Hundreds work behind the scenes to create the college football experience
Story by Emmett Burnett
Photos by Joey Meredith
Nov. 12, 2022: The troops on the field await a decision. With all factors considered, the verdict is given: Send in the aircraft. As U.S. Army helicopters zoom over Troy University’s Veterans Memorial Stadium, the crowd erupts with excitement. Game day football is underway.
Also underway are the behind-the-scenes crews that are a mystery to us. For when it comes to producing a college football game, we have no idea how universities pull it off. So we asked one.
August 2023: Troy University Athletics offered to show us what takes place to make football happen. The lesson starts at the school’s football epicenter, Veterans Memorial Stadium, where the press box is six stories tall.
We assume a press box houses, well, the press – TV, radio, social media, streaming, and such. One assumes correctly, but that is just one piece. There is more high-tech, almost electronic wizardry more.
Ascending the press box levels, we notice video monitors, computers, and banks of electronics are everywhere. One wonders, are we monitoring a football game or life on Mars?
“There is a bustle of activity on this floor,” notes Adam Prendergast, Troy’s associate director of athletics/communications and creative content. “Think of it as a central hub, or control room.”
Everything on the field is scripted down to minutes and seconds, from stadium announcements on the PA system or video screens, cues for the marching band, sideline presentations, pyrotechnics, the halftime show, and cheerleader activities.
“We are trying to sell an experience, not a ticket,” says Troy’s Ryan Kay. “We pride ourselves on putting a great product, not just on the field, but also in the stands.”
The seating offers panoramic views of Larry Blakeney Field below. From up here, the public address system, score board, game clock, play clock, and video boards are operated.
In addition, the press box tower is staffed with one or more security officers and EMS officials. Campus and city police monitor cameras that scan the stadium and surrounding areas. A Troy Fire Department representative is here, on standby if needed.
“We also have people constantly checking weather data,” Prendergast continues. “If lightning is within eight miles of the stadium, the players are pulled off the field and the game is postponed.”
There are instant replay screens of the game in progress. Those assigned to watch can review, rewind, challenge a referee’s decision, and notify the coaches on the field.
Similarly, a medical observer scans the playing field. If a player is injured and should not be playing, the medical observer has the power to stop the game. “I’ve only seen that happen once,” Prendergast says. “Coaches take injuries seriously.”
State-of-the art media rooms accommodate local news outlets as well as national press. NFL scouts are accommodated as well.
Every function of the control room is in constant communication with the football field.
Keeping the show moving
Also front and center is Kyle George, executive associate director of athletics/external operations. Just as a movie or Broadway play has a director, so does a college football game. George directs the show. He keeps it moving.
“Everything on that field is scripted down to minutes and seconds,” George says, explaining his job. “I make sure we stay in sequence.” There are many moving targets.
Stadium announcements on the PA system or video screens, cues for the marching band, sideline presentations, pyrotechnics, the halftime show and cheerleader activities are listed in order and time allotment. The script is 70 pages long.
George adds, “I am in the control room with headsets on, working with video operators and others. I coordinate the communication.” And that includes the above mentioned flyover.
“There is a lot that goes into that,” George says with a smile, about last year’s Troy/West Point/Army match. “We are huge partners with Ft. Novosel (formerly Ft. Rucker), who worked with us during that game. We practiced the flyover maneuver for two weeks.”
As a giant American flag covered the field, George waited for the right note of “The Star Spangled Banner,” and then signaled the Army to send in the helicopters. Four military choppers zoomed over the stadium.
Starting game day early
Meanwhile, back on game day, hundreds of people work the event. They include news media, concessions, security, school personnel, and many others. The day starts early. One of the first on the scene is a dog.
About 5 a.m., a police team’s bomb-sniffing canine inspects the stadium. The exam is thorough, taking about two hours. The facility is locked down until the dog gives the OK.
Once cleared to enter, vendors, ticket takers, media, ushers and more enter the stadium throughout the day. Fans never see most of the workers. But workers see fans.
“There are ushers at the top of each aisle,” notes Mike Frigge, associate director of athletics/technology and operations. “They continuously scan their sections, making sure all is well. If someone has trouble, say, trips and falls, or becomes ill, the usher radios for help.” The EMS response time is within minutes.
In addition to being the university’s liaison with ESPN, Frigge monitors and corrects IT problems and ensures electronics are working, everything from individual headsets to the 3,150-square-foot outdoor video board.
His team keeps lines moving and works with crowd issues. “Our EMS is set up on each side of the stadium,” he adds. “We try to keep guests as comfortable as possible.”
On today’s stadium walk through, 10 days before the first game, the 50-yard line is over 101 degrees. Hopefully, the season opener will not be that warm, but a plan is in place.
Troy supplies misting fans and water bottle refills. Ushers know what to look for when someone has problems with the heat.
But college football fans are a hardy bunch. Game attendance is up, and like the game on the field, ticket sales do not just happen. Marketing does.
Get your tickets here
“That’s a year-round business,” says Ryan Kay, assistant director of athletics/development and ticket operations. “Yes, we constantly maintain data. Season ticket holders are increasing as well as single ticket buyers.”
But Kay explains, “We are trying to sell an experience, not a ticket. We pride ourselves on putting a great product, not just on the field, but also in the stands.”
Director of athletics Brent Jones agrees. “We take a different approach than most. We critique, fine-tune, and spend a tremendous amount of time, effort, and energy into how we can create and maintain the best fan experience possible.”
Fan experience is more than a good idea. It pays dividends.
On Nov. 12, 2022, the university witnessed the largest crowd to see a Troy football game in Veterans Memorial Stadium: 31,010. Troy defeated West Point/Army in a 10-9 nail-biting victory.
“Army missed a field goal late in the game,” recalls Jones. “There is no doubt in my mind that our fans/students made a difference in that game. It’s that fan experience and game atmosphere that makes a difference.”
Troy’s head football coach Jon Sumrall adds, “Running a football program is like running a small business. You have marketing, sales, and a product to produce. We are fortunate to have so many talented people who run our business well.”
On Sept. 2, 2023, Troy opened the season with a 48-30 home game victory over Stephen F. Austin University. The game progressed without a hitch, in part due to hundreds working behind the scenes, a press box/control room befitting of NASA, and a drive to produce an excellent product.