JWU Leads the Way in Hospitality with 24/7: The Total Fan Experience at TD Garden

August 2023 Update: Johnson & Wales University enjoyed an incredibly fruitful 5-year partnership as the Official Education Partner of TD Garden and the Boston Bruins. This partnership officially ended in June 2023.

If you’re familiar with New England sports, particularly hockey, then you know Andy Brickley. The former NHL player, who spent several years of his career with the Boston Bruins, is now in his 22nd year as an analyst and commentator for Bruins games on New England Sports Network (NESN). But on March 23, his voice was heard from a different mic in TD Garden: a podium in Legends restaurant. Here, he served as emcee for JWU’s second (somewhat annual – thanks a lot, COVID!) Game Days seminar.

The very first seminar in 2019, “Eat Well, Play Well,” showcased our leadership in performance nutrition and helped officially kick off JWU’s education partnership with TD Garden and the Boston Bruins. This year, JWU excitedly returned to TD Garden for 24/7: The Total Fan Experience, a seminar that celebrated the strength of JWU’s Sport, Entertainment, Event — Management (SEEM) program and discussed all of the amazing behind-the-scenes things that happen to build an incredible experience for fans at events.

Andy Brickley smiling at a podium

“I have learned a bit along the way of what goes into every game day, from being a player on the ice to being a broadcaster in the booth,” Brickley said. “And I have attended many sports events as a fan. So, as much as I am the guide for today, I also will be a student.” 

Local high school students and current JWU students were in attendance to learn more about the inner workings of game-day operations and JWU’s leadership in the hospitality industry. The event included a keynote speaker, two panels, and a tour of private areas of TD Garden with the opportunity to walk out on the court that was put down for the Boston Celtics game later that evening. (For those who don’t know, TD Garden is home to both the NHL’s Boston Bruins and the NBA’s Boston Celtics, so TD Garden staff have to continually lay down the basketball court over the ice and then pull it all up and rebuild the boards around the ice between games. Just another example of amazing behind-the-scenes work that impacts the fan experience!)

NHL Director of Game Presentation Shines as Keynote Speaker

Renee Riva speaking to the crowd at TD Garden Game Days seminar

Renée Riva, the NHL’s director of game presentation, is responsible for a lot of things to say the least. In the last three-plus years, she has planned and executed the presentation of NHL Winter Classic games, All-Star games, Stadium Series games, Global Series games, Heritage Classic games, Playoff games, Stanley Cup Final games, and the NHL Draft. Add that to staying on top of managing assets for 32 teams who each play 82 regular games per season

But to her, the name of all the games is organization.

“They call me ‘Binder Girl’, I love making binders for everything!” Riva said when asked how she manages to stay so organized. “I had a teacher once who told me organization is the key to success, that has always stuck with me.”

Her flair for organization, schedules and spreadsheets was certainly obvious in her presentation, where she outlined everything it takes to make her events happen from conception to game day. This attention to detail is likely responsible for the massive success of recent NHL events like the 2022 Winter Classic in Nashville, Tennessee and the Heritage Classic in Hamilton, Ontario, which both included live performances from big names and other fan engagement opportunities. Riva touched on these projects and many others during her presentation.

Renee Riva speaking to the crowd at TD Garden Legends restaurant, surrounded by JWU Game Days signage
NESN and TD Garden Bring Their Key Players to the First Panel

The first panel, moderated by JWU Associate Professor Lee Escklisen, brought together four seasoned professionals who impact the game-day experience and production at TD Garden. Here was the lineup:

(L to R in photo below)

  • Nichole Kelly Macri
    Director, Digital Business Strategy for TD Garden / Boston Bruins
  • Leah Leahy
    Vice President, Sales and Service for TD Garden / Boston Bruins 
  • Brian Zechello
    Supervising Producer of Remote Productions and Producer of Boston Bruins Hockey for New England Sports Network (NESN)
  • John Mitchell
    Director Audio/Visual Production for TD Garden
  • Moderator: Lee Esckilsen
    Associate Professor and Department Chair
    Sports, Entertainment, Event — Management (SEEM), Johnson & Wales University

A panel if industry professionals on stage at JWU Game Days in TD Garden

We always say we’re in the smile business and we’re in the noise business,” said John Mitchell. “It’s our job to get the fans in the game and create organized pandemonium so that the players feel it. We have to make sure all the sponsors get their plugs in and we execute the show, but the biggest thing is to get this place loud.”

