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Penn State’s Director Of Football Gameday Operations Kathryn Benda On Game Management

Kathryn Benda | Director of Football Gameday Operations | Penn State University

Game Management is the activity on the field of play with the coordination of officials, visiting teams and home team operations, basically anything you need to actually play the game.

Kathryn Benda

Director of Football Gameday Operations

Penn State University

× The interview with Kathryn Benda 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 Director of Football Gameday Operations at Penn State University and what does a typical day look like for you?

There is a ton of behind the scenes work we do to get ready for football season, and preparation starts when the previous season ends. In the normal sports world—not COVID-19 world—I would be crossing all the t’s and dotting all the I’s for the season right now. I oversee all of the operations for Penn State football game days, in two all-encompassing areas: game management and event management.

Game Management is the activity on the field of play with the coordination of officials, visiting teams and home team operations, basically anything you need to actually play the game.

Event Management is more fan-focused: customer service, entry, security, parking, which gets more complicated with the number of people in attendance. My role as the Director of Football Gameday Operations also allows me to be the go-to person for all of the other departments that work on game days if they have anything they need to be approved. Basically, what I say is if something is happening on game day, I definitely need to know about it.

Prior to Penn State, you’ve held roles such as Event Coordinator, Game Operations and Event Manager at many other universities like the University of Houston and Louisiana State. How did these roles prepare you for your current career?

I have been incredibly fortunate to work with some awesome schools in my career, and the two largest contributors would be my time at Louisiana State University as a student intern and my time at Auburn University as an Event Coordinator. My amazing bosses at LSU gave me a lot of responsibility as a student, and that allowed me to be involved in the prep work.

That experience gave me a strong understanding of what game management and event management are and made me realize I could have a career in this field. I still keep in touch with them, bounce ideas off them, and try to get down there to continue learning as well. This makes me so happy that the sports world is so close-knit.

Auburn was my first full-time job after college, and it was where I learned so much about leadership and event management. But, I also was able to implement so many things there that I had already learned from my previous experiences. Every place I have worked really has impacted me in different ways, and I can say my leadership and management styles are the way they are due to all of those experiences.

In Game Operations and Event Management, there can be a lot happening all at once that you have to direct and keep under control. How do you stay on top of everything and also adapt to situations as they occur on gameday?

Honestly, for as stressful as it is, it is a blast. I love problem-solving and that is my favourite part of my job. You have to be able to function under high-stress environments to work in this field. There is no way one person can do it on their own at the level we do at Penn State, so having a strong team you trust is the absolute most important thing.

Working in the off-season to get those key players within those roles: someone leading parking, someone leading customer service, someone leading the gate openings, someone taking the dispatch calls…there’s a person for virtually everything that happens on game day! Having those people in position on the ground is crucial and they’re the only reason I can do what I do.

The reason why you do all of your prep work in my role is so that on game day, you can watch a well-oiled machine run. Then, my role is just reacting to the outlying issues: weather, traffic, etc. If you have a good team and a good plan, then the rest you can adapt to.

In Event Management, what are the most important skills to have?

I think most people start with organization, but that is a no-brainer. To me, the ability to lead and communicate are even more crucial. Issues normally arise when there is a lack of communication from someone. If I, as the Event Manager, can be a good communicator and make people feel like I have control of the situation, then we can move forward more positively as a team.

Working for a major university, how do you address, attract and embrace that audience? Do you work closely with other departments (ie. Marketing, Social Media) on Game Day?

If I want to be good at my job, I need to have a great relationship with everyone involved on game day. This is not limited to those in the athletic department which is critical, but those outside of the university as well.

I learned a tough lesson last year when we changed our traffic and parking plan for football game days, which when you have a stadium that holds 100,000+ impacts outlying areas and communities. We had to engage state transportation departments, local municipalities, state and local police agencies, fans, etc. to get a good plan in place. You want everyone to feel involved in the process and when they feel a part of the team, that is when you will see success happen.

Hayley Michie Hayley's Final Thoughts

Kathryn Benda has a positive outlook on the stress and pressure of university game days, which is refreshing to see in the sports world. She knows how to execute the perfect game day using her ability lead and communicate. Kathryn stresses the importance of developing a positive relationship with everyone involved for game day to be a success. Each Penn State football game is a success, and it’s all because of Kathryn and her colleagues!

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