Anticipate Nothing, Appreciate Everything

“Hey Derrick, I was talking with the University of Florida drivers and they said that the Team gave them nice baseball-style hats.  When are we going to get some hats from our Team (Michigan State)?” said one of my drivers in front of the other Team drivers on the first day of Team transport operations for the 2000 Florida Citrus Bowl in Orlando.  Up to the time of this question, by one of my more seasoned motorcoach drivers, I had been the Big Ten Team Transport Manager for a couple of years for my friend Tony’s company, Gameday Management Group. 

Each year, up until a few years back, the Florida Citrus Bowl hosted (usually) the number two ranked Teams from within the Big Ten and SEC Conferences.  My job as Team Transportation Manager was to work with the Team Manager as well as the two locally assigned volunteer Team Hosts from Florida Citrus Sports (who were charged with managing the operations for the bowl game) and a liaison from the Orlando Police Department on ensuring that the transport schedule for the week went as planned.  All of us, including our Team drivers, were embedded with the Team for about a week’s time.  There are a lot of moving parts in dealing with Team operations.  Everything from departure times for both the early squad and regular team to-and-from practices, police escort plans for the day, any bowl sanctioned events at various locations as well as family shuttles to the various theme parks in Orlando.  Most importantly tied to this is me working closely with my dedicated team of motorcoach drivers and them understanding what their plans were for each day. This information (as we call them ‘bus boards’) were used by their company’s dispatch to plan out the driver’s schedule for the week.  All of this data gathering started each morning at breakfast with the Team Manager.  We would work in ‘two-day’ blocks meaning that day’s operations and one day ahead.  Sometimes the Team itinerary would change based upon if the head coach felt the team needed more practice time or less.  There were a lot of moving parts taking place each day and fortunately we had a great motorcoach operator, dedicated drivers who understood change, great transport leads at Gameday, and a bowl committee that was top notch.

Now back to my driver’s question of “When are we going to get hats?”  Being in the events business as long as I have the one thing you learn is the art of SWAG (aka Stuff We Always Get. There are many variations of what the ’S’ stands for. You can use your imagination but we’ll keep this professional.) Teams and companies use SWAG as a token of their appreciation, use it to get certain things/services/access from people, or provide it to those less fortunate who may otherwise not be able to afford an item with their favorite team logo on it.  As it relates to SWAG, I know the power of it since I would spend a lot of time with the various Team Equipment Managers at practice as well as arrange their arrival and departures of their team equipment at the airport, at the Team hotel, and at the stadium (in concert with Florida Citrus Sports).  Some Teams are generous with providing SWAG and some are not.  So, you just have to go with the flow as you learn about each Team and how they operate. 

Prior to a Team’s arrival in Orlando, we would make a request from each, at a minimum, for baseball-style hats for the Team drivers but it was with no obligation by any means.  With that said, I am a firm believer in ‘Managing Expectations’ of the people with whom I work with.  And one of the sayings that my Team motorcoach drivers had heard from me year-after-year was the phrase “Anticipate Nothing, Appreciate Everything”.  Meaning don’t expect anything from the Teams when you work for them (and by anything I mean SWAG, gratuity, etc…). I reminded them to first “Do your job” and second “Provide a high level of service regardless of the client and what they provide or don’t provide to you.”  I would continue that if they would just follow this philosophy then it’s easier to manage the expectations they had in their heads (regarding Team SWAG).  I love most of the drivers I have worked with all over the world (there are a few bad apples as they say) but, for the most part, they are professional people who perform a lot that is asked of them (sometimes beyond the scope of what is required).  It’s for this reason I always want to manage their expectations and let me deal with the small details of making their job easier.

Each day at practice I would make it a point to sit on the buses with the drivers to just talk, catch up on the latest industry news/gossip, maybe watch a movie, tell some jokes, joke with each other, and just enjoy the moment we all had by having the privilege of working on a major sporting event.  So many fans of these Teams could only wish to be in the position we are with the Teams and that thought didn’t go unnoticed by any of us.  During our conversations I would joke with the drivers (since we had worked together for so long) “Geez, you been having a couple of doughnuts lately?  You up to an XL shirt size now?” And other questions that they probably wondered “Why is he joking about this?”  Unbeknownst to them, I was doing research.  I would take this data I gleaned and write up some notes.  Now, for the record, during the duration of the week with the Michigan State Team, my drivers did not receive a ball cap as the Florida Team drivers did.  But, after the first initial question to me on Day One with the Team and me telling them to “Anticipate Nothing, Appreciate Anything” they never brought it up again.  It may have gnawed them up on the inside but they never mentioned it to me.

Fast forward to the game at the Citrus Bowl.  It was tightly played and Michigan State beat Florida by a field goal as time expired.  The Team drivers were on the field-of-play to witness the win, first-hand.  Their excitement was great to watch.  The drive back to the hotel was a happy one and the team celebrated until they departed out of Orlando the next morning.

As I did every morning with my drivers I met with them by their motorcoaches and briefed them on their schedule.  That day was an easy one, drive the Team to the airport under police escort, drop them off and their Citrus Bowl experience would be complete.  However, before I dispersed them I said to them “Guys when we first started working for the Team you asked about the ball caps that the Florida drivers received and when you would receive yours.  I said to you at the time my favorite phrase in the events industry “Anticipate Nothing, Appreciate Everything”. I asked you to work hard, be dedicated to the Team and their needs, and just be professional for by doing this you never know what benefits may come your way.”  As I finished my comment to them the Asst. Equipment Manager for the Team came out and thanked each driver for their professionalism, humor, and dedication and then handed each driver a tote bag filled with Michigan State Team SWAG.  Shirts, a hat, a team warm-up jacket and warm-up trousers.  All with the appropriate sizes learned from asking them questions while on their buses.  During the week, I provided this info to the equipment team and asked “If you can swing it, cool.  If not, no worries”. The drivers were floored.  One of the drivers teared up.  All I had to say to them with a smile and a handshake was “Congratulations guys on a job well done!”

Lesson Learned:  All too often in the events industry people expect that by working on an event that they will have access to the field of play, that they’ll be able to be part of the ‘action’, that they will witness some incredible athletic feat or they’ll walk away with some SWAG when, for the most part, that is far from what really happens.  After working in the industry for over 30 years I can honestly say I’ve watched maybe 20% of the events I’ve worked on.  Most of the time was spent outside of the stadium/arena/field of play working on the ingress and egress of the event.  Or, if I’m inside the venue, dealing with the multitude of responsibilities I have to ensure the event is managed to the operations plan.  With all of my staff around the world, I first work to manage their expectations of what the job entails and mention that there’s a good chance they will only see what takes place at the event by watching the replays on TV.  Adopting the philosophy of “Anticipate Nothing, Appreciate Everything” has helped foster a level of professionalism that allows people to focus on their jobs and not worry about the things that are out of their control (“Anticipate Nothing”).  Occasionally, through the generosity of others or through recognition of hard work and effort my staffs have experienced unbelievable sights and sounds of the events world because I work quietly behind the scenes by asking organisers “If something comes up, let me know.” and reward that hard work with an experience of a lifetime or, some sweet SWAG! (“Appreciate Everything”)