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Unique collaboration keeps 2023 football home games streamlined

The football season may not have ended as most Ute fans had hoped, but stadium operations couldn’t have been much smoother.

University of Utah Athletics and Rice-Eccles Stadium managers developed a new team dynamic during the 2023 season to help streamline game day logistics.

Teams from Utah Transit Authority (UTA) watch the Rice-Eccles Stadium TRAX station for game day bottlenecks during the Utes’ match against Arizona State University.

“This was a true partnership,” said Gavin Gough, associate athletics director for facilities. “With thousands of tailgaters and more than 50,000 ticket holders converging on our stadium for each home game, it truly takes a village to keep things running smoothly so our fans have the best experience possible.”

Coordinating everything from traffic flow to security, the group convened an Incident Management Team before each home game that was coordinated from three Emergency Operations Centers—one on the sixth floor of the stadium, another in the S.J. Quinney Law School and a third at the University Public Safety Department Building.

Internal management teams included safety for the MUSS, an Alcohol Suppression Team, and Campus Security and Police Dispatch. Pulling in partners from the Utah National Guard, Utah Transit Authority, Salt Lake City Police and fire departments, Utah Highway Patrol and others, the team monitored everything from dozens of ejections for disorderly conduct and public intoxication, to crowding in the concourses and lost children.

Before the games even started, a canine-assisted team from the National Guard swept the stadium for explosives. Then, the rest of the group kicked into high gear, monitoring events minute by minute—by radio, camera and binoculars.

For example, UTA employees watched the stadium TRAX station each game day as trains filled up, then called in additional buses or trains “stacked” at the University Hospital stop to keep the crowd moving. At the same time, Highway Patrol, Salt Lake City and University Police officers blocked off or opened lanes around campus to keep traffic flowing—toward campus before kickoff, and away from campus afterward.

“In order to be nimble, this team had to operate in both low-tech and high-tech ways,” said Keaton McDonald, associate director of events for the stadium.

And McDonald adds, never forget the event management crew, which handles everything from concessions planning to garbage collection. “Their meticulous planning, seamless coordination and tireless work created unforgettable experiences for our fans,” he said.

At the end of each game, the combined team leaders gathered for a recap—total tickets sold, total number of ejections, arrests, medical incidents and train delays. After each of the eight home games, the group discussed ways to improve for the next.

The collaboration was so successful, that stadium and athletics managers expect the process to continue next football season and to be adapted for other large events throughout the year.