Recently, I sat down to speak with one of the many well-respected leaders in my office at the LA Memorial Coliseum, also known as “The Greatest Stadium in the World.” Matthew Buswell, our Assistant Director of Facility and Event Operations, also known by his nickname, Mattie, has exceptionally overseen an incredibly diligent, dedicated (and very photogenic, as you can see!) Operations team on site, while many of us have worked primarily from home throughout the pandemic. Since they're genuinely our heroes and our magnificent 98-year-old building couldn't operate without them, I wanted to learn more about Mattie’s team's growth and successes over the past year + and the specific steps they took together to get us where we are today.
What was your initial reaction when we first learned the pandemic would shut down our event schedule last spring?
Mattie: Our staff was my main concern. I had to quickly figure out how we were going to operate while at the same time making sure everyone was okay and comfortable. Once we got in our groove and knew the university would take care of us, my mindset became, "with no events, how do we continue to get better?" I didn't want my staff coming here simply to collect a paycheck. We used the downtime as an opportunity to hit some areas of the stadium that were too difficult to improve significantly amidst a busy event schedule. We painted the Upper Concourse for the first time in probably 25 years. Renovations to concession stands, fresh paint all over, inventory, cleaning up, getting organized, documentation - things you always intend to do but inevitably can't find time for as tasks stack up. We tried to make the most of it, and now looking back, I almost wish we had another stretch where we could pause again to prepare to welcome fans back for USC Football!
How has your leadership style grown, changed, and/or developed during this time?
I've become a lot more empathetic and patient. The pandemic affected everyone differently. Most of us took it very seriously. Though my personal situation allowed me to continue coming into work, I couldn't assume that everyone else could without complicating their situations at home. I'd ask myself, "how do I make sure these guys are taken care of on a personal level first?" I also became a better communicator via technology and got creative with some of our less tech-savvy staff. I was also concerned with developing our part-time employees and Event Ops staff and challenged them in many ways to grow and learn as much as possible. Knowing that our superiors didn't have answers, I learned to take things as they come and make the best-educated decisions possible for our team.
Is there a key quality you value highly and/or stress as important in working with your employees?
We work with passion; we work with purpose. When you step in between those lines, or in our case, through the gates, leave what you need to leave behind and give me 8 hours of effort. I want you to want to be here and want to make us better. Be a self-starter, take the initiative, hold yourself to a high standard, pick up your fellow coworkers, and always respect others and the building.
How have your team’s processes been streamlined/become more efficient with, at times, limited resources?
Our resources have always kind of been limited; Operations have that “us against the world” mentality. But we did have to get creative when we were unable to procure supplies due to budget cuts, so I challenged my leadership team to think, “what can we do to get better with what little we have?” Communication is still a challenge at times, but I think a sense of team and family permeates throughout more than ever now.
How did you keep your staff motivated and busy throughout several months without events?
I always ask staff, “Who do you work for?” We work for the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. I refer to her as “the old lady”; she’s a 98-year-old building, and our responsibility is to maintain this treasure. We didn’t want to be the guys who let this incredible place go and make fans wonder what happened to it during the shutdown. So the underlying tone and motivation was to take advantage of the time and be proud when people finally return and say, "Wow, this place looks great!" Not knowing a hard reopening date kept us on our toes, too; we had to be ready to activate at any time.
What are some of the less obvious challenges this time period brought upon you and your staff that someone outside your department might overlook?
In a 98-year-old building, things can and will break for no reason. With a budget freeze, I had to ask a lot; we still needed vendors to come on-site to service the building. Just because we don't have events doesn't mean we're not working. There's that perception in sports that in the offseason, nothing happens. It's actually the complete opposite! Our building doesn't care about the coronavirus or anything happening in the world; if a pipe is 60 years old and ready to break, it’s going to break.
"Try new things and find what you like in the process. The industry has such a wide variety of roles and departments you may not even know exist."
How has your team grown and developed this past year professionally?
I noticed Event Operations develop a more holistic approach to their roles. They were forced to see things in the building from different perspectives that they may not have under normal circumstances. Facility Operations stepped up too by finding ways to complete projects in-house without using vendors or other outside resources. I’m very proud of their confidence in their abilities.
What’s your favorite thing about your role here at the Coliseum?
I love all the different people I'm in contact with on a daily basis and being part of all kinds of conversations. I work with Facilities, our Events team, Security, Cleaning, Food & Beverage, Sales & Marketing, and get to know everyone from top to bottom. The autonomy to be able to walk where I need to walk and make those relationships gets me excited to wake up every day. I still get charged up on game day, too; the culmination of so much hard work coming to fruition and tens of thousands of people gaining enjoyment from that hard work is what drives me. A die-hard sports fan who grew up going to Minnesota Vikings and Twins games, I remember going with my dad as a little kid. We'd rush into the Metrodome, and that first look when you come in the stadium, that feeling… I get goosebumps just thinking about it. That’s what I want for others, and that’s what drives me. Every time we host a game, it’s somebody’s first time. We owe it to the fans to make sure it's special and hope they create memories and want to come back.
What’s one piece of advice you were given early on in your career that you can give to aspiring future leaders in the sports industry reading this?
The tough love advice is "nobody owes you anything." I learned that the hard way; I thought I was in line for a few full-time jobs where I was an intern and didn't get them, but I put in so much time and had this attitude of "how could I not get this job?" But you should never expect anything to be handed to you or take any opportunity for granted. You also shouldn't be in a job just for the clout, the Instagram pictures, etc. I find many people like the idea of working in sports, but once they're in it, they realize just how hard we work. It’s also a good idea to fill your tool belt. Try new things and find what you like in the process. The industry has such a wide variety of roles and departments you may not even know exist. I did internships in PR, Game Presentation, Sports Marketing, Facilities, and Events and found what I was good at. This industry is all about timing and getting lucky, but you also have to be ready and prove it when you get that shot. Never stop chasing your ultimate dream, but find what you're good at that makes you happy while you're at it!
Mattie was born and raised in Onalaska, Wisconsin. Before joining the Coliseum in 2016, Mattie worked at TCF Bank Stadium throughout and after college at the University of Minnesota. He also interned with USA Football. In addition to his senior leadership role in Operations, he's currently a graduate student at USC and will earn his Master's Degree in Executive Leadership this fall.
Marina is currently the Assistant to General Manager at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and holds a Stadium Operations role with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Her primary focus is on Event Operations, Administration and Facility Management. Her previous work experience includes working with the Kansas City Royals and Major League Baseball. Marina is a Mentor in theClubhouse and you can schedule a call with here here.