Diary of a Super Bowl Volunteer: Lessons Learned
I left Pennsylvania for New York on a Thursday afternoon, but our bus did not pull into Port Authority until a little before 7:00 due to traffic near the Lincoln Tunnel. I was tired from the ride and wanted dinner, but first, I had to pull my suitcase (which had all of my uniform in it, along with other things I needed for the trip) from the bus terminal, through the subways and finally to my sister’s apartment in Brooklyn.
On Friday, I woke up by 7 a.m. to start getting ready in order to check in with our volunteer team leader at 8:30 a.m., a half hour before my shift start.
He told us to go to different street corners, which would keep us visible to the public in the busiest spots near Bryant Park and Times Square. The biggest questions we would answer were the locations of the Super Bowl Boulevard and how to buy tickets for the toboggan run, a three-story slide located in Times Square. However, we also answered a couple other questions, such as how to get to Grand Central station.
Although it was cold and windy, our team leader made sure we were well-equipped and gave us hand warmers, which we could even put in our shoes to keep our feet warm. We could also take turns going inside to get warm, and in New York, there is certainly no shortage of places to do that.
My volunteer shift was over at 1:00, but my day did not end there.
I had to get the train back to Brooklyn, pick up lunch and report for my editing shift at Bleacher Report. That meant I had a 12-hour day in the books…and 14 if you count the time I woke up. This is something you will have to get used to and deal with if you are making sports your career.
Saturday, I got a little extra free time.
I didn’t have to work my main job, so I was able to go to the NFL Shop in Macy’s in Herald Square before my shift. It was a pretty crazy place to be! People were everywhere stocking up on team gear and checking out different NFL displays. There were also several computers lined up for people looking to use Ticketmaster’s Ticket Exchange for Super Bowl tickets, but with the high asking prices, this area remained largely empty.
After some quick lunch and fighting through the crowd near Times Square, I got to the café at Rockefeller Center at about 12:45. Today I was on the corner of 50th Street and 5th Ave., and it was obvious that visitors were now out in full force.
I got to meet two volunteers with interesting backgrounds. One was a sports management major at SUNY Cortland in upstate New York who had already interned with the New York Islanders of the NHL (I was jealous!) and would be interning with the New York Knicks in the summer. Another hoped to be a celebrity reporter.
The third woman we were working with was a resident of the Bronx, and her badge indicated that she was a registered nurse. She used to work in a hotel in the city and admitted she was not much of a football fan, but her sons would have the game on at home the next day.
The questions we answered on Saturday were mostly from visitors looking for different shops on 5th Ave. and how to get to Central Park. The Nike store was a popular choice with teenagers, while adults were curious about Saks Fifth Avenue. Again, we were able to alternate taking breaks and could move around to keep warm.
Before I knew it, it was close to 5:00 on Saturday. My last shift, and time as a Super Bowl volunteer, had come to an end. I had to go back to Pennsylvania on Sunday, but I was leaving with the confidence that the sports industry was still my career goal.
Aside from the long day I had when it came to volunteering on the Friday of Super Bowl weekend, I left New York with plenty of lessons about the sports industry.
Being a Super Bowl volunteer (or volunteering at any event) is a great way to learn how to be an ambassador for a brand when in public. At games, you might be wearing a polo shirt with the team logo, for example, and you have to act professional and be willing to help fans at all times.
Even if you are not in uniform and wearing business clothes with an employee credential, ticket holders will partly form an impression of the team on the front office staff. You must be able to be friendly when answering questions and making sure people enjoy themselves, even if you’ve heard the same question what seems like hundreds of times already.
You aren’t going to get into this industry if you’re not willing to put the work in.
Even being a volunteer for one weekend means you may have to sacrifice some extra time with friends and family. An internship may call for your time if you are interning for a team in-season and are expected to be at most or all of the team’s home games. You may also have to go out of town to volunteer or relocate for that perfect job or internship offer.
I hate to be a downer for this point, but volunteering at an event or working for a team means you don’t get to enjoy the same privileges the fans do. People asked me before I went to New York if I would be attending the game or going to MetLife Stadium. Volunteers did not get tickets to the Super Bowl, and none were stationed at the stadium. So the most I saw of the stadium was on the other side of the highway while traveling to and from Pennsylvania.
Also, I did not get to visit Super Bowl Boulevard on Times Square. I had to work on Friday, and then on Saturday, I had to go back to Brooklyn to meet my sister for dinner. As a volunteer or team employee, you have obligations that put you right in the middle of the excitement, but you don’t get to join in.
Despite the downsides, you should still volunteer at an event if you’re interested in working in sports. It shows that you are willing to branch out and make sacrifices to further your career. Furthermore, you never know when a big name like the Super Bowl or the Final Four will pop out to a hiring manager, who could then make the call to interview you or offer you a position.
Finally, it does make for some good stories for the rest of your life, whether you’re interviewing for a job or you’re bragging to those friends you may not have seen while interning or volunteering.
Have you volunteered at sports events before? What did you learn? Share your story in our comments!
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