Don Costante is the Senior Director of Event Presentation & Production for the Kansas City Royals and doubles as the founder and CEO of Costante Group. Don Costante is a highly recognizable name in Event Presentation & Production circles across North American professional sports. In fact, two interviewees suggested we interview him within a two-day span. So here we are! I am particularly excited to share Don Costante’s insight because he brings a wealth of experience to the table across 26 years and over 2,000 sports and entertainment events produced between the Spurs, Royals and his own company. There are so many parts to choose from as my favorite. From wisdom on game day production to a glimpse into working in the industry to simply balancing work and life, Don Costante’s interview was one of my most insightful yet.
And it’s only fitting that this is the last industry profile of 2019 for us! We have a whole lot of exciting features, improvements and programs planned for 2020. Join me as I close out our first calendar year of operations with one of the most respected individuals in North American professional sports and entertainment management, Don Costante.
Please note: The interview with Don Costante 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 the Senior Director of Event Presentation & Production with the Kansas City Royals.
My role with the Royals is about defining, developing and executing a premier sports entertainment experience through the utilization of new technology, creativity and advanced vision to touch all areas of the fan experience. Responsibilities include the oversight of all aspects of the Royals event presentation, game operations, digital production, entertainment and team special events – including creative direction, concept development, theme and execution.
I view my role with the Royals as a filter for the fans. It’s my job to ensure the quality of content being delivered is at a high level and that it’s entertaining and adding value to all stakeholders (fans, sponsors, players, organization). As you can imagine, there are a lot of requests/needs from departments within an organization and not all asks are in the best interest of the fans. It’s my job to work with each department to assist them with accomplishing their goals but not at the expense of the fan’s experience.
In terms of illustrating what my day-to-day looks like in-season, that differs based on whether it’s a game day or and non-gameday. Regardless, both days are riddled with communication, preparation and leadership – for what’s about to happen (gameday) or what’s coming up. Throughout the season, there are endless details that need to be attended to daily and just when you think you’ve got it all under control… new challenges and/or obstacles get presented – live programming at its best!
In 2014 and 2015, I was fortunate to experience MLB postseason – in both cases reaching the World Series and winning in 2015. In terms of the preparation for the playoffs, MLB requires teams who are mathematically eligible for postseason to submit a complete outline of event presentations elements in August (about two months prior to the end of the regular season). This advance planning helps teams facilitate the quick turnaround time from season end to the start of the first playoff game. The day-to-day in the playoffs is extremely hectic, stressful and filled with meetings, correspondence and collaboration with a multitude of people.
There is no better feeling than being one of only a select few MLB teams playing baseball in October with a chance to win the World Series – the excitement and adrenalin take over and carry you through all the extra hours and stress required to successfully facilitate a postseason.
During the offseason, people often ask me what I do since the season is over. Believe it or not, the offseason is my busiest time of year… not in regard to hours but in terms of the creative process in developing the plans for the upcoming season. It’s important to me that we swipe the slate clean (from the previous season) and come up with a new look and feel for our event presentation each year. This process is time-consuming and involves a lot of talented people who I push to dream, conceptualize and innovate. In addition to the development of new content, we hold auditions for entertainment resources, conduct interviews (e.g. game crew, interns, etc.), organize and execute Royals FanFest (grassroots event in January), facilitate Spring Training, conduct rehearsals (promotions, staff, Opening Day, engagement team, etc.) as well as a variety of other responsibilities.
The sports event management side of the industry gets stereotyped for attracting detail-oriented individuals. Talk about this stereotype and if you’d characterize yourself this way.
So true and YES, I would characterize myself as a detail-oriented individual in every aspect of my life. Sometimes this drives my wife crazy as she hates attending events with me because I can’t turn it “off” and tend to comment on everything (good or bad).
However, it’s important to note that detail-oriented individuals alone don’t necessarily equate into successful event management employees within the sports industry. In addition to being detail-oriented, an individual must possess common sense combined with the innate ability to be proactive in their approach to learning and execution. Those who are truly successful in event management are detail-oriented but also share the characteristics I’ve expressed.
Managing sporting events almost always comes with challenges given the unpredictable nature of sports. Talk about how you overcome these challenges and have learned not to be hard on yourself for stuff that’s probably beyond your control.
I have been in the sports industry for over 26 years and have never produced and event that didn’t call for solutions to challenges/obstacles. We live in a world of live programming… live programming means you must be flexible – able to adapt quickly and effectively make strategically thought-out adjustments in any area (e.g. budget, programming, logistics, etc.) for the betterment of the event. I embrace these opportunities and quite frankly I expect them. No matter the situation, it’s my job to provide solutions.
