COLUMBUS There were 2,612 fans in Blakeslee Stadium recently to watch Richelle Simonson s alma mater, Minnesota State, play a football game with North Dakota. On Saturday, Simonson will play host to 105,000 in Ohio Stadium when Ohio State faces Northwestern.
Her perspective on college football has changed a little since she arrived in the Buckeye State.
Growing up in Minnesota, I really had no idea just how big college football was here at Ohio State, and what a huge event each home game becomes, Simonson said. This is still college athletics, but it is a different world, in so many ways.
Simonson, Ohio State s associate athletic director for ticketing and event services, has a lengthy title and a colossal responsibility.
She has the keys to Ohio Stadium, that bastion of legions of Buckeyes, that sacred ground where Howard Hopalong Cassady rushed for 170 yards in a 1955 win over Nebraska, where Woody Hayes coached 56 first-team All-Americans, and where in 1996 Andy Katzenmoyer became the first freshman to start every game at linebacker for the Buckeyes.
There is such a rich history and tradition here, and we all have the responsibility to protect and preserve that, Simonson said. Ohio State football is and has been an important part of so many people s lives.
You really have to have a lot of respect for something that has had such a dominant presence nationally for so long.
Simonson knows she is guarding a treasure. For seven Saturdays this fall, she controlled the hottest ticket in the state a small piece of paper that would gain the holder admission to an Ohio State home football game.
That is just a part of the job, but tickets are always a major issue here, because the demand far exceeds the available seats, Simonson said.
People are so passionate about the Buckeyes, and they want to be a part of the game-day event and the pageantry here. It s tough, because we just don t have room for everyone who wants to be here.
Bowling Green State University athletic director Paul Krebs, who hired Simonson while he was a senior administrator at Ohio State, said the responsibility for the Buckeyes football tickets is a difficult burden to bear.
You have to have exceptionally thick skin when you do what she does, Krebs said. Tickets for Ohio State football are in such demand that is a situation where you just can t win. But she excels at handling it in the best possible manner.
In addition to overseeing all of Ohio State s ticket operations, Simonson is responsible for the management of the actual game site, including security, crowd control, and dealing with ticket scalpers. The sales and marketing of official Ohio State merchandise, and the extensive concessions contracts also fall under the umbrella of administrative duties for Simonson.
In my 14 years here, I have just sort of evolved into this role, Simonson said. I think it is definitely a learned skill there s really no class or manual that can prepare you for this. Event management takes a lot of people, planning, and organization when it is an Ohio State home football game that you are putting on. It is a major event in so many ways.
Simonson, who received her master s degree from Ohio State in 1990, spent a year as the assistant ticket director at Michigan before returning to Columbus in 1991 as the ticket director for the Buckeyes.
She instituted a number of technological enhancements in the ticketing system, and put Ohio State out front by starting internet ticket sales in 1999.
Krebs said Simonson s experience as a college softball player has been invaluable to her in her current role as an athletics administrator.
The fact she was a college athlete is so important because she understands college athletics and the competitiveness of the game, and she has a grasp of the details and intricacies of the entire operation, Krebs said.
She is tenacious, very strong-willed, and an incredibly hard worker, and that is why Richelle has done so well in a very demanding and high-pressure role.
On game days, Simonson works from the operations command center in the press tower, high above the sea of scarlet and gray.
Security, parking, concessions and first-aid issues are all addressed in the course of a few minutes as the stadium swells to capacity.
When you have this many people assembled in one place, you have to deal with a lot. There are life-threatening things that happen, as well as all of the regular housekeeping type of issues that are out there. You deal with it all.
Simonson said her job at Ohio State has allowed her to merge the two things I love the most business and sports.
We re here to take care of this. Ohio State football is a unique phenomenon, on so many levels, Simonson said. I might not understand it all, but I do know that we have the responsibility to not mess it up.
Krebs is confident that the Buckeyes are in good hands.
I have been in that seat before and run game day down there, Krebs said. You have to be able to delegate, focus on details, be able to multi-task, and be a great communicator. She has all of that. You manage the event, but you rarely watch the game. What Richelle does is she makes Saturday afternoons work down there.
Contact Matt Markey at:firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6510.