May the Fun Be with You

Jamie Seguin, senior director of game operations and events at Calgary Sports and Entertainment, takes Advantage behind the scenes of the events that define the city’s top sports teams—including Star Wars night

On a home game night, Jamie Seguin can be expected to log about twenty thousand steps. As the senior director of game operations and events at Calgary Sports and Entertainment, Seguin is responsible for attracting fans to games for the Canadian Football League’s (CFL) Calgary Stampeders and the National Lacrosse League’s Calgary Roughnecks—all while providing an unparalleled experience that keeps fans coming back for more.

This makes it difficult to keep up with Seguin. On a typical game day, he arrives twelve hours before the start to oversee every aspect of the fan experience from pregame events to the final whistle. When he arrives, Seguin checks in with about twenty game-day staff members and ensures that the cheerleading squad has what it needs to rehearse. Next, he rushes to refine and polish scripts for the announcer and emcee. From there, he works with others to set up a tailgate area. When the gates open, he leads a team briefing, grabs dinner, ushers the cheerleading crew to a field rehearsal, and rounds the stadium to make sure padding and safety features are in place. Then, after a final security meeting, he checks in with the announcer and DJ.

Minutes before the opening action, Seguin sits at his perch in the director’s chair, where he has direct voice communication with a video operator. He wears a second headset that allows him to communicate to his on-field staff. A third lets him talk to security personnel. During the game, he cues up videos and sponsor reads. On the field, other team members corral contestants, execute promotions, guide mascots, cue cheerleaders, and orchestrate halftime performers.

The show lasts three and a half hours. When it’s done, Seguin leads an informal debrief, circles the field to spot issues, and celebrates with a chocolate milk.

Seguin, an athlete and McGill graduate, started his career as an events coordinator with the Montréal Alouettes, helped organize the 2008 Grey Cup from the CFL League office, and joined Calgary Sports and Entertainment in 2009. Although he spends 70 percent of his time on entertainment and 30 percent on operations, he relishes the opportunity to bring innovation to the fan experience. “It’s exciting to add value to the sporting event,” he says. “We want our fans to walk away buzzing about the anthem singer or the halftime show even if the team loses.”

In some ways, the desire is driven by fan behaviour. Modern fans aren’t as loyal as they once were, Seguin explains, and more leagues (like Major League Soccer and Mixed Martial Arts) are competing for fan dollars. And while hockey still rules the nation, Seguin believes his league has a lot to offer. “If hockey is number one, we want to be 1A,” he says.

“It’s exciting to add value to the sporting event. We want our fans to walk away buzzing about the anthem singer or the halftime show even if the team loses.”

To achieve that goal, promoters in the CFL must overcome certain inherent obstacles. Seguin works with less money and less player recognition than his counterparts in the NHL. How can he succeed? By turning that weakness into a strength. “The biggest thing we have is the approachability of our league’s players, and we capitalize on that,” he explains. Last year, the Stampeders brought twenty-five players to a town south of Calgary to teach two hundred kids about football.

Additionally, Seguin works closely with other CFL operations professionals. “We all want the league to thrive, so if someone has a great idea, we’ll share it and regionalize it in our own market,” he says, adding that he participates in a association for game-entertainment processionals across North America. Recently, two Major League Baseball teams borrowed a video concept Seguin used in Calgary in 2010.

Idea sharing helps Seguin stay fresh as pressure to innovate mounts. In everything he does, he looks to entertain fans while meeting sponsors’ goals. The combination is important, because hard sells that interrupt the game experience only alienates fans, notes Seguin. Unlike the NFL, ticket and broadcast revenues alone won’t support teams in the smaller CFL. Marketers have to sell logos on the field and take advantage of other opportunities. But to keep fan interest high, leaders like Seguin have to integrate marketing aspects to attract fans and keep sponsors happy at the same time.

“We can’t just pump out commercial content,” he says. “We have to create integrated promotions and engage fans by having them engage with sponsor’s brands in a natural way.”

Success comes with creativity. The Stampeders and Roughnecks have turned to marching bands, First Nations dancers, martial arts squads, and youth football leagues—which bring new and exciting attractions for a variety of people. The regional groups attract local crowds.

Success also comes through listening. Two years ago, Seguin’s team realized their expensive halftime shows weren’t resonating well. They reinvested that money, turning instead to big prize giveaways. A $30,000 motorcycle prize led to a huge uptick in ticket sales. This year, they’ll award a Stampeder-branded pickup truck.

Prior to his current career, Seguin taught physical education, and he draws upon that experience to create theme nights and events. He invites employees from other departments to brainstorming sessions, and sparks conversation with videos and other stimuli. The strategy has paid off multiple times. In 2014, the team’s “Year of the Horse” slogan came from someone outside Seguin’s department.

One of Seguin’s favourite promotions is Pinkpower—in support of Breast Cancer Awareness. Before the NFL had its league-wide pink month, the Stampeders launched the idea in 2008. Slowly, other teams embraced the idea until all CFL teams adopted the promotion.

For a home game in April 2016, Seguin and his colleagues created a Star Wars theme night for the Roughnecks—complete with a custom jersey fundraiser to support local first responders. More relaxed rules in the league have allowed Seguin to maximize his use of the theme. He dressed the mascot as Chewbacca and found LED lacrosse sticks for the players, who auctioned their Star Wars jerseys for record amounts. The fundraiser brought in $25,000.

The events and promotions are working. Average Stampeders attendance is up from 29,500 in 2014 to 30,300 in 2015. But Seguin uses another metric to measure success—fun. “We want to give our fans great sporting memories, because then they’ll want to come back and spend time with us again,” he says. “We deliver excitement.”