Wembley prepares for the play-offs

Friday, 15, May, 2015

The Wembley arch lights up London

As the Stadium prepares for four play-off finals over the next two weekends, we caught up with Wembley Stadium connected by EE’s Director of Events, Lindsey Jackson, to describe the buzz surrounding these events and the work going on behind the scenes to ensure Wembley is ready for one of its busiest times of the year.

May is historically one of the stadium’s most hectic times…

Without doubt from a football point of view. May sees the culmination of the football season and we’re very proud to host such showpiece events as The FA Cup Final and the Football League Play-Offs and the Conference Promotion Final. Wembley is known throughout the country for hosting these games and there’s undoubtedly an added buzz as the fixtures become known and the stadium starts to prepare.

Event day is an incredibly busy time for the stadium and it starts long before kick-off for most of the team. Describe how your average day would start?

I think if you ask any person who works at the stadium, they'll tell you there is no thing as an "average day." People will start arriving anything up to eight hours prior to kick-off with event day checks, briefings and the final touches all being done to ensure the stadium is primed and ready.

I will meet with key members of the team, including the Event Manager, to check that everything is in place. Whether there are any last bits we need to attend to and ensure that we're ready for when the turnstiles open three hours before the game. However, it's important to keep in mind that event day is the culmination of months of diligent work by various people and teams in the building. It's incredibly exciting for all concerned to see it come to fruition.

It's a pretty big building, it must require a lot of staff?

There is a very large event day staff, with around 4,500 people undertaking various tasks. From the stewards in the Bowl and on the turnstiles to the people manning the kiosks and tending to guests throughout the Club Wembley complex.

It's a multi-faceted operation but we have a very dedicated workforce that is committed to ensuring the event owner and its fans have the experience they deserve on game day.

You will be located in Event Control for a lot of match day, can you tell us a bit about the function of this?

Of course, this is an important part of the stadium where key people are congregated to provide a central point for the event day activity to be channelled through. The hub of cameras which are situated throughout the stadium are located in the control room, allowing for the team to watch activity in the Bowl, on the concourses and even down Olympic Way towards Wembley Park station. Any activity or issues will be filtered back up to the Control Room where solutions are found from the team and shared back across to the workforce 'on the ground'.

Who might we find in this room?

It will be a very busy room on event day with various stakeholders here. There will, of course, be representatives from the fire, police and ambulance services; representative from Brent Council; the team that operates the lighting (including the arch) and also the large screens at either end of the stadium; we have our transport team that manage the through flow and parking in and around the stadium; we have Wembley Radio which broadcasts internally throughout the stadium; and as I've mentioned already we have a large team monitoring the video feed both internally and externally across the stadium.

As Wembley welcomes different events, do we work with team, venue and promoter security to assist on event day?

Absolutely. It's integral that we work closely with event owners to ensure that all their expectations for their event are met on the day. But also, we have to remember that it's extremely helpful for us as a stadium to tap into the expertise of our colleagues as it can only improve the event we’re aiming to provide. For example during the play-offs there’ll be stewards from all the clubs who will be liaising with their own fans at the turnstiles. We’re delighted to be welcoming them and will be a great addition to the match day team.

As you walk round the stadium on event day you'll see lots of stewards and also Wembley Connectors, what are their event day roles?

Wembley is a vast building and for many it may be their first time they've come to the stadium. 

The stewards perform various functions and will be found throughout the stadium, from on the turnstiles to the stewards that are placed around the pitch. Primarily they are there to ensure good flow on entry and exit and the general safety and well-being of fans during their time at the event.

The Wembley Connectors can be found as far afield as Wembley Park tube station and they are there to assist, guide and improve the match day experience. Be it something simple like 'where is my nearest burger bar?' to helping people get from the entrance to their seat, the Connectors are there to ensure no problems are encountered that cannot be solved.

As sport and music has become more interactive, stadium operations has had to move with those times. Might you give us some more insight into how you interact with fans…

That's right, we've worked very hard to develop technology to improve event goers experience. Our lead partner is EE and we've developed a forward thinking App which helps fans when they're in the building to find their seat, see what is around them by way of amenities but also assists in getting to the stadium with travel advice. This can be downloaded for free from the App Store and Google Play.

We're very conscious of the fans' match day experience and we're always working hard to understand what can be done better and put the process in place to make the improvements; the App and Wembley Connectors have been examples of these.

We also have a system in place to ensure that if fans do have any concerns during an event they have a voice. We have an Anti-Social Behaviour text number (87474), and if this is used then the text goes straight to the Event Control Room where we are then able to take appropriate action.  It’s very disappointing when the behaviour of a few impacts on others but with this proactive service we believe we can counteract any issues in a prompt and appropriate manner.

We have event day customer service teams that manage any feedback and this is always collated and fed back into teams so we're always improving and developing.

On match day, your team always promotes preparation for your staff but you recommend it to fans as well (bags, tickets, travel messaging) don't you?

Coming to an event is no different to a weekend away or a holiday even, you want to ensure you have all the information available and feel like you know where you’re going and what you’re doing when you get to the stadium. To that end we try and give fans this information, be it through our website, our social media platforms and the App as well.

We always advise fans to check their journey - which can be done through the App - but also to check on event day that their preferred route is running without any issues.

It's always worth checking the stadium for its rules and regulations with specific reference to what you can bring in to the stadium, to avoid any disappointment or inconvenience at the turnstiles.

There are plenty of official channels to buy tickets and we always advise this as the route to take. Don't face disappointment by purchasing from ticket touts, some of whom operate in and around the stadium.

Fans are encouraged to keep their tickets safe as there is nothing worse than getting to the gate and realising its fallen out of your back pocket, and unfortunately it does happen! Of course, we always look to rectify the situation but we don't want you to miss any of the event.

We've seen the rise of pyrotechnics and smoke bombs in recent seasons. Some argue they might look good, but in reality there's a very different story...

Unfortunately, there has been some cases of pyrotechnics  being used and we'd strongly advise against the use of these. They’re extremely dangerous to not only the person using them but the people around them too, but most pointedly they're illegal and could lead to banning orders and/or substantial fines.

We're extremely proud of the atmosphere that fans always generate within the stadium bowl. The agony and ecstasy of the play-offs or the sheer delight of winning the world's oldest cup competition, it's why we come to work to see those moments. Fans have shown time again there's plenty of atmosphere to be had without the use of these objects.

What one tip would you give to people coming to the stadium for the first time?

I think I'd say whether it's your first time or your 101st time, a good tip is to leave time when getting to your seat. People are always amazed at the size of the stadium. Just because you've arrived at Wembley Park it's good to factor in buying your programme or merchandise, getting your pre-match pie and ensuring you're in your seat to avoid missing kick-off!

Finally, throughout your years working at the stadium, which has been your favourite event?

There have been so many memorable moments over the years but if I had to choose one from this year’s calendar, I would have to say North Ferriby United’s victory in The FA Trophy was a lovely story. It doesn’t matter the size of the team, the excitement and emotion for fans coming to Wembley is always there to see and it’s what putting on events is all about.

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