Danelle Winfield: Interview With An Entertainment Employment Specialist
Danelle Winfield is currently the Senior Director of Game Operations, Entertainment & Promotions for the Los Angeles Sparks, and one of five people on the Leadership Committee. In a nutshell, Danelle is in charge of creating an engaging game atmosphere for fans and home-court advantage for the Players.
Before her role at the LA Sparks, she worked for the Houston Rockets from 2010-2016 in the Game Operations Department. As a Coordinator, she was in charge of planning and executing all of the on-court logistics. Danelle also has experience working at large sporting events such as NBA All-Star, MLB All-Star, and the U.S. Army All-American Bowl. In total, she has over a decade of experience in the sports and entertainment industry. Danelle shares with us some of her expertise in finding employment amid the challenging climate of the pandemic.
Hi Danelle, thanks so much for talking with us at TheatreArtLife! How are you doing at the moment through Covid-19?
I am doing well, considering everything going on with the pandemic. I am grateful for my health and the opportunity to spend more time conversing with family and friends. But, I miss sporting events, award shows, concerts, and theme parks.
I understand your areas of expertise is in the area of staff hiring, mentorship, and training. What advice would you give to any of our readers who are currently out of work due to the circumstances, and what are some general areas that are good to start with when seeking new employment or when the time has come to retrain?
I have over a decade of experience in hiring, mentorship, and training on the team-side of sports in Game Operations & Entertainment. But, I wouldn’t call myself an expert because I am constantly seeking knowledge and improvement. What I will say is, I have learned a lot while on my professional sports journey.
The advice I would give to those who are currently out of work and looking to start or change careers is to do some soul searching to pinpoint what you truly are passionate about; What makes you happy and gives you a sense of fulfillment? Next, write down all of your work experience thus far, and identify your top skills. Then, take that information and search for careers that blend both your passion and skill-set.
Now that you have identified possible careers, research those who hold similar positions in different companies and organisations via business platforms such as LinkedIn. Check out their profile. What was the path they took to get to where they are? What are some of the skills that are endorsed? Lastly, send them a message asking to chat with them for a brief minute about their career and opportunities within their organisation to work, volunteer, or shadow.
Forewarning: some professionals may not respond.
But, continue the process eventually, someone will. This is a career-search process I share with many interns because growing in your journey comes easy when you do what you love.
The advice I would give those who have already discovered their career and have lost their job due to the pandemic or those still employed and looking to grow is the following: continue improving your skills and seeking knowledge to enhance your understanding of your field and network. The good thing about skills is that they can always be polished and will never be perfect.
There are many ways to do so, such as virtual workshops, online certifications, continued education, and good old fashioned practice. Careers often change fundamental knowledge based on technology’s evolution; It is always good to research and be proactive in what’s new.
For instance, the pandemic has revealed the importance of having a digital presence and understanding how to navigate through the different platforms. Lastly, networking is vital for learning from those in careers as well as positioning yourself for opportunities. More doors tend to open when you love what you do and are determined to be the best at it.
Do you see any parallels between the entertainment and the sports industries, and are there transferable skills that would help a career move?
In my opinion, entertainment and sports are married. When you attend an event in the entertainment industry, you often find actors/artists mingling with athletes and/or repping their favourite team with the coolest merchandise. And vice versa, at sporting events, you see celebrities on the sideline enjoying the game and or a halftime act featuring a music artist. The same concept applies to those working behind the scenes with transferable skills. I will use my job as Sr. Director of Game Operations, Entertainment & Promotions as a prime example.
Some of the transferable skills I possess can mirror a job as a TV producer. Both roles require – leadership, creativity, organisation, and communication. Another example is an Entertainment Manager for a sports team; this role can easily transfer over to a career in advertising or production. Some of the same skills would be – management, negotiating, problem-solving, and networking. The union between entertainment and sports have many commonalities, therefore making it possible to experience both industries.
What are the most important things you look for in a candidate when you are in the hiring process? Are there any personal qualities that stand out, is it skills, or a mixture of both?
When looking for a candidate for a role I oversee in Game Operations & Entertainment, I look for someone passionate, knowledgeable, coachable, and team-oriented. When a candidate is passionate about a position, they bring positive energy and a strong sense of dedication. They may not have extensive experience in the position, but they possess many technical skills, and are open to learning more. The candidate must be team-oriented. What makes for an amazing in-arena show is that everyone supports each other. Nevertheless, it is a two-way street; the candidate has to be a fit for the department, and the department has to be a fit for them.
And conversely, do you have any entertaining stories or cautionary tales about ‘what not to do’?
Great question. I have several stories, but I will highlight one. The fun thing about Game Operations and Entertainment when it comes to in-arena is that- it is live. When the doors open and the fans enter the arena, it is showtime; the court becomes the main stage, and the jumbotron is an extension of it. No matter what chaos is going on behind-the-scenes, the goal is to make sure the audience isn’t aware or affected.
One story that comes to mind is when we booked a musician to perform during one of the game breaks. During rehearsals, everything was great – they knew where to stand, the audio and equipment were checked and ran through the performance several times. When the time came for them to perform, they moved their act to centre court against the advice given. By doing so, it messed up the audio, and for over two minutes, they performed as best as they could despite the annoying screeching sound.
My team and I stood there, on our headsets, trying to find ways to end the performance.
Many things came to mind, like our mascot going out with a cane to escort them off like Showtime at the Apollo. But, we understood the best way is to let them finish the performance because it would have become a bigger deal or these days a meme on social media by interfering.
What have been some of the highlights from your time with the LA Sparks?
I have many great highlights with the LA Sparks. Some of them include: producing my first WNBA game, coordinating and executing the Sparks Banner & Ring Ceremony, adding a 90’s night to our theme games (Take Me Back Tuesday), overseeing our Entertainer Finals at Universal CityWalk, and winning WNBA Franchise of the Year in 2019.
When it comes to your work in teaching and mentorship, what do you enjoy most?
Every season for our Game Operations & Entertainment department, I hire 12-15 Interns. They assist with our game days and events for school credit. My favourite part is watching them grow as they gain more experience and confidence over the season. It often reminds me of my first years in the sports industry and the many lessons I learned along the way. The Internship program has been an outlet for me to give back knowledge and encourage those who share the same love for sports.
Sports internships and internships in general, are becoming more commonplace globally nowadays. What are the benefits of doing an internship for those who might not know this route?
Sports internships are extremely important; they provide an understanding based on experience. There are so many opportunities in the sports world. An internship is one of the best ways to figure out which one is right for you. I would suggest doing multiple internships in different organisations and departments that best fit your passion and skills.
Then, once you feel like you found a match, do everything you can to acquire more knowledge and experience. If an internship isn’t possible, shadowing or volunteering can also help; Although it isn’t as intensive. The best way to put it is, think of every opportunity as a stepping stone in your journey.