The whistle sounds. The referee tosses the basketball up for the Dec. 3 tip-off of the men’s basketball game between Missouri and Evansville. Some fans stand and chant “Let’s Go Mizzou!” Others patiently wait to get through the turnstiles at the entrance and then head to their seats. The video board flashes advertisements, ushers direct fans to their seats and concession stand workers dole out food. Most of this goes unnoticed.
The behind-the-scenes work that goes into operating Mizzou Arena is an underappreciated 24-hour, seven-day-a-week process. Here’s a quick snapshot of part of what it takes to put on a game:
Daryle Bascom pulls up on his Segway scooter. “I have a lot of ground to cover,” he says, smiling. “I’ll be right back.”
He heads off in search of rock salt. The snowstorm two days earlier has further complicated the parking situation and the road accessibility around the stadium. Bascom, the assistant general manager of arena operations, had staff members out on Saturday with salt and sand to clear sidewalks, roads and parking lots, but the conditions less than two hours before tip-off are still far less than ideal.
Bascom then radios for a plow. The ramp leading down beneath the Hearnes Center, where some arena operations staff members park and where some deliveries are made, is a patch of ice.
Frank Hoelzeman’s eyes scan the line of turnstiles inside the entrance. His left hand grips a radio. In his other hand lies a list of his crew with their locations and responsibilities. Hoelzeman serves as the event supervisor and oversees all the front-house responsibilities. Spills on the promenade, clogged toilets in the bathroom, those calls come through on Hoelzeman’s radio, and he locates the necessary help.
Hoelzeman has been at the arena since 8 that morning, preparing the day’s operation schedule two hours before his staff of 45 arrives. That staff of ushers is dispersed from the locker room to the front doors to the stairs leading down to each seating section.
The biggest challenge on this morning?
“Sixteen inches of snow,” Hoelzeman says, smiling. “My main objective is if we have people standing outside, I want to get them in here as quickly as possible.”
Bascom takes one of three elevators in the arena down to the suite level. He makes a quick stop to Roger Crumpton’s office to discuss logistics on the set up of a stage for the Missouri football team’s bowl selection announcement at 5:30 that evening in the arena.
Crumpton, the general manager of arena operations, and Bascom also discuss the lingering effects of the snow, which include a leak in the Tiger Team Store. Bascom, who had been working to set up the hospitality room in Hearnes Center for a morning brunch, relays the frustrations the company hosting the brunch had about the delay in getting the room set up.
“You got everything set up before their start time?” Crumpton asks.
“Yep,” Bascom replies.
“Then we did our job.”
Carts are stacked with prepackaged food. Behind them, workers scramble around the kitchen in a seemingly frantic manner. Contrary to first glance, however, there is an efficient and methodical method to their madness.
Catering supervisor Jennifer Bayer has called the kitchen to give them a list of the requests for each of the 28 arena suites. Some of those requests come a week in advance, some are still coming in less than an hour before game time. About two dozen kitchen employees work to prepare and deliver food to fans sitting in the suites before, during and after games. The key to a smooth-running kitchen lies in the preparation.
“You’ve always got to do as much as you can in advance because there’s always last-minute stuff that will have to be done,” Bascom said.
The room is hidden in the bottom of the arena, past the cheerleaders who are warming up, past the entrance where the semis park to make deliveries. A white piece of paper with the words ‘Control Center’ is taped on the window. Inside, five men are sitting more interested with the NFL pregame show on TV than anything going outside the room.
“They mostly just sit here and watch football,” Bascom jokes. “They have a microwave, toaster and the best office around.”
In all seriousness, the command center is the central location for much of the security operations of the arena. Security camera screens line the wall, and an intercom relays messages from vehicles trying to get access through the back gate. While he didn’t want to disclose the exact number of security cameras in and around the arena, Bascom says two dozen would be a good estimate.
Drew Grinch pushes the computer button and looks up to see the Brad Paisley concert promotion video playing on the arena Jumbotron right on schedule. As the operator for the video elements in the arena, Grinch develops and executes the timing for all the advertisements, games and promotions that basketball fans see on the Jumbotron before and during the game. If it’s a football game, he does this a week in advance. For a basketball game, it’s typically completed two days early.
To his right at the courtside table, Curtis Bohl leans back in his chair, looking completely relaxed. In his 24th year working on the technical staff, running the ribbon boards and starting the clock have become second nature.
As he circles the promenade surrounding the floor, Bascom is stopped by a woman.
“Excuse me, sir,” the woman says, holding out her ticket. “This is my first time here, and I don’t know if I need to go up or down.”
Bascom smiles, glances at the ticket and directs the woman to her section.
“You’ve just always got to be ready to help,” he says later. “And with a new arena, it has taken all of us some time to figure out our ways around.”
The men’s game between Missouri and Evansville starts. Bascom walks around with his radio, “ready to put out fires,” as he calls it. Despite the effects of the snow storm and the extra job of setting up the hospitality room earlier this morning, everything concerning the arena operations has gone smoothly.
The overnight operations staff of four arrives to begin its eight-hour shift. The first priority is collapsing all the seats on the folding bleachers.
“When they were designing this arena and told us about the system (of movable bleachers), we were all excited,” Bascom says. “The part that they left out was that there wasn’t a remote control button to hit to make them all go down.”
One by one, those seats are manually folded down so the bleachers can be pulled back to make room to assemble four extra basketball hoops for Monday’s practice.
The wiring used for the cameras must be removed or covered up, and the facility must be returned to suit coach Anderson’s practice seven hours later.
Being in New York on Sept. 11 contributes to his decision.