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VENUE OPS: Interview with Joseph Mendoza, Senior Manager of Facilities & Event Operations, Houston Sports Park

Katie McIntyre chats with Houston Sports Park’s Senior Manager of Facilities & Event Operations about the challenges of operating and managing such a diverse facility, and how to ensure a harmonious environment for all stakeholder and user groups.

 

Firstly, Joseph, can you tell us a little about your role as Operations Manager for the Houston Sports Park (HSP)?

Yes, so presently I serve as Senior Manager of Facilities & Event Operations of the Houston Sports Park. The Houston Sports Park is the training facility for the Houston Dynamo, Houston Dash and Dynamo Academy. Our venue hosts various sports where the public is able to rent the fields for camps, clinics, league play and tournaments. I assist in providing oversight and direction for the day-to-day facility and event management operations. I work very closely with our Booking Manager and Grounds Department for the short term and long term planning of future events and field scheduling. I am also heavily involved with working with our Operations Staff to ensure events are coordinated and executed properly to provide a safe and positive experience for our facility users. Moreover, I assist in managing two suites, the Houston Dynamo locker room suite and a second suite which houses our Academy, Youth Programs and Houston Sports Park staff. 
Since April however, I have been heavily involved with the financials of the facility, which include securing revenue and managing expenses and forecasting. As of late, I have been tasked to provide stability for the facility by implementing policies and procedures, guidelines, as well as the creation of agreements and contracts for facility users. I work closely with our General Counsel to ensure we are up to date with relevant policies that protect our facility and the facility user.

What are the main challenges that you face on a daily basis and how do you overcome them?

One major challenge is the delicate balance between securing revenue and protecting the playing surfaces. HSP has 5 well-manicured Bermuda grass pitches which are living, breathing organisms. We can book many field rentals and events but the more bookings we take, the greater the impact (wear and tear) on the grass. This increases maintenance costs quite significantly. Too many bookings and events coupled with little rest, the fields suffer badly. On the opposite end, if we do not book rentals and events, the fields are not used and look top notch.
 
We overcome this issue by implementing an hourly allotment of field usage that adjusts month to month. For example, the hourly allotment in the winter months is significantly lower than the hourly allotment during the hot summer months. Since the grass is dormant in cold weather it cannot bear a great amount of impact whereas in the summer months we are able to take more bookings because of accelerated grass growth. This aids in driving revenue in a balanced way without destroying the playing surfaces.
 

What are the specific challenges when it comes to operating a multi-use venue, like Houston Sports Park, which is the ‘home’ training ground for the Houston Dynamo, ‘home’ to the Houston Dash, and also rented out to the public, with over 80 sports groups, from soccer to lacrosse? 

 
Our venue hosts 10-14 major tournaments/events a year, 9 Dynamo Academy teams, 5 soccer leagues, 1 rugby league, 1 ultimate Frisbee league, 2 university soccer clubs, 1 high school soccer club, varying public sport rentals, 1 MLS Club and 1 NWSL Club…and we only have seven fields. One of the seven fields is exclusively used by our Houston Dynamo 1st team! We need at least 16 fields to accommodate these groups so balancing everyone’s wants and needs takes meticulous planning and organization. We have to cultivate strong relationships with group stakeholders and make our challenges transparent because there are times where we have to say ‘no’ to certain requests due to hour allotments and field maintenance. We always have to be in direct communication with our grounds staff to ensure we as a team are all on the same page with the various events and maintenance schedules.
 
Our work environment is very fluid. Sometimes it is hard to make concrete plans because an international team may come into market needing to train or the City might bring in a major sporting event which may prompt our venue to be used as a training ground or competition field. Challenges arise with scheduling and maintenance but hey at least no two days are the same!
 
We also have to contend with the varying Houston, Texas weather. We may go into a fully planned week or weekend full of games and events then everything is disrupted with inclement weather. Sometimes, it seems like we get all 4 seasons in one week! Making field/facility closure decisions can be taxing, especially when you are ‘on-call’ after normal business hours. Field scheduling also becomes difficult when we have to find room in the calendar year to reschedule rainouts! 
 
 

 

What developments have you got planned for the Houston Sports Park? And what upgrades are on your wish-list moving forward?

Long term, I want to assist as much as possible in the forward movement of constructing and expanding our facility with more multipurpose fields with additional amenities. Houston Sports Park and the Houston sporting community are in dire need for more fields. We are also witnessing the rise in popularity and demand for Futsal facilities. Futsal courts would be nice to add to HSP’s portfolio. I’m hopeful to spearhead the creation of a naming rights sponsorship package which would help release allocated funds for the construction. Additionally, we want to explore converting our Musco field lights to LED lights to reduce our footprints.
 
My wish-list could get long! Short term, I would like to make Wi-Fi available for our facility users. We are also very tight with storage so finding a solution to store our equipment and various sporting groups’ equipment would be nice. Lastly, I would like to improve our green initiatives where we can use rain water collection systems to irrigate the fields and perhaps find a partner who could make use of our grass clippings to create organic mulch. 

How do you keep up-to-date regarding all the latest hot topics, best practices, latest products, services & solutions?

 

Once or twice a month I search through other venues social media and websites to see what perhaps they might be implementing or discussing in their channels. This certainly helps to see what trends are taking place. I’m also subscribed to a very popular sports newsletter that specifically covers liability and litigation. It helps to keep pulse of lawsuits around the nation, it raises my awareness of possible risks that might occur at our facility. Learn from the mistakes of others!

 

What kinds of evolutions do you foresee for the sector over the next 5-10 years?

 
We will see more and more use of mobile technology to operate a facility. I would imagine that applications can be developed that integrate controlling field and landscape irrigation systems for example. I can envision that there could be some potential for the development of paint spray rigs controlled by GPS or digital mapping systems as well.
 
I also think we will see a shift in the construction of turf surfaces. For example, designing a turf field that can harvest the players movements using kinetic-energy tiles to produce electricity for keeping field lights on. Yes, a team training or competing can power their own lights just by movement. I’ve seen this implement in certain facilities in other countries. These developments would be exciting to see in future venue developments!
 
 

How are you employing technology to assist with facility management operations?

 
Thanks to our partners at Houston Methodist Hospital, we are able to use a sophisticated lightning detection system to ensure players and visitors are alert to incoming inclement weather. The system we use, Telvent, sends very accurate alerts to our staff who in turn alert facility users when lightning is in the area. From there, we evacuate the facility when lightning strikes are 8 miles or less. This technology definitely prevents disastrous events from taking place, because if you think about it, all of our field light poles are like huge lightning rods. We certainly do not enjoy stopping a training session or game because of the weather but our staff does a great job in using this tool to keep everyone safe. 
 
We also enjoy [the fact that] Musco has equipped us with the ability to turn on and off field lights by logging into an app, website or by phone. This allows HSP to use less energy if a rental group concludes their field time early, we can turn off the lights instantaneously.
 
 

What is the one piece of advice you would offer to an industry colleague? Or what advice do you wish had been given to you when entering the sports sector?

 

One strong piece of advice I would offer is to communicate, communicate, communicate. Operating a multipurpose venue involves organization constant communication amongst internal departments, external clients and vendors/suppliers. Operating a venue is like conducting an orchestra, you want everyone to be in harmony and ‘on the same page’. This also includes being proactive in taking initiative to give someone a call or meet face-to-face.
Joseph Mendoza is Operations Manager and Interim General Manager of the Houston Sports Park (HSP) in Houston, Texas, USA.

 

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