THE UNSUNG HEROES OF FIRST NIAGARA CENTER
Meet the men and women who keep the arena ready at all times
Be it a Sabres game, concert or one of the many other events that take place at First Niagara Center, there are literally hundreds of men and women who work to make sure everything goes smoothly. The Operations Department, comprised of event staff, security staff and arena operations, are the overseers of making sure that the building and setup is as ready for fans and the event as possible.
Beth Guiliani-Gatto has worked at the arena for 13 years, and generally knows what to expect from most events. But in her current role as Director of Arena Operations, she says that the challenge of concerts remains the favorite part of her job.
“It’s way easier for Sabres and Bandits games because there is just not as much,” says Guiliani-Gatto, referring to the unpredictability that comes with one-time events. “Your whole role in planning and coordinating the concert is to get as much information as you possibly can from the show so that day of, all you are dealing with is the ‘Oh, by the ways.’”
When the arena has to be transitioned from a Sabres game to a concert, it is a non-stop job as Dennis Hooper, Director of Building Services explains. Hooper oversees a staff of over 100 who work in shifts to make sure that First Niagara Center is always fan ready. When there are back-to-back events, Hooper’s team will work through the night, then return in the late afternoon to set up the arena.
Hooper explains the normal changeover process.
“The first thing we do is put the floor down, take the glass out, remove the boards, and then the spectator nets have to go. The seats have to be pushed back, and then a second floor has to go down. We have to change all of the penalty box and player benches into seating, set all the locker rooms, and prepare all the necessary requirements needed for security, merchandise and sponsorship.”
For events, Guiliani-Gatto oversees the ushers, ticket takers and other staff. But she says one of her biggest challenges is determining where the show participants will get ready. Sometimes space constraints force them to make some creative office spaces, especially when the WWE comes to town.
“We always seem to run out of room, so then we have to see what little nook we can find for us to use,” she explains. “We’ve even used the back of the Sabres’ post-game press conference room, where there is a little hallway for the coach to get to the back of that room. That’s been used as both a massage area and an office.”
Even though there is not much interaction between the operations managers and fans, the fan experience is always in the forefront of Guiliani-Gatto’s mind. She reads every fan email about their experience whether good or bad. This summer, along with Security Manager Marc Brenner, they restructured the security and usher/ticket taker training sessions to make it more integrated between the departments and have smaller sessions to better address questions and concerns. So far it seems to be working.
“We wanted to get feedback from the staff. I don't want to curse us, but we have received a lot of great feedback through the arena website since the beginning of the season – including 10 really, really positive emails. I don’t know that I’ve ever had 10 positive feedback emails in an entire season. For us as a management team, it validates what we did for the training and we feel like by changing what we did, it really got people on board.”
The operations team looks forward to the challenges ahead and being able to tackle them no matter what.