkansas, she drove the Zamboni. She also managed the rink, taking care of problems as they popped up.

At larger arenas, the facility operator typically oversees a staff of people who are experts in their particular fields. But the operator is responsible for the final outcome.

dotYou can't hop into this career without a basic knowledge of building parts. "You need to understand how a building operates, from air conditioning to ventilation. You need to know sound and video. You don't need to know every nut and bolt, but the theory that makes these things work," says Tom Conroy. He is the facility director at an arena.

Other essential skills, he says, are making on-the-spot decisions and delegating tasks. "Delegation is critical, and there are building managers who will try to do it all themselves. It won't work." Another component to a successful facility manager is being able to empower your employees.

Glenn Menard is the arena facility operator for the New Orleans Arena. He says the acts may change from rock 'n' roll to sports, but the principles of the arena business stay the same -- whether you are hosting figure skaters or NBA players.

dotHere are some tasks: getting people in and out of the building, handling ticketing, hiring part-timers for an event, doing the accounting and budgeting and overseeing security and guest services. "You don't need to know the sport. You just treat the field of play....You need to know enough to fit their [the different acts'] needs into your building."

Each day, Menard sits in front of a computer. Knowing how to navigate computer programs is important. He also says dependability and the ability to listen to instructions and ask relevant questions are important.

dotFor Terry Piche, knowing the law also comes in handy. "Every day, the rules are changing....I can tell you clearly that there are more than 40 pieces of legislation I am responsible for," he says.

Piche is facilities manager for the parks department in his town and president of a recreation facilities association. Making sure the arena is safe is a main focus, because if someone trips or slips in the parking lot, they sue, he says.

dotAnother part of the job, he says, is damage control and risk management. You are the person leaned on when times get tough.

"When the phone rings, you've got to switch directions," he says. "You have to be flexible and [able to multi-task] and people-oriented."

dotDon't expect to jump to the top career ladder rung in this industry. It takes hard work and time. Many of the people running the show have been there a while, so spots rarely open.

dotFacility operators may work in an office during normal operating hours. However, during events, they will be found in the arenas or stadiums.

"The thing someone has to remember when getting into this job is that we work when everyone else is having fun," says Piche. Literally, while fans are screaming for the Black Eyed Peas or the Chicago Bulls, you may be tending to someone's need for first aid or to the act's need for more lighting.

That means tough hours -- nights, weekends and holidays. Being in the office during regular hours is also necessary. That's when contracts are negotiated with vendors and acts.

Facility managers work anywhere from 60 to 90 hours per week, especially during peak sporting seasons.

dotPeople with physical limitations would probably be able to do the job at a larger arena, but not when small repair and driving tasks are involved. There is a lot of running, bending and tinkering. Wright says the Zamboni would need to be outfitted for a handicapped person.

At a Glance

Keep things running behind the scenes

  • Damage control and risk management are part of the job
  • Facility operators may work in an office during normal operating hours
  • You can study recreation facility management