Behind the Scenes of Event Production: Q&A with Steve Ackermann

When you expand the use of your display to students behind the scenes, you are able to give them first-hand experience for potential job opportunities. By working with Daktronics equipment, they are operating the same control system that is used at the college and professional level, making a step into a career that much easier. Steve Ackermann discusses his experience in event production on different school campuses and the opportunities he has seen within the industry.

Tell us a bit about yourself and your role in Event Production.

Steve Ackerman,
Daktronics Event Production

Currently I am the supervisor of event producers for Daktronics. I started with Daktronics in 2002. I worked in a Keyframe office in Clearwater, Florida where I did a lot of animation and content creation. We also helped with event production for the University of Central Florida and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. I worked out of that office for around two years and then got offered a new opportunity. Pete Egart came to me and said that we are selling new video boards to University of Wisconsin and as part of that we have a service where we are going to provide an event producer. I knew very little about Wisconsin other than it was up by Canada, but I figured let’s give it a try.

Pete was very smart about the way he introduced me to Madison, Wisconsin. He brought me up in the warm summer, took me to the campus with the beautiful student union right off the lake. I fell in love with it right away. I thought I would only be working under that contract for six months until they found someone better. However, those six months quickly turned into thirteen seasons at Madison and I have loved every minute of it. Then Mark Eisenstadt tapped me to become the supervisor of event producer’s which is where I am now. That was the first event production site and it has grown since then.

What was your experience like as your role of event producer grew?

I can take it a step back even further to when I was still doing content creation. We were doing content for the Dodgers, the Buccaneers and projects that went all over the country. What pulled me into doing the event production was that content would be coming to me and I got to see the reaction of the customer. When I was in the office, after I sent content out I would rarely hear back on what the customer reaction and fan reception was. Whereas, when I got to be on-site full time, I saw the immediate feedback on whether it worked or not. After being an event producer for so many years, you really start to learn what does and doesn’t work. As well as, learning the ins and outs on everything from hiring a good crew, how to tell a story on the video board and working with sponsors and customers.

Are there any noticeable changes you see in one producer to another?

The most unique is Air Force Academy. Being that they are a service academy there are different rules and regulations. Which has been a new learning experience for me in show flow. Students at the Academy are not allowed to have jobs, so no students work on that crew. It is primarily independent contractors coming in to do the work.

We pride ourselves on being able to use students and tell them that this is an opportunity to learn this industry if it something they want to get into. It gives them a foot in the door if they want to continue in this industry.

Is there a large upside in having a Daktronics employee on-site?

There is a lot of value that these event producers provide to their universities. Certainly, they know Daktronics systems extremely well. Anytime they have a question they know exactly where to go to find that answer.  In addition to knowing those Daktronics systems, they know third party equipment very well such as, switchers, cameras and replays to name a few. We have a weekly call with all the event producers and talk about what did and didn’t work for them, new ideas and current trends they are seeing. It works much better to talk collectively rather than work individually.

Who at the University does the event producer typically work with?

Primarily they work with the marketing department. But really, they work with everyone. They get involved with the team to schedule headshot photos, meetings where their opinion is needed, a little bit of everything.

How is staffing set up at each site?

A great value of having that event producer on site is that they handle hiring staff, so the University doesn’t have to worry about it. When hiring students, there is a lot of turnover, at best you get them for around four years. There are many positions when you factor in all the video boards, SEC network digital and linear and all sports that they cover. At the University of Georgia, it is almost 200 positions. They do all the interviewing, hiring and finding replacements for when people call in sick. The feedback we have received from customers is that they admire not having to worry about staffing.

What trends or interesting content have you seen being used for fan engagement?  

It certainly has been a big push to enhance the fan experience and give people a reason to come out and watch the game opposed to stay at home on their comfy couch. We have partnerships with companies such as Cue Audio. It taps into your phone and syncs with the video boards to produce a light show as the music is playing and hyping the crowd. They also have emoji effects where, such as at Georgia, a Georgia Bulldog emoji will superimpose onto a fans face. University of Florida is working with our partner, Quince Imaging. They have projectors on their court for volleyball and basketball games. When the player intros are starting they have effects projected onto the floor as the players run out. 

What is the most exciting part for you of an event production?

I love being in the control room seeing the pace and vibe of gameday. Getting 80,000 fans to either cheer or boo is great. When you’re responsible for doing that whether it is through a feature, a replay, a crowd shot or however you are telling that story. Sometimes you get back and forth shots of two fans while the entire stadium sees it and reacts to it.

The students were great too. It was a lot of fun to see them grow and move after college and see them in successful positions in this industry. Hearing back from them a year or two down the road saying how they really enjoyed their job and they appreciated the opportunity is always awesome.

My past crew and all crews take a lot of pride in what they do. Even with the smallest of details that the regular fan wouldn’t notice is an important detail for them. They also really appreciate and enjoy fans reaction in a big event. In post-game meetings they talk about what did and didn’t work and with this you can tell they have a great amount of pride in their work.

Did you know you can make event production part of your schools regular curriculum?
Talk to your Daktronics representative and let them know that you are interested in how to make event production a classroom experience for your students.

Listen to the full interview on our podcast
– The Daktronics Experience.  

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