SBJ/Nov. 18-24, 2013/In Depth

The Building Managers: Allen Johnson

Executive director, Orlando Venues, including Amway Center and Citrus Bowl Stadium

Allen Johnson remembers the day Joe Paterno saved him from further embarrassment.

It was New Year’s Day 2010. Penn State played LSU in the Capital One Bowl on national television and the field conditions at Citrus Bowl Stadium were horrible.

A combination of one of the coldest winters in central Florida history, wear and tear from the state high school football championships, an earlier bowl game and some bad decisions over how to bring the field back to life resulted in loose turf that came up in chunks.

“We resodded the Citrus Bowl but because of the weather, the turf did not have a chance to grow,” Johnson said.
ESPN/ABC televised the game and the field conditions became a hot topic during the broadcast. As the stadium manager, the spotlight turned on Johnson for providing answers on what happened to the turf.

“I had [reporter] Erin Andrews following me around the sideline trying to get an interview and I was doing my best to avoid her,” Johnson said. “Not many men will say that.” The two finally talked, he said.

When asked by reporters after the game about the turf conditions, Paterno told them, “The last I looked, we both
Photo by: City of Orlando
played on the same field,” according to Johnson. Penn State won the game 19-17. Paterno died in 2012.

“God rest his soul,” Johnson said.

For Johnson, it was just another lesson learned over his career in facility management covering arenas, stadiums, convention centers and an MLB spring training facility, all in Florida.

Much of it was on-the-job training. In the early 1980s, there was no sport management program at the University of Central Florida, where Johnson earned a degree in psychology. He learned the business through selling tickets and taking a class schedule based on what industry professionals told him he needed to know as a venue operator.

“In college, I worked all the concerts and football games at the stadium, which was then called the Tangerine Bowl,” he said. “I got to know people in management. The advice they gave me was to take classes in accounting, contract law, risk management and marketing/PR.”

The customized course load paid off for Johnson. He learned how to interact with the media (Cap One Bowl excluded), make sense of financial statements and negotiate with concert promoters.

Overall, Johnson takes pride in Amway Center’s unique position as the only major league arena run by a city entity, one of seven publicly owned venues he oversees in Orlando. All other NBA and NHL facilities are run by teams or third-party firms.

“I always say, the book I write is going to be good … when I pass away it can be released,” he said.

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