Although challenges are inevitable, I learned a very long time ago one very important detail that has eliminated much heartache over the years and that is to REHEARSE everything! To ensure understanding and timing, I rehearse everything prior to going live. This allows for the opportunity to make necessary adjustments to attain proper execution and ensure the highest level of quality for our stakeholders (fans, sponsors, players, organization). Each event element must be implemented seamlessly and without distraction to the original concept. This can only be accomplished if everyone responsible for the execution has a total understanding of their role and the timing required for each element being implemented.
In addition to rehearsing the original concept, it’s vital to be forward in your thinking and develop solutions to potential problems (e.g. microphone stops working, video board malfunctions, etc.). I call these “solutions” my Plan B’s and I make sure my staff is fully versed on what the Plan B is for every activation – which we fully rehearse. Of course, there are certain things that will happen that are totally out of one’s control (e.g. the power goes out, the fire alarm triggers your audio system to stop working, etc.). In these cases, you do the best you can with the knowledge you have and hope the issue gets fixed quickly.
In short, I hire creative people and appreciate the unpredictable nature of sports which requires me and my staff to think on our feet… Otherwise, anyone could do this job.
While working in events, how have you been able to manage the stress of meeting deadlines and what are some tips you would have for young professionals starting in similar positions?
That’s simple… make lists, prioritize items on the list and check things off so I get a sense of accomplishment. This is a little “old school” but it helps versus looking at the entire mountain and becoming overwhelmed. It’s important to break projects down into manageable pieces.
In addition to creating manageable lists, I make time for myself and for the things in my life that are important and make me happy (e.g. family, exercise, etc.). This philosophy facilitates a healthy lifestyle and you’d be amazed at how the stress of work just doesn’t get to you anymore. Sure, there are always going to be stressful times, but a healthy lifestyle has helped me to think clearer and get through difficult moments without the feeling of heavy pressure weighing me down.
As for some advice to young professionals starting out, I would urge you to have a balance between work and your personal life. This sounds manageable but too often I have seen many talented people burn out because they put work above all else. The sports industry is not life and death… we’re not performing brain surgery. Do your job and do it well but enjoy life and have balance.
Many years ago I received some great advice from a friend of mine who also works in the sports industry when I asked him how he gets everything done… he said, “I don’t… I do what I can within the workday and then I go home… when 6 PM comes, I leave to spend time with the family.” He continued by saying, “I know when I return to the office the next morning, the work will be in my inbox and that’s okay.” I thought about that, although I don’t necessarily leave the office at 6 PM, I prioritize family first – that’s what experience will teach you.
How much freedom and creativity do you have in your role? As the Senior Director, I presume you have quite a bit. You could flip this question around (or answer both aspects) and point it towards your employees. How much freedom and creativity they have in developing ideas for game presentation?
I have been very fortunate in my career to work for organizations/people who have allowed me the opportunity to bring my creativity and vision to the fans. As Senior Director of Event Presentation & Production for the Royals, I have earned the trust and respect of those above me. They know that I will make decisions that are both creative and strategic that are deeply embedded in our stakeholder’s needs. On the other hand, every role regardless of the title (except for possibly an owner) has limitations and approval processes that they must go through to see an idea come to fruition.
The difficulty in working in professional sports, you are limited by the philosophy of ownership and/or upper management. Depending on an owner’s viewpoint on presentation and fan engagement that will shape the direction in which you must customize your show. Maybe the viewpoint is in line with your thinking but maybe it’s not. If the philosophy given to you conflicts with your way of thinking, it’s your job to express your thoughts professionally with the understanding that you might just have to agree to disagree and do it their way. If that is the case, you do the best job you can to make it as successful as possible.
When it comes to my staff, I give them tremendous creative latitude with the understanding that I don’t like surprises. I believe it is incredibly important to give people the opportunity to voice their opinions and provide their creative ideas. Great ideas can come from ANYONE at any time and it’s our responsibility (as managers) to put together the best product regardless of where the concepts come from. In Kansas City, I promote a completely collaborative environment with my staff and enjoy the creative processes we go through in developing the content delivered to our fans.
What is something people don’t realize about working in the sport industry?
It’s not as glamorous as it looks. There is NO offseason. You rarely get to watch the game/match/event for enjoyment and certainly not from a “fan” perspective.
