CHARLOTTE, N.C. — It's something the average NFL fan never sees; the preparation it takes to get an NFL stadium game day ready. Scott Paul, the Panthers Vice President of Game Day Operations, would be the first to know.
"It takes about 4,200 people to operate a Panther game on game day Sundays," Paul said. "The time and effort that's put into an NFL field is significant."
Imagine hosting an event that will be attended by more than 70,000 fans, with millions more watching on TV. As everyone arrives at the stadium or tunes in from home, they're expecting the event to start on time and entertain them for the next three hours, without a hitch.
"You don't just show up on Sundays and open up the door," Paul said. "So there is a ton of communication through the entire Panthers organization for coordination for a major event like a Panthers game."
That's where the NFL Game Operations staff come in. From the locker room, to the game balls, the field itself, and the wide range of technology involved in a massive operation like an NFL game, the attention to detail is paramount.
Every job holds their own weight, and it all begins in the Carolina Panther locker room with equipment manager, Don Toner.
"We're responsible for everything that you see on the field, as far as what the players and coaches are wearing," Toner said. "So we have to make sure they have the proper cleats, the jerseys, the uniforms, the clothes and we make sure everybody is dressed."
The locker rooms have to be fully stocked with the same comforts ranging from each jersey, gloves, helmet, specific nuances per player including any special items requests in the locker room.
But this process isn't one that starts on game day. Instead, it's one that starts nearly a week before (every week for 6 months) to guarantee Sunday will proceed like clockwork.
"Game day for us starts at least the Monday beforehand," Toner said. "We start issuing stuff for that week like the gear the players are going to need, depending if we're home or away."
It's what the fans often don't see that is more impressive than the actual game itself. The thousands of people behind the scenes who effortlessly manage the many moving parts and the massive mix of personnel, technology, and equipment.
"It's just a matter of getting the right people," Paul said. "But we have the people in place to do those things, and it's just the nature of the business."
It's more than just a football game. You can't forget about the medical personnel, the uniform inspectors, the referees, the radio-frequency coordinators and technology troubleshooters. Then it's imperative to have security guards on hand in their specific locations around the stadium and locker room attendants.
"Security setup is something that we have to do, that takes a bit of time on game day," Paul mentioned. "It's a 2 hour process in the morning to get it all set up for accepting 70,000 people to come into this building."
For the game itself, ball boys are imperative. Two hours and 15 minutes prior to kickoff, both teams will be required to bring 24 footballs (12 primary and 12 back-up) to the Officials’ Locker Room for inspection. Two Game Officials, designated by the Referee, will conduct the inspection and record the PSI measurement of each football.
Plus, the NFL needs a set of clock operators, chain crews and sideline helpers. It's a nearly limitless amount of staff members that all play their role in able to effectively host an NFL game without a single notable issue.
When the gates open to the public, all the staff can do is hope their preparation will be good enough to withstand the fan frenzy for the next several hours.
"During the week, you're as proactive as you can be," Paul said."That's the best you can do. When you open up the gates, now it's just reacting and putting out fires."
The action off the field also must get done, well before kickoff. League staff members must coordinate with representatives of the television networks and work with experts who certify that the fields are ready for play.
And don't forget, they do this every week the entire length of the season.
"We've been doing this for 24 years now," Paul explained." There's a lot of people here that have been here for a lot of those years, but it's always a good challenge. Not to mention there are 2,000 people that come in to serve our fans, getting those people in and getting processed. We have to get them ready to go, and opening the building for game day is quite a process."
So the next time you attend an NFL game, take that extra look around to realize how many moving pieces it takes to host the most exciting sport in the world, in what is the National Football League.
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