It has been tough because we miss our fans and seeing our players and just the overall arena ambience. But, as you know, in life you have to pivot sometimes and be innovative in how you continue to engage.
Senior Director of Game Operations, Entertainment & Promotions
Los Angeles Sparks
The interview with Danelle Winfield was conducted via a typed conversation. Editing changes were made to make it easier to read while maintaining the voice of the interview.
Tell us about your role as Senior Director of Game Operations, Entertainment & Promotions for the Los Angeles Sparks. What does a typical day look like for you?
As Sr. Director of Game Operations, Entertainment & Promotions, my main role is to support our Players by creating a home-court advantage atmosphere. There are many elements that go into a game day in order to keep our fans engaged; I am thankful to have talented staff & counterparts who help us pull off an amazing show.
A typical game day starts at least 7-8 hours before tip-off. I am in my office going over any adjustments to the game that was changed in the last 24 hours (i.e. – PAs, contests, talent, tables, etc.). I email the updated information and follow-up with phone calls to Staples Center, AEG, Sparks Staff/Interns and whoever else needs to be looped into the communication.
I then head to Staples Center for in-person meetings with everyone involved with executing on game days. Since there are so many things to cover, I take an outside-in approach…by meeting with my counterpart Ashley (Staples Center Manager) to discuss anything that doesn’t directly deal with the in-game show itself. We cover things such as reception events, concourse tables, locker rooms/guest rooms, parking, security/guest services and pre-game on-court events.
Toward the end of our meeting, my Interns start to arrive and I meet with them to go over prop & set-up needs and game day responsibilities. While this is happening, Debra (Sr. Entertainment Manager) is working with our Dance Crews-SparKids, Sparks Crew, Ole Skool Crew, and in-game talent (National Anthem, performers, etc.). Then Debra, along with Conrad (Game Ops Manager) have court rehearsal with our Interns, Dance Crews, Talent, Host, Announcer and DJ to go over everything.
At this time, I am upstairs with AEG going over videos/graphics to make sure everything works well & aligns with the script. I circle back down to the court to meet with Debra and Conrad for any updates on execution and make sure I communicate that information to the needed parties. I also loop around with the DJ, Host, Announcer and Scorestable Staff to make sure they are well, post-court rehearsal.
Last but not least, I check in with Ashley to see how things are going from a building perspective, and if there is anything needed on my end.
By the time my checklist is done, I grab a quick dinner and I meet again with Debra on anything else. Then, the doors open to the public and it’s game time.
I noticed you are also a Stage Manager with our friends at the Costante Group. Tell us about this role and how you find balance between the Costante Group and the Los Angeles Sparks. What are some of the hardest parts between balancing two roles?
I have had the opportunity to work with the Costante Group in various events over the years. I met Don (Founder of Costante Group) when I was just part-time seasonal Game Ops Staff at the Houston Rockets. He gave me my first big sports opportunity to work NBA All-Star in 2013, alongside Managers & Directors from different teams in the NBA. Needless to say, I took the experience seriously – showed up early, assisted where I saw I could help, asked questions, etc.
Don, followed up by extending other opportunities throughout the years. I was able to grow from coordinator to manager, under his umbrella at Costante Group. The great thing about Don is that he gets numerous contracts to do events throughout the year and normally reaches out to me based upon the event needs and checks to see if I am available & interested. I normally try my best to work any event he mentions, because they are diverse and fun. But, if it conflicts with my job at the Sparks, I turn it down.
If anyone understands the importance of the Game Operations role and being in-season, Don does and he doesn’t take it the wrong way. I am thankful to be involved with Costante Group events; I compare it to going to school because I use what I learn to better my craft at my current job here at the Sparks.
Editor’s note: We’ve had the pleasure of chatting one-on-one with Don Costante twice. Check out our chats.
Now that you’re in a role where you’re hiring and managing over 50 people, what would you say makes a good leader for major sports events/games?
A good leader for major sporting events/games has the following:
Vision, creativity, strong communication, organization, humbleness, trust, compassion, patience and they are about WE instead of I.
Attendance numbers at Sparks games have been the best in the WNBA for a few years now! What’s the secret? What do you and your team do differently from other teams to create an engaging and entertaining environment for fans that keep them coming back time and time again?
Honestly, it helps to be in a big city like Los Angeles, playing at the iconic Staples Center and have one of the top teams in the WNBA with notable players. Other than that, it’s our organization that takes pride in our respective roles, we want to be the best and when you have that consistent energy, great things happen.
As it pertains to the Game Ops, Entertainment & Promotions department itself, Debra (Entertainment Manager) and I believe in understanding our audience, having fun, being different/innovative, and consistently challenging ourselves to do better than before.
As part of your role, you execute promotions for the Los Angeles Sparks’ corporate sponsors. On the flip side from my last question, with no fans at games for the foreseeable future – how are you selling and executing promotions for sponsors despite not having fans in-stadium?
Great question. Like many companies/organizations, the pandemic has sidelined the in-person experience. It has been tough because we miss our fans and seeing our players and just the overall arena ambiance. But, as you know, in life you have to pivot sometimes and be innovative in how you continue to engage.
A lot of our sponsors are now looped into the digital world with videos/graphics whereas our Marketing department takes more of a lead.
But, as for the in-arena ‘Wubble’ we are allowed to showcase sponsors on the LEDs, and/or broadcasts as it relates to our home game days.
Looking to the future, do you see a steady return once fans are able to visit the stadium again? What can teams do to ease any concerns and make it worthwhile to attend games in-person?
In the future, I do see a return to some kind of normalcy as it pertains to fans in the stadium.
It is very important to let fans know all of the new precautions that have been made to keep fans, players and staff safe.
For instance – capacity, season arrangements, cleaning of the arena, restaurant procedures, etc.
Finally, what would you say are the top four biggest moments or accomplishments in your sports industry career?
At the age of 26, becoming a Game Operations Coordinator for one of the top teams in the NBA – Houston Rockets. It is hard to get a full-time role in sports as you know, and I am grateful that I started at a team where I worked part-time seasonal for 3-4 years.
Costante Group. The opportunity to work for Don (A legend in the Game Ops world) for many events including NBA All-Star 2013, 2014, 2015 has allowed me to learn, and network with those in the industry.
First Year as Director of Game Ops, Entertainment & Promotions for the LA Sparks. This was a big stepping stone in my life – moving to LA, learning about the Sparks/WNBA, and how to be a better leader.
Franchise of the Year in 2019. Being recognized on the business-side of a team, where each of our departments works hard to be the best.
Hayley's Final Thoughts
Due to COVID-19, the game day experience has completely changed. With no fans being allowed in-stadium, teams and leagues have had to shift their focus and digitalize their processes. The Los Angeles Sparks have always been a team that has attracted fans. In the densely populated city of Los Angeles, the experiences Danelle Winfield and her team create are consistently innovative, fun and engaging which bring fans back time and time again. Despite the ‘Wubble,’ Danelle is continuing to create a memorable experience for fans while they enjoy games from their homes. Although the future is unpredictable, there is one thing I know for sure: the Sparks are in good hands with Danelle Winfield.