There’s no mistake, the Big Game is the largest event any city is likely to host. Coordinating logistics for game day, that’s a feat reserved for the most experienced.
Tom Becker, retired SEH transportation engineer, is more than eager to share his numerous transportation tales and tidbits dating back to 1992 – when he first began working logistics preparing for the Big Game in Minneapolis, Minnesota. At that time, he was the assistant director of transportation for the City of Minneapolis.
As he recalls, working with Ridgeway Consulting to help plan the Big Game in 1992 was a full-time job for six months. He attended 240 meetings, an average of three hours each. That’s 720 hours of meetings. It paid off when a senior official associated with the event said the traffic plan for Minneapolis would be the standard against which all future Big Game traffic plans will be measured. For 18 more games, Becker was the go-to guy for logistics coordination. Working the events on his own time off, Becker made an immediate impact.
Logistics coordination includes pedestrian travel, parking, traffic planning, overall wayfinding, and other things. Tom had the responsibility to make sure everyone associated with the Big Game knew where to go whether they were attending the event, traveling in and around the stadium, performing at halftime, volunteering, playing in the game, or handling security. He was responsible for coordinating on- and off-street parking, reviewing and implementing the overall traffic signing plan, managing traffic logistics and command posts, and developing signing for game and all of the associated parties and functions.
With all of this experience under his belt, Becker will be the first to admit, things will go wrong. And when they do, you better be ready.
The logistics expert shares four important ground rules he followed when working during the Big Game.
While planning for a game to be held in San Diego, Becker and his crew proposed using 100 of the City’s changeable electronic message signs located on the freeway system to direct people to and from the game. And, to also redirect people not traveling to the game
“After considerable negotiation and time, they gave us access to the signs,” Becker recalls.
But as they often do, things didn’t go as planned.
“Come game day, we were up and ready to go,” Becker explains. “The changeable signs were all programmed, ready to direct traffic to the appropriate places—then there was an Amber Alert.”
Putting what’s most important first, all of the signs were dedicated to finding the lost child.
Becker then launched into Plan B and C to identify another method of wayfinding. He needed to avoid the wayfinding nightmare the might occur without the signage. And he had to come up with a plan fast. The start of the game was only hours away.
Plan B was to get portable electronic replacement signs. But he learned the nearest portable electronic replacement signs were located in San Francisco — too far to transport the signs and implement them in time. So, Becker did the next best thing. He went to Plan C where he and his team constructed their own signs using large pieces of foam core and placed them near each of the changeable message signs.
The foam signs were in place, ready in time for the game and events. The best news? The Amber Alert worked and the child was found safe. It was a positive outcome for everyone, Becker says.
When a snow and ice storm pelted Atlanta in 1994 a week before the Big Game, Becker needed to think fast to actually keep people on their feet. The ice storm left Atlanta covered in ice, creating a transportation nightmare for anyone in and around the City. To make matters worse, another storm left more ice the Friday before the Big Game.
Being a southern-tier city with very few snow events, Atlanta didn’t have many resources to deal with snow and ice. Typically, the City slows down until snow and ice melts, but that’s not an option when a million people are scheduled to be in town. The City tried unsuccessfully to combat the slippery ice on the roads with truckloads of gravel. The pebbles in the gravel acted like marbles on glass, making matters worse, Becker says.
At an exclusive party, high-profile attendees were having a difficult time walking into the venue across sheets of ice. Plus, pathways into the venue were up a slight hill and there wasn’t much to get traction on.
“They were slipping and falling all over the place,” Becker recalls. “They looked at me and said, ‘You’re a city guy from up north, do something.’”
Thinking on his feet, Becker took the instruction, grabbed some associates and headed to the nearest home improvement store. There he bought up all of the sidewalk salt they had (it wasn’t much), a few lawn seed spreaders and headed back to the event.
After a few passes spreading the salt, the ice started to melt, and the walkways were eventually completely clear for people to walk across.
“They thanked me after the attendees could finally make it up the walkway to the party,” Becker says with a chuckle.
It’s no surprise the event attracts a huge amount of vehicle traffic. But the sheer number can be shocking, if you’re not ready for it.
Back in 1992, Becker says the event was expected to bring in 1,200 limos. Lining up the limos up back to back would stretch for miles. In today’s more heavily attended event, the number of limos may double.
An element Becker says can be overlooked is the number of courtesy vehicles. There are 1,500 – 2,000 courtesy cars given out to attendees at each Big Game. It was part of his job to make sure all of those vehicles reached their intended user—and to pick them up after the events.
By his estimation, 25 – 50 cars are unaccounted for after each game. The vehicles are often left at events or other venues after the user finds a different mode of transportation back to their lodging. Becker and his team would scour the city, rounding up the unattended vehicles.
Today, most of these vehicles are equipped with GPS, making finding them all easier.
Then there are the golf carts. As part of Ridgeway Consulting's logistics team, Becker helped keep track of and manage up to 800 golf carts per event. The carts are used by personnel to navigate the areas in and around the game. The carts need dedicated travel routes, they need charging and maintenance each day, and they need to be accounted for.
As the Big Game has become bigger and more extravagant than it was in 1992, transportation logistics groups now plan for more vehicles, more modes of transportation and more people.
It takes a unique skill set to plan for all the modes of transportation, but an even greater skillset to interact with all of the people who rely on you to make it work.
Working at an event of this magnitude puts in you contact with people from all walks of life. And it’s important to know how to interact with all of them.
The Big Game attracts an unending cavalcade of celebrities, athletes, musicians, titans of industry and others in the top of their field—and they all want top-notch treatment.
As Becker explains, most people attending the game are important in their respective space, but you can’t give preferential treatment.
“Everyone will be expecting you to rush them in without waiting in line,” Becker says. “But you just have to treat everyone the same.”
People can get angry when they’re not afforded the celebrity perks they’re used to. But Becker advises to take it all in stride, and everyone (for the most part) is happy when they get inside.
Working with famous personalities takes a back seat to working with officials in the host city. Becker says these relationships are perhaps the most important of all. When he would first arrive in a host city two weeks before the Big Game, Becker explains the importance of forging alliances with the local people you’ll be working alongside.
“Working logistics, we’d have to do things the cities weren’t used to,” Becker says. “So, it’s important to gain a level of trust before things really start to get moving.”
To keep track of possible problems that might arise planning logistics for the Big Game, Becker had a thick, three-ring binder on his side at all times. The binder was his playbook of problem scenarios, and the Plans B, C, D, E and F to fix them. “Today that binder would be an iPad,” says Becker. “But, a three-ring binder still works for me.
“We tried to think of everything that could happen on game day,” he chuckles. “But it seemed there was always something that would happen that nobody could have thought up.”
Tom Becker is a retired transportation engineer, logistics coordinator and problem solver. He currently works with a local professional team, providing traffic analysis for home games.