Fellow panelists also shared how their work directly impacts the fan experience, with a focus on technology and expectations in a post-pandemic world. When fans were first able to attend games again, there were a lot of safety concerns to consider.

“People wanted to feel safe. They wanted contactless payments, they wanted touch-free everything,” said Nichole Macri. The challenge was to find solutions, but TD Garden delivered with features like in-app concession stand purchasing, where people could order food from the concession stand through TD Garden’s app and get an alert when it was ready to pick up so they wouldn’t have to wait in line.

As COVID protocols have relaxed and life has begun to return to somewhat normal, people have been using these features less, but the panel agreed that technology is still the future of the fan experience – and the future for those looking to enter this industry.

“Digital is going to get bigger and bigger,” says Mitchell. “The technology is snowballing. So, learn as much as you can about computers. When you think you’ve learned enough, keep learning.”  

JWU SEEM Alumni Take the Stage For Second Panel

Moderated by Associate Professor Elizabeth Covino, the second panel hit closer to home with three JWU SEEM alumni sharing their work in the hospitality industry and how their time at JWU prepared them to take on the leadership roles they have each respectively earned. This all-star lineup included:

(L to R in photo below)

  • Katie Oliver ’15
    Event Services Manager for the Boston Red Sox
  • Caroline Gaughan ’16
    Hospitality & Events Supervisor for the New England Revolution
  • Katie Cash ’12
    Senior Account Executive in Season Ticket Services for the Boston Red Sox
  • Moderator: Elizabeth Covino
    Associate Professor; Sports, Entertainment, Event — Management, Johnson & Wales University

A panel of JWU alumni on stage at TD Garden Game Days seminar

“The project-based learning [at JWU] was obviously so good for me,” said Caroline Gaughan. “But, also the SEEM Leadership Conference was something that I was lucky enough as a freshman to be able to do, and then I worked on it throughout my time at JWU. And now, exactly what I did for that conference, I do with my operations team.” 

The other panelists agreed that their project-based learning and involvement in extra-curricular clubs and activities really helped them when they entered the job market. They also shared some of the humbler tasks they do in their work to be a team player, such as helping pull the tarp over the baseball field when it rains or cleaning up garbage in between double-header games. Lastly, they left students who hope to pursue a career in sports with some advice.

“You all being here today is really important,” said Katie Oliver. “You’re taking advantage of the opportunities that Johnson & Wales is providing you with, and this is a privilege not a lot of people get. Continue taking advantage of these opportunities. Also, there are professors in this room that I’ve kept in touch with since graduating, and they’ve been really integral in my success as well. So, staying in touch with them is also really important.”

Students Hit the Court for Insta-worthy Photo Op

Students on the court at TD Garden
Students taking photos on the court at TD Garden

There’s nothing quite like stepping onto the court (or the ice) in TD Garden. Although the arena was empty, students still got to experience that momentous feeling players must feel each time they take center stage. A tour through the private areas of TD Garden, reserved only for arena staff and players, was explored by students before heading to the court.

After taking photos standing center court on the Celtics logo, sitting courtside in the player’s seats, and practicing imaginary free throws and dunks, students headed back into Legends to finish off an awesome day.

JWU Campus President Marie Bernardo Sousa speaking at a podium with a JWU logo in the background

“Since Johnson & Wales’ founding more than one hundred years ago, the university continues to design a curriculum that anticipates and meets the needs of students and industry,” said JWU Providence Campus President Marie Bernardo Sousa, LP.D., ’92. (pictured above). “That has led the university to engage in such exciting and rewarding partnerships as the one we have with the talented professionals of TD Garden.”

Associate Professor Louis Pullano, who also serves as a chairman on JWU’s TD Garden committee, closed out the event by thanking everyone involved and sharing a few final thoughts on the day.

“One of my passions and what I’ve tried to do my whole life is argue the breadth and depth of the sports, entertainment and event industry,” Pullano said. “This is an incredible industry with many, many tentacles to choose from. So, for all you current and prospective students – this is an incredible career path.”

Students on the Boston Celtics court at TD Garden

Want to experience cool stuff like this?

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