The market is incredibly competitive, and you really must set yourself apart from the rest to stand out.
You are also the President of Costante Group. Tell us about it and how do you find a balance between your other role.
In 2007, I created Costante Group Sports & Event Management with the intent to use my knowledge and skillset to assist organizations with their event presentation needs. Whether you’re looking for consulting or need someone to direct your event from inception to production, Costante Group is your solution. We create authentic experiences, epic events and elevated levels of shared success for fans, sponsors and organizations of all sizes. Please visit my website.
Costante Group consists of experts in professional and collegiate sports who possess a unique blend of proven and customized strategies with measurable results that deliver authentic experiences. We understand the business of successful event execution, with over 25 years of experience and more than 2,000 events produced, Costante Group has been trusted by some of sports’ biggest entities.
No detail too small, no problem too complex, our meticulous approach and rich experience is what it takes to deliver best-in-class events.
Costante Group offers a variety of services that dramatically impact the creative and logistical areas of sports and event management. We listen to each client and deliver results with the goal of exceeding expectations. Services include:
- Event Presentation
- Audit & Consultation
- Event Management
- Event Production
- Digital Content Development
- Strategic Brand Marketing
- Speaking Engagements & Seminars.
In January (2020), I will be releasing my first episode of The Rundown Podcast. This unique podcast provides an opportunity to hear from some of the best professionals in the industry. You’ll get valuable insight and perspective on what it takes to deliver authentic experiences, activate brands and most importantly connect with audiences. Check it out The Rundown Podcast.
The workload ebbs and flows between the two. I must be organized and juggle both, along with my family. My job at the Royals enhances what I do for Costante Group and visa versa. It makes me a better employee and boss all around. I find the balance by being efficient and well organized in both roles. Time management is huge. I delegate when it makes sense and focus on the most important aspects. I hire proven subcontractors, as needed, for Costante Group who I trust and have experience with.
What would you say are the top five or six biggest moments or accomplishments in your sport management career? Please explain each choice.
1 NBA Finals (2003)
Getting my first NBA Championship ring. This happened in 2003 while I was working for the San Antonio Spurs as the Director of Game Operations and Promotions. People go their entire careers without ever receiving a ring and I was able to secure one early in my career. The excitement was unexplainable.
2 NBA Asia Challenge (2010)
Traveling to the Philippines for the first time to direct the 2010 NBA Asia Challenge. This exhibition game took place at the historic Araneta Coliseum in Quezon City (home to the Thrilla in Manila boxing match between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier) and featured NBA legends and Philippine Basketball Association stars.
3 Manchester City Football Club (2012)
Having the opportunity to work with one of the biggest sports franchises in the world. Manchester City Football Club retained Costante Group to provide event presentation audit and consultation. The scope of work consisted of two phases. In the audit phase, we conducted a complete event presentation audit and made recommendations for infrastructure and capital improvements. In the activation phase, Costante Group executed training and implementation designed to enhance the matchday experience for all stakeholders. Several of our recommendations are still in use today.
4 MLB World Series (2015)
I never thought the atmosphere in San Antonio during the NBA Finals would ever be replicated. I was wrong… the atmosphere in Kansas City for the World Series surpassed my wildest expectations. I couldn’t believe that an outdoor MLB stadium would generate the excitement and energy level I experienced in San Antonio!
5 Kansas City Royals City Celebration (2015)
Over 800,000 fans came out to downtown Kansas City to celebrate the Royals World Series in 2015. I had the pleasure of producing the City Celebration at Union Station – totally unreal!
6 2019 Golf Industry Show
Stepping outside my traditional sports lane, I had the privilege of producing and directing the 2019 Golf Industry Show in San Diego, CA. A mix of theatrical performances combined with awards presentations and roundtable discussions… I had the time of my life! I’m currently working on the 2020 Golf Industry Show.
Mat’s Final Thoughts
No detail is too small and no problem is too complex. I guess you could say this has become a mantra of Don Costante’s success in building, fostering and filtering relationships with fans throughout his 26-year career in the sports and entertainment industry. And for starting and developing the Costante Group into what it is today. Don Costante’s answers to my questions prove that being brave and willing to take risks is a requirement to achieve success in this extremely competitive, mercurial and unpredictable industry. It is because of his industry experience, endorsements from at least two previous interviewees, and this feature that I am excited to become a regular listener of The Rundown Podcast in 2020. Not only will it be insightful, but I am also sure that with Don’s keen attention to the fan experience over his triumphant career, it will be entertaining too.