WELCOME ABOARD: SoFi Stadium’s halo board welcomes Stadium Managers Association attendees during a Feb. 15 tour of the building. (Don Muret/Staff)

For part-timers, it’s about recognition, not money

The staffing crunch hit nobody harder than SoFi Stadium, which employs more than 4,100 part timers for NFL games, concerts and other events such as WrestleMania 39, coming up April 1-2.

Post-pandemic, the 3-year-old stadium in Inglewood, California is still playing catchup to fully staff one of the biggest footprints in sports, Otto Benedict, the venue’s senior vice president of facility and campus operations, told the audience during a session on staffing issues at the recent Stadium Managers Association seminar. 

It’s getting better at SoFi Stadium, home of the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams and Chargers. In 2022, the stadium, on average, was 85% staffed. That number was up over the previous year, when the average was 65%, operating with 2,600 event day employees, according to Benedict.

“Nobody talked to us about getting paid more money,” Benedict said. “LA minimum wage is $15 an hour and we pay $18 an hour. We had a little bit of an ego (trip) early on: Who wouldn’t want to work at SoFi with two NFL teams? But it was all about what we could do for them. They asked us, ‘Why would I want to work here?’ We took that to heart. That’s what we missed early on and that’s what we’re looking at now.”

The improvement year over year, he said, came as a result of a shift in stadium operations culture from the initial plan formed before COVID-19 shut down the industry for two years.

Last year, officials put the staffing issue front and center by launching an in-house customer service training program called “Stars” to ensure part-timers were properly educated, which extends to staying connected to those employees through an internal mobile application that includes visual training sessions. 

Most important, workers have been informed of future opportunities to fill full-time jobs as the roughly 300 acres of mixed-use development takes shape around the stadium. In May, about 500,000 square feet of new retail space will open as part of that project, including a new 12-screen movie theater complex expected to draw a new group of people to the campus.

“We’re going to be actively recruiting right there, to get them through the doors to come work for us,” Benedict said. 

SoFi Stadium, privately financed by Rams owner Stan Kroenke’s real estate company, funds the Stars program with assistance from Legends, the venue’s concessionaire, and other subcontractors. The program provides part-timers free meals and snacks while they’re on the clock; an employee recognition program in which two people per department are honored as employees of the month with their photos taken on the field and shown on the halo videoboard during events; and access to concerts they’re not working by serving as “secret shoppers” to provide feedback on stadium operations through filling out post-event questionnaires.

“We pushed those (employee of the month) images out to social media; it was a real simple aspect that gained absolute traction,” Benedict said. “From that, we started hearing back from them, that their family and friends wanted to work for us.”

The secret shopper piece had value to stadium officials, because it gave part-time staff the ability to understand interactions they would see as a customer for the positions they worked.

They took a bigger investment into what we were doing and wanted to become part of our plan,” he said.

Pro football fans noticed the renewed focus on staffing. Both the Rams and the Chargers ranked at the bottom of the NFL in the league’s annual Voice of the Fan survey conducted after the 2021 season, Benedict said. As of early March, results of the most recent survey for the 2022 season had not been released to the teams, but SoFi Stadium officials were told the Rams ranked in the top five, year over year, for both game day experience and security, he said.

“We know it’s making an impact,” he said. “Ownership understands it’s a worthwhile venture and will put money behind it.”

SoFi Stadium, a massive property, spans 3.1 million square feet, encompassing 70,240 seats, 258 suites and 17 club spaces. For the 2020 football season, with no fans in the stands, officials ran the stadium with full-time staff and a few vendors to help them get through the NFL schedule.

In 2021, as SoFi Stadium started admitting spectators for the first time, starting with the Vax Live benefit concert in April that served as a soft opening. Staff shortages were extreme, but officials got through the year without too much collateral damage, considering they played host to 17 regular-season games, two playoff games and the Super Bowl, which the hometown Rams won.

“We didn’t use the Ritz-Carlton training that we spent so much time, money and energy on (before COVID),” he said. “We abandoned it and went through the season, reacting to everything we could. We were shot out of a cannon, struggling like everybody else.”

For 2022, stadium officials took a step back, recognizing they needed to build a culture unique to their building. They looked at similar programs other big league stadiums had in place before coming up with Stars with the tagline “stars serving stars.” The initiative extends from front office executives to front line workers on event days.

The marketing campaign for hiring part-timers started by going to job fairs, farmers markets and other community events, in which stadium officials had people fill out applications and essentially gave them jobs on the spot, pending background checks and drug tests. They gave everyone who applied for a job a backpack that said, “Follow me, I Just Got Hired at Hollywood Park,” which provided great feedback, Benedict said.

In addition, every pen individuals used to fill out applications contained the stadium website, which took applicants directly to the jobs list.

“These things probably all sound obvious to you, but it’s what’s working and if you’re not doing it, start doing it,” he said. “That’s what I want to enforce. We’ve got to do it in a way that’s a system; that’s what we were not doing before. We sent out fliers and social media posts. But we were missing simple opportunities that we could have jumped at much sooner and got in front of.”  

Tapping into technology such as Evolv contactless screening helped officials trim 220 security jobs. In turn, those employees were redistributed around the stadium to help fans navigate their way through the venue. On the housekeeping side, there are now smart-enabled devices to inform staff when restrooms need to be serviced, which further improves efficiency in staffing stadium spaces. 

“We’re not necessarily reducing staff, but understanding what needs attention and have them working where they need to be,” Benedict said. “We’re trying to use technology to our advantage to make that experience a lot better.”