It’s roughly three-and-a-half hours before kickoff, and in a crowded storage room down a long, narrow hallway in the pit of the adjacent Bramlage Coliseum, the K-State Athletics events supervisors huddle around a table and prepare themselves for war.
Bill Snyder Family Stadium, or “The Bill” as fans affectionately call it, claims an official capacity of 50,000 purple-clad K-State fans, but that itself appears to be a suggestion. Attendance has varied so far this season, but when the stadium fills up — like when 51,189 fans watched K-State trounce Nicholls 49-14 at the Aug. 31 home opener — it becomes the ninth biggest “city” in Kansas (Manhattan ranks eighth at 52,281).
As the K-State football team readies itself for battle against TCU on Oct. 19, facilities staffers serve as the supply chain that supports all of the logistics that go into a K-State home football game. The supervisors oversee approximately 700 employees, including parking attendants, security, ticket takers and ushers, and work alongside other facilities staff like custodians and maintenance workers.
Upstairs next to the press box, a command center — staffed by K-State Athletics, K-State Police, Riley County police and EMS, Kansas Highway Patrol, city, county and even FBI officials — with state-of-the-art cameras keeps watch over the parking lots, bleachers and concourses. They respond to and monitor virtually everything that can affect a game day, including medical alerts and potential severe weather. It’s also from this center that local officials coordinate postgame traffic with the ability to tap into the city’s cameras.
Collectively, the stadium staffers ensure that game day goes smoothly, and like many other behind-the-scenes workers, their proudest moments are when nobody notices them.
It’s that pride in providing the Big 12’s best fan experience that Brian Cordill articulates to the room of a little more than a dozen supervisors at the 10 a.m. meeting in the storage room as the assistant athletics director for event operations goes through the notes for the Oct. 19 game.
No game day is alike, Cordill says, and this one would be no different — in being different. He reminds the staffers that the basketball team would host an open scrimmage upstairs within the hour. It’s a giveaway day for students, so he wanted the supervisors to remind their employees that tempting as the free bucket hats might be, they need to make sure it’s students who receive them.
Oh, and it’s also Harley Day, when about a hundred motorcycles roar in a lap around the field immediately before the game.
Nothing they haven’t handled before, Cordill says, and despite the perfect football weather, he advises the supervisors to make sure they and their employees are staying hydrated.
Like a reunion
Near the end of Cordill’s pre-game pep talk, west stadium supervisor Karla DeLoach arrives to the meeting. She’d texted ahead that she’d be late because of traffic, so she gets no grief from Cordill or any of the other supervisors. It’s the kind of leeway you get when you commute in two hours from Kansas City — or Shawnee, to be exact.
DeLoach grew up in Manhattan, and like many other young Manhattanites, attended K-State. Her cousin, Charles Crawford, and uncle, Oliver Jones, played football for the team, and with her heavy course load during her time as a full-time student, a weekend job working the football games was a perfect fit. She has since moved to Shawnee and now works a regular job as a law firm accountant in Shawnee.
But something keeps DeLoach, now in her 18th season working with Athletics, coming back.
“Every game is like a high school reunion for me,” DeLoach says. “I see people I haven’t seen in over 30 years.”
It’s also the hugs and kisses she gets from fans who have come to know her as a mainstay in the West Stadium Center.
“I don’t even know where they’re from all the time,” DeLoach says with a laugh. “This is my 18th season, and there are people who come to the games even longer than I’ve been working here. They start to recognize you, and when Coach Snyder says it’s a family thing, he really means that.”
On this day, DeLoach patrols the various floors and suites in west stadium, popping into rooms and checking with her staff to make sure everything is going alright. She helps the food service workers investigate a strange smell coming from one of the elevator areas, but she determines it’s just the lingering smell of catering earlier that week.
To fans, DeLoach repeats the same refrain that all K-State workers greet guests with: “Welcome to K-State.” That’s something that DeLoach says mostly started during the era of John Currie — athletic director from 2009 to 2017 — but became a mainstay.
“I think we just make people feel welcome,” DeLoach says. “We’re always complimented on how friendly our staff are and how friendly our fans are. That’s what we push, that even if you’re our biggest rival, we need to be friendly. They hear it everywhere, and you always know you’re welcome at K-State. I’ve been to a lot of other stadiums in the country, and you don’t always get that feeling.”
Until K-State’s away game logistics strategy changed this year, DeLoach also regularly traveled with the team as a member of the team’s security crew, and she’s been on the sidelines for several of the team’s away games.
“I don’t think the fans understand how much energy they give to the team,” DeLoach says. “Being on the sidelines with the team and hearing the roar of the crowd, I know that if I can feel the energy, the boys can feel it too.”
‘Not just a paycheck’
While Athletics recruits from K-State’s student body, the majority of its stadium staffers are non-students, Cordill says. Workers commute in from communities like Kansas City, Topeka or Junction City, and Cordill says the department reaches out to area school districts for workers. Many of the workers have fleeting connections to K-State, like a son or daughter who attended the school or played on its teams.
Most of the 700 employees only work seven Saturdays a year, as other Athletics events don’t require as many workers.
Cordill, who’s in his 10th year on the job full-time, said nothing beats the excitement of just being inside the stadium on a game day.
“I’m a little biased, but I’d say yeah,” Cordill says when asked if K-State’s fan experience differs from other Big 12 schools. “Our event staffers have a personal pride in K-State. It’s not just a paycheck, and they take so much pride in representing the university and Athletic department well.”
He says its a misconception that they get to watch the game at work. Most of the time, they’re busy hustling around and dealing with the various issues that come up when working to serve 50,000 people. Cordill said he personally rewatches the games on Sundays, once everything is settled at the stadium, but it’s not necessarily the football aspects that draws people to work at the stadium.
“They get paid to be here, but it’s not a lot of extra income over the grand scheme of things, so it’s more wanting to be here and a part of the environment, a part of the game day experience,” Cordill said. “We’re known for our fan experience, and all of our front-line staff makes that happen by the way they go about their work.
“They have a great passion for K-State, Athletics and for game day,” Cordill continued. “They make sure that everyone has a good time whether they’re wearing K-State colors or the visiting team colors for that day.”