Even though I arrive in Allen Fieldhouse two hours before every game, I don't see a lot of what goes on to make the event happen. Allen Fieldhouse is considered one of the loudest basketball arenas in the nation and is certainly a great fan experience, but without people taking care of all the small details of the event well in advance, the event could never happen. Likewise, throughout the University of Kansas and across the nation, sporting events all have to be carefully planned and executed well in order to create a positive fan experience. Event management is just one area of sports management that offers people a way to get involved in sporting events from behind the scenes.
In order to learn more about a career in event management, I interviewed JD Laudabarger, an Assistant Athletic Director who specializes in Event Services at the University of Kansas. Laudabarger grew up in Lawrence, KS and graduated from Lawrence High. He then attended Kansas State University and played baseball there. He finished his undergraduate career with a Bachelor's degree in Business Administration.
His junior summer he did an internship with K-State in event management. This, he said, was the most important step in him deciding that event management was an area that he was excited about and enjoyed. According to Laudabarger, this is one of the most important things that an undergraduate student can do. He said that volunteering and taking part in internships gives you hands-on experience that is invaluable. By actually doing hands-on work in a certain area that you are interested in, you can decide whether or not this is actually what you want to do. His first internship was the first time he really had a good idea what he wanted to do. Last semester I had to interview a person in a career that interested me for another class. I interviewed a high school athletic director and he also stressed the value of gaining internships. So, after hearing it twice through interviews and again in class, I understand that internships truly are important. Internships are a helpful tool to use to make sure that you are headed in the right direction career wise, and if you perform well at them they are also a great way to stand out to future employers. Laudabarger said that the next fall after his initial internship he was assigned to run the new suites in the football stadium from a hospitality standpoint. He was in charge of hiring the hostesses and basically everything that went into making sure that the suites ran smoothly during the game. He really appreciated his boss allowing him to take control of some things and make mistakes, so that he could learn from them.
After Laudabarger finished his undergraduate work at K-State, he came to the University of Kansas to get a Master's in Sports Administration. His first job at KU was as a graduate assistant in facility management. He then gradually moved up the ranks going from that graduate assistant position to Assistant Director of Event Management, then to Director of Event Management, and now to his current title of Assistant Athletic Director of Event Services. He said that internships, volunteering, and working hard have helped him move up. Laudabarger also said that it was essential to have a master's degree in order have a chance to advance in the career. But, most of all he said that he was lucky and was at the right place at the right time. His case is an exception, but he said that normally in order to advance in a career in event management in college athletics you have to move around. He also talked about how event management has grown a lot since he first arrived at KU. When he first worked in event management he said that him and his boss basically did everything. Now they have six full time employees and two graduate assistants. After speaking with him about how he got to where he is today I learned that internships, volunteering, and working hard are important in order to land a job in event management. This advice could be applied to any career, so I will keep this information in mind for the future. I also learned that you must be willing to move around in most cases in order to advance within this career. All of these things are reasonable to me, and I believe if I choose this career I would be able to act upon this advice.
After hearing about how Laudabarger got to where he is today, I next wanted to learn what responsibilities go along with his job. He informed me that his daily schedule differs depending what sporting season it is. He is head of all sporting events and has people underneath him who work with the smaller sports. Laudabarger mainly works with football, men's basketball, and baseball events. He is also in charge of Hoglund Ballpark. To put his duties in a nutshell, he said that he basically runs the events from behind the scenes: everything from concessions, to where the ushers stand, to where security and police officers are positioned. For example, for baseball games he gets the game day information to the other team on when they will be hitting, taking the field, where there locker room is at, and details such as that. Before the season every visiting team is sent a visiting guide. This guide informs them of all the details so they will know what to expect when they get to KU. As far as when the actual event is taking place, one of the representatives from his department is always at the game to solve any problems that fans might have. In the offseason of a sport he is working to get officials set up for the next season. He said that his normal work hours are 8:30-5:00, and about 50-55 hours a week. However, the hours vary widely depending on what is going on sports-wise and whether there is an event that night or not. He says that the crossover from football to basketball is the worst and during this time he could be working the upwards of 80 hours a week. He attributes the hours as the worst part of his career, stating that he doesn't like being away from his family as much as he sometimes has to. According to Laudabarger, the constant change is what he enjoys most about working in event services. He says that he enjoys trying to solve new problems that arise in different athletic areas. Being able to get a hand on all of the sports and all of the departments is also something that he enjoys. For me, I would have to agree with him that working long hours like that would be a major downfall. But, he also said that there aren't many 40 hour a week jobs around anymore, and I can see a lot of truth in that statement. As for constant change, I'm not one to really enjoy a lot of change, but I can see where working to solve problems and establishing new programs could be exciting. It would also be neat to be able to collaborate with different sporting departments and feel connected to each sport. Event services, like most jobs, has its ups and downs.
Lastly, I asked what characteristics were key to have in order to be successful in this career. He told me that a person needed to be organized and pay attention to detail. He also said a person needs to have a lot of patience and good social skills to be able to talk to people. Sometimes at events he has to go and calm down a fan that is upset about something. I like things to be organized and structured so that aspect wouldn't be a problem for me. I am also a person who naturally pays attention to detail, so that also wouldn't be a concern. I currently have decent patience, and I am going to work on improving my social skills throughout college. Laudabarger also said that it is important to be a smart businessman. At the beginning of the year he is given a 1.5 million dollar event budget that he has to be able to manage. I am no where near as business savvy as I would need to be for this career, so, if I decide upon this career, I understand that I need to pay attention in my business classes and learn more about business.
To conclude, by conducting an interview with a professional in a career that I might be interested in I was able to learn a lot. I can use this as a stepping-stone to either learn more about this career, or look into other career fields. No matter what career I decide upon, I will work to get internships, volunteer, and work hard at the opportunities I am given. I am thankful that Laudabarger took the time to sit down with me and discuss with me what a career in event management is all about.