Super Experience | Eastern North Carolina Now

    Publisher's Note: This post appears here courtesy of ECU News Services. The author of this post is Ronnie Woodward.

Students in East Carolina University's Super Bowl LVII Event Management class pose together during their experience volunteering at the Super Bowl in Glendale, Arizona. (Photos by Mack Craven)

    As one of the students who volunteered at Super Bowl LVII in Glendale, Arizona, as part of a sports studies class in East Carolina University's College of Health and Human Performance, Mackenzie Hudson left the experiential learning opportunity with a clearer vision of professional aspirations.

    "I think this solidified, for all of us, that we do want to work in sports," Hudson said earlier this week while back at ECU in the kinesiology department's Super Bowl LVII Event Management class, supported by funding from the Office of Research, Economic, Development and Engagement.

    Ten students were accompanied by professor Stacy Warner, teaching instructor Andrea Buenano and Mack Craven, HHP's director of outreach.

    They arrived at State Farm Stadium on game day about five hours before gates opened. They learned whether they were a volunteer coach, team captain or teammate, and that their main assignment was to assist fans in the upper concourse. That included pointing fans to their seats, helping at escalators, locating bathrooms and concessions, monitoring traffic and congestion areas, and being available for questions from fans to help give them their best Super Bowl attendance experience.

    Paid attendance was 67,827. Fox reported the game as the third-most watched TV show ever and the most-streamed event in Fox Sports history thanks to 113 million viewers.

    "With experiential learning, you can't get that kind of experience anywhere else," ECU student Molly King said.

    Full experience

    The depth of the experience went beyond the Super Bowl. It included a tour of NASCAR's Phoenix Raceway and networking events, including at Chase Field, home to Major League Baseball's Arizona Diamondbacks. Some of this was made possible by connections to ECU alumni who work in sports.

    "It opened up our eyes to everything there is to offer," Hudson said. "Between the hospitality for the different events to even just thinking about NASCAR, there were quite a few of us, including myself, who walked out saying, 'NASCAR is pretty cool.' I've never been to a NASCAR track or cared much about NASCAR, but I could tell it would be a really cool job to work there."

    Students also worked with Craven on "student takeovers" across social media platforms during the trip. The impact was felt in hundreds of new followers and clicks to explore the Bachelor of Science in sports studies degree, more than 100,000 total impressions across multiple ECU social media platforms and an average of 3,071 impressions per slide on the university's main Instagram account.

    Prior to Super Bowl Sunday, Warner advised students to not have expectations too high for their potential role during the game. They already had completed some mundane tasks, like peeling merchandise stickers for sandals.

    Helping with pregame parking was a realistic option, but they were thrilled to learn they were tasked to assist with the fan experience inside the stadium.

    "We could have been stuck out in the parking lot, but the fact that we were in the stadium and able to see the game, it was just surreal," Sam Cooper said.

    From class to the field

    In class, students reviewed literature related to mega events and focused on sports tourism, marketing, media and volunteerism. As part of class participatory action research and the opportunity for reflection now that the Super Bowl is complete, students also will continue to analyze data they collected and from other student groups.

    Warner said a goal of the class is for undergraduate student-led research projects to develop. Analyzing data related to student outcomes also is a component.

    "They all bonded over being in the trenches and doing the dirty work in sport," Warner said. "We talked about that and you're on your feet for 14 hours and you are tired and running on fumes. Mack, Andrea and I have had those kinds of experiences having worked in the industry, but it is fun to see a group like this facing that for the first time and being energized by it."

    King and others value the memories made and camaraderie.

    "I hadn't had an experience where in such a short amount of time I got that close to this many people, which includes the professionals at ECU," King said. "I only knew one person who was going to be in the class, but I don't think there was any way for us to get as close as we did other than having those long days together.

    "There were some awesome experiences we got to do, but also there's jobs that have to be done and we were the people to get those jobs done. Working with each other and getting to know each other throughout all of it just made it so much better."

    Martin Hood said he noticed how important networking is and how experiential learning and hands-on experience were mentioned often during networking events.

    Moments of valuable experience were realized when the ECU students calmly and successfully interacted with fans at the game.

    "In class, we've had to create fake events like going through a budget, creating revenue, how much food we need and how many volunteers are needed," Markayla McInnis said. "When you look at a large-scale event and thousands of people working, it's huge and can be kind of overwhelming, but then we got to really see how the NFL broke it down to which people are doing this and these people are working with this person and exactly what they are doing. It was great to see and that we were actually able to be part of it.

    "We were just volunteers and we weren't trained for weeks or months on how to do these jobs, but we knew what we were doing. That was very cool, and we were able to get molded into that in just a short amount of time. It made the whole event management process that we are learning about seem feasible."
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