Fueled by a passion for Nebraska Cornhusker athletics ever since he was a young boy, Tom Backemeyer says he always knew “I wanted to work in some aspect of sports.”
Many people say that. Many people wish for it. Backemeyer set out and did it. Here’s how he accomplished his quest:
“As far as education, I have a degree in Business Management from Colorado State University, and two Master's Degrees (MBA, and Sport Management) from the University of Denver,” he says.
At DU, which has recently made a jump into big-time college sports, Backemeyer realized there was valuable job training right at his fingertips. It was the kind of experience that prospective employers would eventually relish. “My endeavors into sports started at the University of Denver where I worked for the Athletic Department for two years while in graduate school,” he says. “I worked in Facilities and Operations as an Athletic Event Manager.”
He was given plenty of responsibilities, and he thrived. He enthusiastically soaked up anything sports-related, learned from it, then performed it well.
“Basically I was in-charge of coordinating our various athletic programs between the university, coaches, officials, players, etc. I enjoyed this aspect of college athletics as it allowed me to learn many different aspects of how a college athletic department is run,” Backemeyer says.
Seeing how it all operated -- not just one tiny niche -- was instrumental in future years. “I worked with ten different sports, so there was never really an ‘off-season.’"
Then came his break.
“In between my two years at Denver I was offered an opportunity to work for the Nashville Sounds as an intern in resale (food and beverage/merchandise). I am a die-hard baseball fan and wanted to see what it was like to work in minor league baseball.”
Faster than a Nuke LaLoosh fastball, it was off to Tennessee.
“I went to Nashville and got a great taste of venue concessions and stadium operations. At that point, I had experienced both college and professional athletics and really enjoyed them both. However, once I finally finished graduate school I had to pick one direction to go, which ultimately ended up being Rancho Cucamonga, Calif. I am entering my second season here [with the Quakes], where I started as the Director of Food Services, and have recently moved to Assistant General Manager, Operations.”
Remember those days at DU where Backemeyer was in charge of coordinating everything he could get his hands on? Now it’s on a bigger scale.
“My primary responsibility is still food services. I oversee the food service operation here for a 6,500 seat facility. This includes five concession stands, 13 luxury suites, as well as V.I.P. in-seat wait staff. Overall, I oversee about 100 game day staff. My duties include ordering all product, hiring/scheduling employees, inventory, sales reports, stocking, etc. In addition, I also play a role in guiding our operations department, including all stadium operations and our Gift Shop.”
While his offseason consists of “prospecting and selling corporate sponsorships,” he says that game days are when it gets “pretty crazy.” And in baseball, we all know there are plenty of game days.
Here’s a detailed look at a game day with the Quakes: “Typically, I would arrive around 8 a.m. and usually leave around 1-2 a.m.,” he says. “My day consists of wrapping up sales reports from the previous night’s game, handling any deliveries that come in, re-stocking all concession stands for that night’s game, and making sure we have all staff in place for the game. In this business staffing can be extremely challenging as it’s not always easy to get really dedicated employees. So we spend a lot of time making sure we have all our bases covered on any given night. At this point, it’s two hours before gates open, and our staff begins to arrive to start preparing the food. I handle all kinds of issues, from staffing shortages, to machine problems, to stocking issues. Once the gates open, I’m constantly roaming the stadium making sure things are running smoothly.”
Backemeyer has some crucial tips for aspiring sports industry employees:
“Make sure you do it for the right reason. It’s not the type of industry where you’re going to make a ton of money right off the bat. You have to love sports and love your job. If you’re getting into sports to get rich, you’re in the wrong industry. I think a lot of people look at this industry as being a glamorous one, which it can be, but you have to be willing to put in your time, and work your way up. It’s so competitive, and there are so many people who want to work in sports that you have to constantly work to prove yourself. You can’t take your job for granted.”
Finally, there’s the one key component that makes Tom Backemeyer such a valuable jack-of-all-trades employee for the Quakes:
“Get involved in all areas. Especially with minor league baseball where staffs are typically small. The more initiative you take to learn multiple areas, the more successful you'll be. Lastly, and most importantly, learn to sell. There's not an off-season in sports; rather it's the sales season. If you're an effective salesperson you'll always have a job in sports. Sales obviously drive the entire organization. It’s impossible to make money in concessions or merchandise if there's no one in the stadium.”