As eager students and fans make their way to the stadium from the Grove on Saturdays, stadium workers are finishing up their final tasks for the game. Stadium set up starts with painting the field. Typically, field painting starts on the Wednesday before game day.
It takes multiple layers, and depending on the weather that week it could take longer. For mornings games you will see workers squeegeeing off the dew that covered the grass. Ole Miss football stadium is one of the handful of fields that have grass.
Once the dew is wiped off, Event Operations Manager Sarah Bonnett and Event Manager Intern Justin Conner continue to do their remaining work before the game starts. Their work does not start on Saturday, however.
Both Bonnett and Conner attended meetings on Monday to discuss the order of events that they should expect this week. Neal Mead, Associate Athletic Director for Event Management, their boss, heads the meeting.
For the Liberty game, the meeting topics of discussion were the time of arrival of Liberty, what pregame events are taking place that week, meeting with the ticket sales to see how many people will be in the stands and looking to see if any equipment needs to be fixed.
“It’s a lot of logistics,” Conner said.
As the week progresses, the logistics become more complicated. On Thursdays and Fridays, signage is put up in parking lots around campus. The opposing team’s equipment is delivered on Friday as well. In addition, Conner’s handles press passes and long season credentials every Friday. Vans are also taken to the officials’ hotels on Friday, so they are able to drive themselves to the game on Saturday.
The visiting team also arrives Friday and stays in Tupelo at a hotel. He takes the list of names who need press passes and prints them all out to be distributed on game day. The stadium employs around 200-300 working staff members. However, because of COVID-19 the stadium struggles with staff numbers, especially in the concession areas. Once the visiting team arrives in Tupelo they are then sent to the stadium and have a tour to see where cameras are set up and where their locker room will be.
When Saturday finally comes, each staff member receives an itinerary for the day. The schedule shows when workers should arrive, meetings that will be held, when the visiting team is expected and everything that needs to be done before kick off. The safety of all visiting teams is a priority for Ole Miss. The visiting team receives a police escort on game day.
“We work very closely with UPD. There’s always a couple of police officers around their team bench with their head coach. We have a plan in case students were to storm the field for any reason,” Bonnet said.
In addition, Ole Miss stadium workers maintain a neutral party outlook to ensure that everything runs smoothly. In order for game day to run smoothly, Conner said coordination is the key factor. Radio and text messages connect all stadium workers in case a problem arises.
“There was a game where we had an issue with fans taking the visiting team footballs after a field goal and throwing them up rows until they would throw them out of the stadium,” Bonnett said. “So that was a big issue. So we had to do a lot of coordination with our security team. Since then, we’ve made a ton of signage to make sure that the visiting team’s footballs get back on the field.”
There are many moving parts when it comes to the stadium set up. One of the most integral parts, however, is the Stadium Command. Stadium Command is one of two command centers that run during football games. The other command center is the Emergency Operations Center. Located on the third floor, the Stadium Command acts as the eyes to the stadium. The room consists of seven computer screens and a wall covered in televisions. The workers stationed at each computer typically consist of the Event Manager, BEST Security, University Police Department, and Emergency Medical Service. Sometimes the Oxford Fire and Highway Patrol help in the command center. Workers in the command room have a drop down bar that gives them access to all the cameras positioned on campus. These cameras allow the command crew to find problems and fix them before they get out of hand.
Joy Kimmons , who receives and records incoming text messages during the game, also works in the Stadium Command.The text message system was added to Ole Miss a few years ago. Before text messages, fans would call the command center to tell the respondents the problems that were going on around them. Once Joy Kimmons receives enough information, she then reports the problem to security and logs the text message in the data system. The command center allows the game day to run smoothly, due to the ability to see everything that is going on.
Starting after half time, UPD, Oxford Police Department, Mississippi Department of Transportation and Mississippi State Highway Patrol coordinate post game traffic. Their goal is to ensure all fans exit the campus safely and efficiently, so many of the roundabouts are one-way until all fans are off campus. Hill Drive, Manning Way, Gertrude Ford and University are some of the roundabouts that are blocked off for one-way. Once law enforcement has determined that campus has cleared safely, two-way traffic patterns will be restored.