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Everything's bigger in America

Posted on : 13 June 2018

Written by: Natalie Luzi

Foreword from Peter Thorpe:

“I began my career with the RAS as a locksmith and after several internal promotions, management training, volunteering across different departments & lots of luck I eventually moved across permanently into event management. Now I’m honoured and proud to be the General Manager Sydney Showground. I was lucky, under the inspirational leadership of Colin Sanders my skills were developed & honed, I learnt on the job and was encouraged to step out of a comfort zone and educate myself with the right skills to climb the venue/events ladder. His legacy continues with the Colin Sanders Award, because at the RAS if you want to get on, if you want to make good, if you want to further educate yourself and develop one's skills then this place can help you get there, it’s fantastic to see our current Award winner, Natalie Luzi, make the most of her opportunity to learn and develop. Hearing her experiences, her willingness to think outside the square, going the extra yard for our clients and watching her career develop, I know that the future of Sydney Showground and the RAS is in good hands.”

For many, a trip to the USA can only be achieved through years of saving, hard work and dedication. But for me, I was one of the lucky ones. Thanks to the encouraging nature of education and opportunities for its staff, I was recently presented with the Colin Sanders Staff award within the Royal Agricultural Society of NSW (RAS).

Named after our former CEO, Colin Sanders, this accolade was established to reward a staff member every year who has excelled and made a significant contribution to their team and to the organisation. As CEO of the RAS of NSW, Colin Sanders had a vision for the event and venue management industries. This honour marks his legacy forever at the RAS of NSW as he always supported creativity, teamwork and had the immense dream of lifting Australia’s profile onto the world stage.

In January this year, I swapped Australia’s blistering summer heat for America’s icy cold winter. I made my way to Minneapolis, Minnesota for the Super Bowl LII where the New England Patriots were taking on the Philadelphia Eagles at the newly constructed US Bank Stadium.

As an event planner, you always prepare for the best guest experience possible. Not only a major bucket list tick but also a huge learning experience – it was evident the effort and time the Minnesota Super Bowl host committee had put into the delivery of one of the largest events in the world. Not only did they have the challenges of working and operating within a newly constructed stadium, but they also had to deal with one of the coldest Super Bowls in history – a frosty -26 degrees Celsius!

Watching the team at US Bank operate an event with an attendance of over 65,000 people was, on one hand, surreal; but witnessing them transform a football field in under eight minutes left my jaw on the floor. Completing the 360-degree fan experience was the interactive wristbands every attendee received under their seat. These bands flashed “*nsync” with the halftime show, performed by none other than Justin Timberlake. The world-famous singer did not disappoint as the halftime entertainment, performing his way around the entire field for a 15-minute set. The transformation back to a football field again was complete in less than eight minutes making way for Tom Brady and the rest of the NFL players to take to the field for the second half.

The second stop on my American adventure was to the land of the rich and the famous – LA, where I attended the Pollstar Live and Production conference. This conference is a platform to talk to and immerse yourself with leaders in the music and entertainment industry. Notable presenters at the conference were none other than, Jon Bon Jovi, Sharon Osbourne and rappers Coolio and Slipknots “Clown” M.Shawn Crahan. Topics of discussion included; how the music industry can contribute back to society, where Metal and Hip Hop festivals are headed as well as the importance of Back of House Security and moving the focus from bringing a First Responder to a First Preventer.

Venues always talk about having first responders onsite (first aid, security, ambulance) but we should all be prepared to be first preventers. We should always be looking at ways to prevent incidences before they occur. We should not only be looking at risks inside our event precinct but also possible external areas that could pose an issue.

As an event planner, we are always assessing onsite risks and how these can be minimised without impacting our events. After the conference sessions that focused on the aftermath of the Las Vegas Shooting and the Manchester bombing, I feel as though it should be at the forefront of our minds when planning a public event. Personally, as an event planner, the information gathered from these sessions will benefit the way I collaborate with event organisers on their risk assessments and crowd management plans. As well as sorting through accreditation standards onsite and how we can streamline this process to ensure the safety of our venue and our event attendees.

My final stop on this whirlwind tour was a visit to Madison Square Garden (MSG) in New York City. A special thank you to the team at MSG (most notably Wilfredo Feliz, Manager Event Operations) for taking the time to take me through the venue on a very educational three-hour tour. The venue is set in the centre of Manhattan with the subway at Penn station literally at its doorstep. MSG hosts over 20 event floor suites, 58 seventh level suites and has been voted on multiple occasions, the most successful indoor arena of its size.

MSG is best known for being the home of the New York Rangers hockey team and the New York Knicks NBA team. Being located in the city that never sleeps, this team can certainly attest to that having overnight converted the arena from an ice hockey rink into the Westminster Dog Show and exhibition space. One of the most interesting insider facts about the arena was that the ice from the rink is only ever melted down twice a year! For all other events year round, they simply build basketball courts and concert arenas over the top of the existing ice. 

Talking through the day-to-day operations of the venue and what makes it successful was an extremely beneficial experience. With my background in event planning, I absorbed a lot from my experience at MSG.

After the conference and visiting MSG my focus has changed as an event planner. I will be looking to form a more collaborative approach with my clients to see how we can further enhance the guest experience and make it a more enjoyable one. Event venues and promoters should always be looking for ways to better the guest experience. It’s not enough to build a stage, place some seats and hope that guests enjoy the entertainment. Guest experience should start from the second they leave their house until the second they return and venue should constantly be looking at ways to better this.

To answer the often-asked question, “what are the benefits of working and being part of the team at Sydney Showground?” I can honestly say the opportunities I have been given are the highlights.

Aside from delivering some of the largest and widest range of events in the world, ranging from exhibitions, sporting events and music festivals, one thing I love most is what the RAS encourages in terms of education and opportunities for its staff. To witness first-hand how world-leading event teams operate was a learning experience that will never leave my mind and I hope I can implement some of the techniques and tactics that I learned here at Sydney Showground.



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