Running the Show: Gemma Felton
If you’ve been to an event at Optus Stadium lately, chances are Gemma Felton (1998) is the one behind it! We chatted with Gemma, to learn more about her unique career and the pathway she took to get there.
What did your journey look like from SMC to where you are today?
After school, I went to UWA to study Human Movement, but for a number of reasons I decided not to continue. I took a year off and started working full time before eventually returning to Curtin University to complete a Bachelor of Commerce Majoring in Sports Administration and Commercial Law. While working full time I became accustomed to a full time salary, so I studied my degree by distance education while I worked full time – quite different to the full time university lifestyle! The benefit of that was creating a big network which was where I was introduced to a professional golfer who wanted to start his own management company. The people I was working for at the time decided to invest capital, so my journey into sports management commenced. I worked in the golf management business for almost nine years managing professional golfers and running golf tournaments across Australia. In 2012 we (the business) decided remaining golf specific was not viable and the business was subsequently bought by an international sports management company (TLA, formerly ESP) and we became their WA office. From there my career evolved into looking after the commercial partnerships for high profile athletes including AFL players, cricketers, netballers, olympians. I also delivered events for the AFL and Cricket Australia, as well as sponsor activations and PR campaigns for brands investing in sport. I ran the WA office for TLA for nine years before an opportunity to move to Optus Stadium presented itself. I joined the VenuesLive team at Optus Stadium in June 2021 as the Events Manager and now run major events in Perth’s biggest entertainment venue.
What do you enjoy most about being an events manager?
Events are hard work with long hours but the thrill and excitement of delivering a big event that thousands of people experience is second to none. In the lead up and moment it is often stressful and tiring but after the event, when the dust settles and you look back in reflection, it is extremely satisfying to see what you helped create and deliver for fans.
What would be your favourite event you’ve managed?
In my former role at TLA, working on the AFL Grand Final each year was an unbelievable experience. Building and delivering the “Live Site” outside the MCG for the week leading up to and the day of arguably Australia’s biggest sporting event was always amazing. In my current role, I’ve been privileged to be a part of so many major events including the AFL Grand Final, BBL Finals and concerts (Guns N’ Roses, Red Hot Chilli Peppers and Ed Sheeran to name a few), but my favourite event so far was the State of Origin in 2022. A sporting event with half time entertainment to the scale of what the NRL deliver and bringing it all together with them was fantastic.
What does a typical day look like for you?
My days are filled with a lot of meetings, as there are a huge number of stakeholders involved in the delivery of an event and a lot of information to gather and share. Leading into an event I work closely with the hirer (eg Fremantle Football Club) to review and approve their plans for the event delivery in the venue, develop rosters for Customer Service and Security to deliver the event, then ultimately assessing all the risks of running a major event. My key focus is how I get everyone to the stadium (public transport and traffic management), into the stadium (gates, entry process), moving around the stadium (circulation, security, customer service, medical, etc) then safely back out and home again to their families all while assessing the clubs plans and making sure they’re also safe. When I’m not doing that, we talk about the grass (sorry turf!) a lot!
How do you unwind and relax after hours?
It’s often hard to unwind after big events and allow your brain to stop working overtime (especially if a lot has happened during the event) so I like to work out when I get home then I love to cook. Being in the kitchen is my meditation.
Do you have a favourite memory from your time at Santa Maria?
I loved everything about my time at Santa Maria, so it’s hard to single out one memory. Interschool carnivals were always a highlight on my yearly calendar and representing the school across a number of different sports was a privilege and honour. My final year at Santa Maria saw the change of the house factions and I am proud to have been the first Captain of O’Reilly. I look forward to my daughter joining the house next year!
What advice would you give to anyone interested in pursuing a career in events management?
A career in events means hard work and long hours, but it will also be very rewarding. Start by focussing on details when you attend events – think about what’s gone into making it possible for you to be there, as it’s so much more complex than patrons realise. Volunteering for events will provide you with a great deal of knowledge and help you stand out with experience against other applicants to break into the events industry. Event Management takes a high attention to detail, thinking outside the box and determination to make things happen even when challenges are presented.
Thank you Gemma, for giving us an insight into your exciting career!