IN MY VIEW: Q&A with Stephen Rehm, Stadium Manager of BayArena
As Published in PanStadia & Arena Management
Q: Can you describe a perfect ‘day at the office’ on a matchday?
A: The best would be that you have nothing to do on a matchday. It’s a big organisation here at Leverkusen; we have around 1,200 people working here on matchday for the club (e.g. security, other staff, volunteers, catering, etc.), so everything has to be well organised. It’s not a one-man show. At the end there must be one responsible and that’s where I come in. I know that normally everything is done 1 day prior to matchday. On matchday I need to be there to control everything by talking with my colleagues, to get a feeling about the event and also to show them they can rely on me if needed. In the best case, a perfect event/match is when you can watch the game without any interruption. Unfortunately it’s not every time that you have this possibility, but that’s part of the job of course.
Q: Is there one thing that you would do different as stadium manager?
A: Of course there is always room for improvement. I believe the organisation here is quite good and normally we don’t have any problems. However, tonight there was a small incident with pyrotechnics. We find a lot of things before the games thanks to body searches and the things we can’t see, we would expect to be noticed by security. Afterwards, we always find the people responsible thanks to good security and Dallmeier’s CCTV camera system that we’ve had in use since last year. Normally, German law states that we have to pay the fine, but when we find the people responsible, the away team also have to pay a fine to the DFB. This because it’s impossible to find everything the fans are hiding.
Q: What’s the accomplishment you are most proud of?
A: I think ‘proud’ is not the right word. It’s very important that we have a lot of employees and this is the reason why the system here at Leverkusen works well. Most of the people are at the club the whole week and we know each other well. We have our own security staff here and technical workers at the club so everybody is working together and this is crucial.
Q: What are the biggest challenges in the stadium industry?
A: The technological part is a big challenge for sure. We have to think about all the novelties available on the market and choose which investments can be most effective for us. As a club we want to be in the front row concerning technology implementations. That’s why we have to follow-up the market every day to keep track of newest technology. We at Bayer 04 Leverkusen would like to be a trendsetter by giving the good example with new things, like we did well with our new roof, Stadium Vision, and the ice lab for the team. Even NBA-players came here to make use of our infrastructure. We’re really proud that we can offer this setting to our players and these things are really important to us. Our upcoming renewals are the counters, concessions and some other things. Through this we want to provide other clubs with the knowledge we have and this is where ESSMA could help the clubs get in contact with us should they like to know more about our systems.
Q: Would you agree with the statement ‘In future stadiums there is more than just football needed to be profitable’?
A: When I started in 1999, we had a VIP area for 400 people, no meeting rooms, no conference rooms; nothing like that. After our expansion and renovation, we now have space for around 2,500 VIP’s, for conferences, and 12 meeting rooms so we can cater to a wide range of events. This is the way to bring more people to the stadium during the week and to get more profit from your stadium. You don’t need live concerts to be multifunctional. Concentrating on the neighborhood is more important for us than to make little money out of one or two concerts a year. Our focus on the pitch is on football.
Q: What has changed the most in the last five years in stadium management?
A: I especially think about IT, because five years ago there was almost nothing controlled by IT. Five years ago there was no automatic ticketing control, cashless payment system and Wi-Fi in the BayArena. Almost everything changed the last years. IT is good for different kind of reasons, but sometimes the system (internet connection) can be down so you have other problems than five years ago. I think the next five years there will be a lot of changes again, even in two years: everything goes faster and faster.
Q: How do you keep updated with all the latest technologies and best-practices?
A: ESSMA, for example, is one partner where we find new things because there are so many people in the association, so we can hear what they are doing in Ukraine, Portugal or in France for the Euro 2016. We are not in competition with other clubs, except on the pitch of course. It’s important for everyone to understand that we aren’t in competition with the stadium management of other clubs. There are expert groups for IT in Germany and they meet a couple of times a year to discuss all the new things. This is important for everyone to improve everything like the security system. We are also establishing an Expert Group for the head of event management for the entire first and second German league because all this knowledge is really important. It’s important to have safe stadiums. ESSMA could maybe do the same in Europe, so the clubs can compare all different kinds of systems to choose the system that suits them best. For our new chair system (standing vs. seating) we did the same: we went to Stuttgart and Düsseldorf and afterwards we decided to choose the Stuttgart system and adapted it to our facilities. Thanks to ESSMA, clubs can easily get in contact to exchange information about their management. The Turkish market is also a really interesting one because they are in a huge growing phase. I hope we can get some good ideas there. With Wi-Fi, everything is possible, but we won’t abuse it to know everything of our fans, because then they won’t use it. It’s important to make a selection of the information that you can use to improve the fan experience and don’t try to gather everything in your data that is useless. In this case ‘less is more’!
Q: Which skills are the most important as a stadium manager?
A: You need good employees, without them you are lost. So, the team skills are important. But you also need confidence in the policemen, fire brigades, the city: all the actors involved. This is very important to avoid problems during an event. This is one of the reasons why we think our stadium is doing good. It is also important not to forget all of the volunteers: that’s why we organise things for them to show our appreciation for their good work. So in my opinion the most important skills are confidence and good knowledge of your people in the club. Being a good ‘people’ manager can make you a better stadium manager.