It’s 6:00 a.m. at Infinite Energy Arena. The sun hasn’t even dawned yet, but Kelsey Gouge is already inside setting up the Arena for the Georgia Swarm’s home game later that evening.
With a team of gameday operations staff, Gouge leads them all around the Arena. They hang dasher boards all along Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Field, put up signage inside and outside the building, and set up sponsorship tables in the concourse area.
The Swarm’s game won’t start for almost 13 hours, but Gouge and her crew have to move quickly. Team shootarounds start at 8 a.m. and run to around 11 a.m., and while the teams practice on the floor, no game ops personnel can be on the floor.
Gouge, the Swarm’s Marketing and Partnerships Manager, will be busy up to the Swarm’s game starts. Her prep work for that night is designed to give fans the best in-game experience they can have, a one-of-a-kind sporting experience featuring the best lacrosse players in the world.
All of her work culminates in Gouge standing in the control booth that evening with the Arena’s audio and visual team and the Swarm’s PA announcer and DJ. From there, she controls everything that happens at a Swarm game except the plays on the floor. Down to every second of every minute of every game, the 24-year-old and Brookwood H.S. alum is in control.
In her three years with the Swarm, Gouge has been successful in a number of Swarm initiatives over the years, but arguably the greatest and most visible contribution from the Florida Southern College graduate has been how has made the Swarm’s game ops transform into a great entertainment experience for fans of all ages.
“You always have to be ahead,” Gouge says about handling game ops. “As it’s happening, you already should have planned for it five minutes ago. It’s a lot of pre-prep planning and making sure I’m on top of it … You’ve got to be able to roll with the punches and have some authority.”
Gouge and her team will finish up hanging dasher boards just before 8 a.m. as the visiting team begins to spill out onto the floor for its shootaround. Gouge’s staff dissipates as she returns to the Swarm’s office to go over the game script one last time.
She spent the week prior writing the script for game night. When she prints it up, it’s a thick sheaf of paper covering everything that will happen that night. Around the time the Swarm starts its shootaround, she’s just finished up her final review and begins to print up enough copies for her and the scoreboard operators, PA announcer, game ops employees and interns, and Arena facilities operators.
Photo Credit: Kyle Hess
Gouge has run every Swarm home game for the past two seasons and has her script down to a science, making tweaks after every game to get it to be a smooth show. But even then, something unexpected will happen that night – like an on-floor delay – that she’ll have to anticipate and adapt the game ops around for a smooth experience. Gouge credits her years as a swimming scholarship recipient for her ability to adjust on the fly.
“As an athlete, you get used to adapting under intense pressure,” Gouge says. “That definitely helped me adjust to the pressure of running everything in the Swarm’s gameday operations.”
Having that skill in your back pocket is useful, but Gouge refuses to rely on it, instead favoring being too prepared for the night. She returns to the Arena around 4 p.m. and forms a circle on the floor with all the people involved with game ops. They all receive a game script from her, and she spends the next half an hour going over it with them.
All of them – some work with various Atlanta sports organizations – pay careful attention to Gouge’s words. If they have a question, she encourages they ask it.
It’s the key to her success in crafting one of the best sporting events in the country: overcommunication.
“I’m very detailed on what I need from everyone,” she says. “Those little tweaks make it easier for me to control things from up (in the control booth). We are always communicating and making sure we are on top of what we are doing.”
They finally break and go to their respective areas around the Arena. Gouge eventually makes her way to the control booth and puts on two headsets – one for the audio and visual staff and the other for gameday staff.
The Swarm takes to the floor, and it’s game on. Gouge watches over the entire clash, but she doesn’t watch it the same way a fan or media member does. She’s always five minutes ahead of what’s going on on the floor and always giving commands.
When the Swarm started its inaugural Concert Series in 2017, Gouge had to accommodate the halftime and postgame concerts into her script quickly. Her first experience with the concert was memorable. It featured a big star and took place during Game 1 of the 2017 NLL Finals.
“Ludacris was different because that took place on the turf,” Gouge recalls. “That was obviously the first time we had ever done that. It was broadcasted live on Twitter, I had to be on time with everything and when I’m telling people to go and cueing Ludacris to come out. Basically, it was all on me, so that was stressful,” she laughs.
Since then, the Swarm created its Atlanta Classic Cars Mercedes-Benz Goal Zone Club to host the Concert Series. Gouge has worked with 2 Chainz, Thompson Square, and Scotty McCreery, running a mini-concert around the lacrosse game.
Rolling with the punches all game long, Gouge navigates through the night and watches the players exit the floor and the fans the Arena. Her work isn’t done yet. Before she gets to go home, Gouge and her team have to disassemble everything they set up earlier: sponsorship tables, signage, dasher boards. By the time she heads home, it’s near midnight.
She’ll spend the following day relaxing with her fiancé, chilling after an 18-hour gameday.
On Monday, Gouge is back on the grind preparing for the next home game and ensuring it’ll be a success.
Favorite sports team: Georgia Bulldogs.
Craziest Swarm game you worked: Game 1 of the 2017 NLL Finals.
Favorite thing to do in ATL: Walk the Belt Line and shop at Ponce City Market or eat at my favorite restaurant – Taqueria del Sol.
Perfect weekend getaway: Spending a weekend with family, visiting a beach nearby, or traveling to Athens to watch the Dawgs between the hedges!
Best Swarm memory: Closing my first partnership with Tiff’s Treats.
Fans can get two (2) Lower Level End Zone tickets to the Swarm’s Home Opener on Dec. 1 and a 2017 NLL World Championship hat for only $60 by visiting GeorgiaSwarm.com/Opener and entering the promo code OPENER.
Season Tickets for the Swarm’s 2018-19 season are On Sale Now! Season Ticket packages include 10 games (nine regular season games and one postseason game) and a handful of VIP benefits. Join Sting City by reserving your membership today by calling 844-4-GASWARM.