BOWLING GREEN — When it comes to sporting events at Bowling Green State University, Steve Messenger is responsible for everything but the score. Parking, tailgating, visiting team and referee accommodations, equipment setup, and even the fans’ experience — are all in his hands.
It’s been said that referees are only noticed if something goes wrong. The same could be true for Mr. Messenger, event operations manager for the university’s athletic department. Much like an official, he stays out of the way, keeping a low profile until trouble finds him.
“I don’t want the coaches to worry about anything other than coaching,” Mr. Messenger said. “We don’t want people to notice anything on game day, other than the game-day experience. They don’t need to know that 14 chairs are broken, if that’s the case. All they need to focus on is the game.”
Football is the first sport to kick off Mr. Messenger’s events season. The first home game of the season is always one of the most challenging. This year’s game, which took place Aug. 29, was even more challenging because it was nationally televised and ESPN was in town.
“Everything is ramped up,” Mr. Messenger said as he hustled from one task to another. “We’ve got an additional 50 people on site that aren’t normally here. There’s a lot of extra setup that has to take place.”
No two games are alike and each one brings a new set of issues. Ongoing construction on the campus limited parking and was sure to cause complications for guests.
Mr. Messenger manages a staff of about 15 student workers who help with much of the prep work. They meet in his office hours before the game to discuss their plan and get their credentials.
“I need you to get one table and two chairs from the Sebo meeting rooms down to the lobby,” he tells one staffer. Mr. Messenger’s demeanor is calm and collected. He’s careful of his tone and offers praise regularly.
“I always try to put forward a positive outlook, no matter how hectic things are,” Mr. Messenger said. “You get a much better response from your staff and it just makes things easier.”
Mr. Messenger, 53, started as operations manager six years ago. Before that, he volunteered at the school and worked as a graduate assistant. He also ran his family’s property management and pest removal companies. He lives in Bowling Green with his wife and two sons.
“I’ve always loved sports. I played hockey and golf in high school,” said Mr. Messenger. “In this job, I get to be with people who share my passion.”
In addition to football, he oversees operations for hockey, soccer, baseball, softball, gymnastics, track and field, cross country, and swimming. In all, he manages between 75 and 100 events each year, including high school sports and a drum and bugle show.
Twelve-hour days are normal and some 14-hour days are expected.
“For a 3:30 p.m. game, I get to work at 7 a.m.,” Mr. Messenger said. “The tailgaters are here by 8 a.m. The band will be practicing. The media shows up. I need to be here.”
Most football games are played on Saturday, but Mr. Messenger’s work starts long before game day. Throughout the week, he’s putting out fires.
“Something’s leaking, no AC, a light is out — those calls start coming in on Monday and Tuesday,” he said.
The Thursday night game against Tulsa was expected to draw a crowd of 15,000. Kickoff was set for 7:02 p.m. Security and parking attendants were in place by noon.
Mr. Messenger cruises the athletic complex in a golf cart that he uses to make his rounds, carry equipment, and check on staff.
“You all right?” he asks a parking attendant standing outside in the almost 90-degree weather.
“I’m good,” she assures him.
Both staff and athletes know him by name and offer a head nod or brief chat when he passes. His cell phone is filled with more than 75 work-related contacts and rings about every five minutes.
“Hello this is Steve,” he answers. “What’s not right?”
Each call brought a new problem — visitors parking along the fence where concessions were to be set up, missing signs, conflicts over practice time on the field.
“No worries. I’m on it.”
Contact RoNeisha Mullen at: email@example.com or 419-724-6133.