Here to Serve: Fans are always first at Ole Miss football games
By John Davis, Oxford Citizen
A record crowd is expected to attend the home season opener for the Ole Miss Rebels Saturday afternoon.
The new-look Vaught-Hemingway Stadium can now seat 64,038 fans, and there are several new amenities for fans, and students, to get used to. A smile and a hello from the army that makes up event management and guest services is something Ole Miss Athletics stresses each fall.
Preparing for football games, and athletic contests for all sports, is planned for months in advance. Joe Swingle, the senior associate athletics director for facilities and game operations, and KT Short, the assistant AD for game operations and guest services, are the two of the main individuals that focus in on how fans are enjoying their experience.
Guest services includes a number of workers, from security to those that take tickets at the gate to the ushers in and around the stadium. There are a coordinator and an assistant coordinator for guest services as well as two full-time interns. On the event management side, there is an assistant director and two coordinators as well as a bevy of students that are hired for games.
Anything and everything that can have contact with fans is considered part of guest services. Ole Miss manages the vendors such as Whelen, which serves as the security for the home games. Close to 1,000 temporary workers are in place for each game, Short said.
“Even if they don’t work in our department, they are part of our group and a part of the experience for every single game day,” Short said. “They buy into our vision and what we want to do for every single fan that walk through the gates of our stadium. What that means is our methods are exactly the same and we are very involved in the training for all those workers. It starts with bringing in someone in the summer time to talk to the managers and the people that are at the top of those companies so that they have the message to relay to their people at the beginning.”
There are a number of students that are also used as workers, and trained by Ole Miss. This year two individuals who work on the corporate side of Chick-Fil-A were brought in to help with the guest services training.
Each year, members of the Ole Miss staff attend conferences to learn more about serving the public. Short said that many professional teams, and other collegiate staffs, attend the guest services conventions in order to share knowledge on the subject.
“We basically delve into what everyone else is doing within the industry and to make sure that Ole Miss is up to par and make sure that there isn’t anything we are falling behind on,” Short added.
Swingle said that guest services is all about the fan experience. At Ole Miss, that goes from receiving tickets and the parking pass to overall communication. At olemissfb.com, information on what to wear, stadium policies, shuttles and tailgating are all included. Moving through the stadium for fans should be easier than ever thanks to the new upgrades.
“The openness of the concourses, we’re bringing in new weight finding signage and everything is going to be more consistent throughout,” Swingle said. “Hopefully it’s going to be easy for someone to walk through the stadium and figure out where they’re going and if they have an issue, make sure they’re able to ask a question and have it answered quickly.”
Short reminded that there are a number of guest services booths located all along the concourses.
“They are easy to spot. They have an umbrella and they say guest services right above them. We staff those booths with students we have trained with the knowledge to answer as many questions as possible,” Short said. “If not, they have a radio they can call to get the answer. The whole point of every bit of all the construction projects we have done is to make the stadium more user friendly. We want to make it for someone who has never walked on our campus or stadium before to find their way just as easily as someone who has been coming for the past 20 years. Ole Miss is known as the hospitality school and we want them to walk away with a very positive experience. We teach our people that it starts in the parking lot. So if you’re first impression driving into the parking lot isn’t pleasant, it affects everything else about your day.”
With so many moving parts, Saturday afternoons or evenings can get hectic, Short said.
“If we let one thing slip, it has a ripple effect on everything that is happening that day and that is why we have so many people and we’re constantly meeting,” Short said. “It’s all about communication and I think we over communicate, which is helpful because you can never communicate too much. When there is something happen in the parking lot, we make sure that our marketing group knows because who knows how that is going to affect them. I think one of the things that is special about our administration is that we work together so well. We are one big team and communication is key. Unfortunately when you have almost 1,000 people coming into work, one person can leave a bad impression so we are very, very aware of that we try to do everything possible to keep from happening.”
Ole Miss has distributed cards to fans that states its core purposes, which is “creating a bucket list experience for all.” The three core service standards include “we own our surroundings,” “we serve our guests successfully and swiftly” and “we entertain our guests like family.”
There are a number of questions that fans ask about and Short said they try to anticipate every single issue a fan may have. A lot of the questions can be taken care of on the front end. And when they can’t be taken care of, the small fires are dealt with.
“We are constantly answering questions that can range from something that is simple all the way up to we need UPD to be involved, a major issue in the stadium,” Short said.
If fans do have an issue with unruly behavior or other related incidents, they can report them directly from their seats by texting “Rebs” followed by a space and a brief description of the incident and location in the stadium to 69050. Proper security and/or emergency personnel will then be dispatched to the area in question.