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Beyond the roar - behind the scenes at Mt Smart Stadium

Published: 1 August 2019

When the Vodafone Warriors’ legion of fans begin to stream into Mount Smart Stadium, Megan Dixon has already been at work for hours in a small room dubbed ‘the nerve centre’.

The day starts early for the Auckland Stadiums Event Manager, who is in command of the Venue Operations Centre (VOC) at the Warriors-versus-Penrith Panthers rugby league game.

From lost property to lost children, “everything that happens on game day comes through here”, Dixon says.

Auckland Stadiums – a division of Auckland Council-owned Regional Facilities Auckland – manages Mount Smart and sister venues Western Springs and North Harbour.

Auckland Stadiums’ Event Operations Manager, Emily Wotton, says global events-trade publication Pollstar ranked Mount Smart the 25th busiest outdoor stadium in the world – “which is quite impressive since we are a country of only 4.9 million”.

“For that to be the case, the volume that has to go through this stadium is incredible. Many Aucklanders will know of Mount Smart Stadium as being the home of outdoor concerts, but they may not know that we also host more than 2000 community events every year at our venues.”

With a busy summer series confirmed, it’s estimated that $33 million of tourism spend is heading Auckland’s way as a direct result of the concerts and events at Mount Smart. Wotton says managing a stadium the size of Mount Smart “takes a real team effort”.

There are hundreds of people working behind the scenes.

The stadium is home to the Vodafone Warriors, who this year will play 10 games there.

While preparation at the stadium begins months before a home game, it’s the 24 hours of game day that are the most crucial to ensure it all comes together.

From the moment security staff unlock the gates at 6.45am, everything has to run like clockwork until the custodian locks up at 1am the following morning. 

Set-up staff are the first to arrive, followed closely by Warriors personnel and broadcasting teams.

Over the next few hours, more event, catering and customer service staff arrive. The VOC is opened at 9.45am, when Dixon has the first of hourly meetings with key staff such as the police and St John Ambulance personnel.

A detailed match-day run sheet is distributed to staff, and Dixon is at the helm until her last meeting at 7.15pm.

Facilities Manager Debbie Kirton and her team conduct routine maintenance checks of the stadium’s infrastructure to ensure all patrons will have a comfortable and enjoyable experience.

Behind the grandstands, catering staff are preparing hot dogs, burgers and thousands of pottles of chips for sale.

Food caravans are also setting up. With trailers and vehicles towing equipment, health and safety are priorities.

At 11.15am, there’s an announcement that all vehicles in the stadium grounds are “locked down”, meaning they must remain stationary.

The exception is St John and other emergency vehicles. Next, there’s a siren check before the stadium goes into ‘event mode’.

At 11.45am, the standby elevator technician arrives onsite and scanning personnel make their way to the gates.

The merchandise stands open for business and catering staff make sure the VIP and corporate lounges are ready for guests. In the entertainment zone, local and national charities set their tents up and volunteers carrying donation buckets are dispatched into the crowds.

The amusement rides start operating for the kids and the bar opens for the adults. Nearby, Warriors membership manager Rickey Jina welcomes members into their marquee.

"I have the best job in the world,” he declares.

The first of four games starts at noon. By the time the main match kicks off at 4.05pm, everything is going to plan.

While Dixon and her team can’t control the score (the Panthers win 19-18), she has everything else under control.

“The best part of the job is getting everyone in for kick-off,” she says.

“Seeing everyone is enjoying themselves is great. That’s when we know the hard work and effort we put in are worth it.” 

 

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