by Kristina Domitrovich // photos by Lindsay Pace
Leah Beasley is the Deputy Athletic Director of External Affairs at Mississippi State University. For Beasley, who played softball at Louisiana Tech University, it all started while she was earning her MBA from La Tech. Through a graduate assistance program, she worked for her school’s athletic department. At the time, there wasn’t a marketing team for their athletics, so the position was largely, “F.I.O. – figure it out.” Come 2013, she saw an opportunity to work in the SEC, and took a job at State, and has been there ever since. Before her current position, she was the game-day producer for State’s football games. Now, she and her team oversee everything fan-related: From ticket sales until the final whistle blows and the last fan leaves the stadium, Beasley’s department is involved in it all.
But how do they make game days happen? For State, the planning starts taking place a year before the season even starts. This is when Beasley’s team will secure any elements on the jumbotron. After that, her team works at least three games in advance to determine live entertainment (whether in the stadium or at the Fan Zone in the Junction during tailgating), and any fan giveaways.
Leah Beasley on The Junction.
The important thing to keep in mind is that there are two day-of producers: The in-venue producer (Beasley’s old position), and the on-the-ground producer. At State, the on-the-ground producer calls the shots for things like the Dawg Walk and pep rallies, whereas the other calls all the shots in the stadium, working from their matrix.
“(It’s) a really in-depth script. It’s a matrix,” she said, “because it’s all color-coordinated. Yellow for the band, green for spirit, blue for music, maroon for elements – sponsored elements.”
This matrix is planned leading up to the game; when Beasley ran the show, she would be up well past midnight on Friday, copying and pasting different elements into the document for Saturday’s game – a process which she said has simplified as technology has advanced. The producer will get to campus early on Saturday, and start double checking with different crew members to check their status and see if any last-minute changes should be made to the matrix. Then, they’ll check in with the teams to make sure nothing has changed on the football front (double checking the lineups, etc.).
She said the matrix itself is probably four pages front and back, which may not sound like too much, but it actually starts two hours before kickoff and ends 30 minutes after the game, and maps out every 10 seconds in between. The main producer wears a headset the whole time, and is in constant communication with their team, along with the control room (think: replays, banners, hype-video elements and advertisements that run on the stadium’s ribbon boards and jumbotron), and makes sure the signals are being pushed for TV viewers.
Before the Dawg Walk even begins, which is scheduled about two hours before kickoff, the producer’s already in their booth, headset on, ready to go. As soon as the band walks into the stadium, they make the call to lower the stadium’s music and to bring up the band. From there, it all starts unfolding, and the producer won’t have a break until the halftime show.
“That’s usually when the game producer gets out for the bathroom,” Beasley said laughing. “If you have to go in the early game, you’re in trouble.”
At halftime, for the start of it, the producer still has to follow the matrix. Usually, as the band is getting on the field, they’ll have sponsored elements or people on the field; but once the band starts, that’s an eight-minute performance that they have down pat, and that’s the bathroom break for the producer. Aside from those eight minutes, the producer is constantly on their game.
“There’s literally 20 things at one time happening, so you have to be paying attention,” she said. “If you look away for two seconds, you missed an element.”
The producer sticks to the matrix, but sometimes, they’re forced to go off script. If there’s an injury, the producer has to get creative. In the silent cliffhanger moments in the stadium, the producer scrambles to plug elements that were scheduled in that moment, now falling by the wayside, into other places throughout the game. These are paid-for elements, and they can’t just be passed over. If there’s a touchdown, maybe there was supposed to be an element there, but “that’s boring,” the fans don’t want to see an advertisement then, they want to hear the hype songs and celebrate. That’s when State’s producer will ad lib, maybe telling the band to play “Hail State” for the next 60 seconds, or play a certain hip-hop song throughout the stadium. Their goal: “Let’s keep the fans going.” So there are in-game changes the producer has to stay on top of, too.
“It’s kind of crazy, it’s very hectic,” Beasley said. “When we were done, I used to tell people, ‘I feel like I just ran a marathon.’ I feel like I was on the field playing because of how crazy the script is.”
The game-day production is just a piece of the marketing team’s responsibility for fan experience, and they’re constantly looking for the fans’ feedback. From the time the fans go online to order their ticket, even their experience at concessions, until they leave campus, every element comes with customer satisfaction or dissatisfaction, so Beasley’s team is constantly trying to improve the communication aspect of the whole experience.
“Our first job is to get them here; once they get here, then it’s our job to entertain them,” she said. “So not only the marketing entertainment, but it’s also the communication piece of just education of what our fans can do for entertainment, how they get from A to B, best practices in the stadium, safety protocols. So all of that, even though we may not be the hands-on (team) for safety or concessions, it’s our job to communicate what those are. … Our whole team is very responsive, and we take the fan experience incredibly seriously. We want them to have a good time.”
On top of that, there are other fall sports Beasley’s team is trying to serve, too, while still paying a lot of attention to the football team. But the best part of being a producer at State, at least for Beasley, is the fans’ satisfaction.
“It’s hugely rewarding when you have done all that work and you put in all that work during the week and fans show up and have a good time,” she said. “And if we entertain them, if you give us one game, you will come back, and that’s our promise.”