Behind the Scenes with Don Renzulli: Leadership in Sports & Events

Don Renzulli (left) with John Collins (right) at Fenway Park in 2010, preparing for the NHL Winter Classic.

Behind the Scenes with Don Renzulli: Leadership in Sports & Events

Whether it be the Olympics, the World Cup, league drafts, or the Super Bowl, millions of people travel across the world every year to enjoy all of the fun attractions that a major sports event has to offer. But while they eat delicious food, attend A-list parties, and watch the talented athletes compete, they are often unaware of all the hard work that is done behind the scenes to create the ultimate fan experience. It is this type of work that Don Renzulli has refined over the past 24 years and counting.

Long before joining On Location Experiences as the Executive Vice President in April of 2016, Renzulli began his career in events at the NFL in 1993. Brought on as a Manager in Licensing for NFL Properties and later becoming Director of Event Operations in 1995, Renzulli was in charge of planning and running Super Bowl gameday operations. He points to his early passion for the Super Bowl as his reason for wanting to be involved with sports events. “The Super Bowl to me was the pinnacle of sports,” Renzulli said. “I said if I could ever get involved with it, I’m in.”

Having attended many Super Bowls as a fan before, Renzulli quickly learned that operating the event was certainly not the same experience.

“I figured it was easy…When you go as a fan, you get your ticket, you go in, you have a good time. Now all of a sudden you’re in charge of the media center, team hotels, transportation, etc.,” Renzulli explained. “That first year there was a learning curve. You learn all these things as you go and then refine them over years.”

Renzulli built off of that first year and continued to gain more insight and knowledge into the line of work. It was with the NFL that Renzulli made a name for himself, where he worked well under pressure and had a knack for managing major events. After 12 years there, Renzulli moved on to work for John Collins as the VP of Stadium and Event Operations for the Cleveland Browns. His focus there was on leading a $2 million improvement plan for the Cleveland Browns Stadium and redefining the fan experience at training camp.

After two years with the Browns, Renzulli accepted a job at the NHL. “Mr. Outdoor Games,” is what he’d come to be known as during his 9 years at the NHL. He was responsible for planning and running the league’s Winter Classic, overseeing 16 outdoor games as the Executive Vice President of Events. Renzulli was hired by John Collins (currently CEO of On Location Experiences), who had a dream of resurrecting a forgotten NHL experiment with outdoor hockey. Under the hard work, guidance, and collaboration of Renzulli and Collins, the Winter Classic grew year after year and transformed into the NHL’s most popular one-day event.

“It was about taking John Collins’ idea and putting it to work. I didn’t know much about an outdoor hockey game when I started. I didn’t have a full time staff. Slowly we brought vendors on from the outside with big event capabilities and built a impressive staff on the inside to do it,” Renzulli said. “I used my experience from Super Bowls to bring everyone together and get the first one off the ground. It progressed over the years. Everything became do more and do better.”

In March of 2016, Renzulli stepped down from the NHL and a month later accepted a job as the Executive Vice President of On Location Experiences. Back working on the Super Bowl, now through planning and providing premium gameday hospitality for fans, he recognizes how much the event has grown since he’s been away.

“The thing has gotten so much bigger. I’ve told people that when you go…you’re going to [think] ‘wow this is not just a football game it’s everything else’,” said Renzulli. “It’s bigger than life.”

While the Super Bowl may be bigger now, Renzulli feels that the work he is doing for On Location is similar to his past experiences. The big changes he sees stem from the goals and challenges facing each event, and not the role of building it. He noted, “the event business is pretty much the same, it’s the game that is different. You just try to use your experience from the past to move the thing forward.”

In order to move his events forward, Renzulli prioritizes two essential aspects of leadership – the sum of which he credits with producing a success. “The one thing that I learned early on is that you have to have relationships and you have to be able to communicate,” he said.

Since joining On Location Experiences last April, Renzulli has used his prior experience and knowledge to guide his staff and to teach them the ins and outs of large scale sports events.

To Renzulli, the months and even years of hard work are justified by the feeling of accomplishment he experiences at the end of a successful Super Bowl day.

“It’s the biggest sports event we have in this country, one of the biggest in the world,” Renzulli explained. “So to be a part of that, and to succeed at that, at the end of the game you really feel like you’ve accomplished something.”