Tide's room with a view: Student workers see different Gameday through skyboxes

Tide's room with a view: Student workers see different Gameday through skyboxes

CW File

Laura Testino

Once the door to the crimson carpeted floors is unlocked, ticketholders are directed to their skybox, decorated to their preferences and stocked full of menu items of their choice.

Catering to the particular needs of 159 skyboxes – currently the most of any SEC stadium – requires the preparation and work of multiple team members, said Jill Bender, an area director for the 
Colonnade Group.

The Crimson Tide Hospitality Office, which is managed by Colonnade Group, operates the skyboxes. Bender has been a part of their offices since 2002.

“Most importantly, [skybox ticketholders] are here for the football game,” Bender said. “We want them to feel like they are a part of the atmosphere inside Bryant-Denny Stadium.” “They open their windows, and the 
crowd noise comes in. They can look to their left and their right and celebrate with their fellow skybox guests and hear the roar of Bryant-Denny Stadium.”

Skyboxes, the premium seating in the north, east and south stadium, are leased annually, and three new skybox owners were added this season. The price for the annual lease is in addition to a donation to the Crimson Tide Foundation, and also depends on the size of the skybox, Bender said. A standard skybox seats 22 fans, but some skyboxes will accommodate 30 or 50 people both in cushioned stadium-type chairs close to the windows and in furniture in other areas of the room.

Owners of the skybox may distribute the tickets to whomever they choose, including family, friends, clients or employees, Bender said. The Crimson Tide Hospitality employees strive to protect the exclusivity of the skybox seats by having greeters welcoming and directing patrons to their skyboxes, as well as showing other fans, who have tickets for seats elsewhere in the stadium, to the direction of their seats.

“[Skybox holders] have to deal with logistics to get people here,” Bender said. “Once they’re here, we don’t want them to have to worry about anything.”

Ticketholders arrive at their skyboxes from parking spaces designated by the Tide Pride Office and receive one attendant per skybox, as well as the security provided by 43 quality control operators who are present in the skybox area, giving assistance if necessary, Bender said.

The cost of the skybox includes game programs, a complementary in-suite menu and Coca-Cola products, and additional food items may be purchased beyond the complementary menu. On the wall of each skybox are framed prints of an aerial photo of Bryant-Denny Stadium after the 2006 and 2010 expansions and a gift from Mal Moore when he was athletic director, Bender said. Owners may also incorporate decorations of their choice, adding furniture or lining the walls with photos from matches like the 2012 National Championship Game, where Alabama beat LSU for its 14th national championship title.

“We work with [skybox owners] on the details of their gameday experience from the moment they step into the door to the moment they leave,” Bender said.

To help ensure a successful gameday experience in the skyboxes, the Crimson Tide Hospitality team hires around 125 students each spring to work the home games for the upcoming football season. After reviewing résumés, interviews are conducted and the team is selected based upon their strengths as well as previous experience, Bender said.

Katie Garmon, a senior majoring in healthcare management, decided to apply for a position after hearing positive feedback from her roommate about the experience. This is her first year as an employee, and she works as a floater, helping whomever needs assistance throughout the game. Garmon said she loves football but was ready to do something else.

“There are a lot of people who make what happens on gameday happen, and this is kind of a chance to turn around and serve those people – people who donate to the stadium, donate to scholarships and have these skyboxes or admission to the zones,” Garmon said. “It’s more about helping them experience and enjoy their gameday. As a senior, I’m kind of nostalgic, and I want to give back since I’ve been here for so long.”

Protecting the skybox area and learning the types of tickets, wristbands and badges required for entry is a large part of orientation, Garmon said. Some fans insist on entering without the correct ticket.

“Stories I’ve heard from some our returning members and some of our supervisors about how people try to sneak into these sections are kind of crazy,” Garmon said. Over the last two home games, many fans have tried to enter by accident, but Garmon has had to decline the requests of some fans to enter, she said.

Tending to the skyboxes and anticipating the needs of the guests before, during and after the game creates a completely different gameday experience for Garmon and her coworkers, who may only catch glimpses of the game throughout their workday. For Kaylee MacKnight, a senior majoring in musical theatre, giving up the typical student gameday atmosphere to see the atmosphere of the skybox is motivating and inspiring.

“It’s a good opportunity to get to know and work with some of the people who write the big checks for the University, and who are very influential on campus. I really wanted to be able to shake hands with those people and be able to cater to their needs,” MacKnight said.

Many students return to work in the skyboxes for multiple years and are afforded the opportunity to work consistently in the same position, Bender said. While students have both positive and negative experiences on changing their typical gameday, many claim working in the skyboxes to be one of the best jobs they have ever had.

“I think it’s because of the relationships made with fellow team members and donors and the opportunity to learn and experience what goes on behind the scenes of the Bryant-Denny skyboxes and our premium clubs,” Bender said.

The preparation required by the Crimson Hospitality Office Group may extend as far as 12 hours before the game for chefs, and many student employees are required to be at their stations four or five hours before the game begins. This amount of preparation for the skybox guests allows them to have their ideal gameday experience, Bender said.

“Each skybox has its own personality, and we just want to serve them and meet their desires,” Bender said. “We don’t want to try to make their gameday experience for them. We want to support them and help deliver the gameday experience they’re after.”