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

The Building Managers: Jimmie Sacco

Executive director of stadium management, Heinz Field

Jimmie Sacco is a rare breed of stadium manager. In an industry where individuals often operate buildings in multiple markets, Sacco has never had to leave his hometown of Pittsburgh for another job.

As a kid, Sacco hung around the old Forbes Field on weekends with his father, who worked a second job as an usher at the Pirates’ ballpark to support the family. Sacco himself became an usher at Pittsburgh Civic Arena, the Penguins’ old rink, working his way up through operations, security and, finally, management.

“It was something I always dreamed of while playing sports, enjoying entertainment and growing up in the business,” Sacco said.

He hung around the arena long enough that the DeBartolo family, who owned the Penguins at the time and controlled the arena, offered Sacco a full-time job.

After spending 20 years at Civic Arena, where he became vice president of operations, Sacco took over as SMG’s general manager of the old Three Rivers Stadium in 1990. Several years later, the Rooney family tapped him to head in-house stadium operations at Heinz Field, the Steelers’ new stadium that opened in 2001. It was a sign of how much trust and respect the Steelers had for Sacco as a facility manager.

Over the past 12 years, their relationship has deepened as the Steelers expanded their reach beyond the stadium
Photo by: Pittsburgh Steelers
walls. Sacco, for example, has led the team’s effort to develop property outside the stadium into an amphitheater for small concerts.

Sacco has seen the industry evolve from municipalities running arenas and stadiums to teams taking control of building operations.
 
“Teams need to have control of everything that generates revenue,” he said. “They have to be able to compete.”

The competition extends to special events to generate non-NFL-related income that the Steelers do not have to share with other teams. Heinz Field has played host to the 2011 NHL Winter Classic, multiple concerts and major film shoots. The stadium books roughly 275 to 300 events in its club areas annually.

To attract stadium shows, the Steelers decided in 2005 to start co-promoting concerts, spending millions of dollars upfront in exchange for a greater return. It’s paid off with Heinz Field becoming an annual stop for Kenny Chesney’s extravagant summer tour productions.

Said Sacco: “We have brought these [NFL] buildings back to notoriety again … with teams looking for additional revenue streams.”

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