Capital One Arena staff eager to reunite with Wizards fans: "That’s why we work these events"

On Friday night, the Wizards will host their first home game of the 2021-22 regular season, welcoming fans back into Capital One Arena after a 2020-21 season played almost entirely without fans. The Wizards faithful will assume their spot in the stands and players and coaches will welcome the return of a home-court advantage.

However, the return of the live-action, in-arena experience means a return to normal for not just the fans and team, but the often-overlooked group of arena staffers who keep the wheels turning on the entire fan experience.

There are between 750-1000 employees on-hand for each event, according to Jordan Silberman, Senior Vice President and General Manager of Capital One Arena. That includes guest relations staff, security, food and beverage workers, cleaning crew, box office staff and more.

“It’s a collective team effort to pull off events at Capital One Arena,” said Silberman. “Our operations staff gets the building configured for the appropriate event – court down, seats down, hospitality areas set. The cleaning crew that comes in behind making sure the building is clean and ready to go. Our guest relations and security staff that get fans into the building safely and efficiently.”

Among those eager to reunite with those fans is Clarence Gooch, a guest relations supervisor who has been working at Capital One Arena for 20 years. Gooch – and the staff that he oversees – assists everyone involved in the fan-facing elements of game-night operations, including the ushers and security staff seen throughout the building.

Gooch is one of the Capital One Arena employees who worked throughout the entirety of the 2020-21 season, including the December-April portion of the season in which no fans were able to attend events held at the arena. Capital One Arena staffed about 100 event workers to enforce the protocol and zone requirements put in place by the leagues and cities. For those workers, the eeriness of an empty arena hosting live events was something that stuck with them.

“I worked during the time there were no fans at all,” Gooch said. “That was very strange. In 20 years, it was something I had never seen or done before in the arena…You didn’t have the interaction with the fanbase. You were basically isolated around the arena. It was different.”

Rynarda Ransom is a security manager in her 11th year on the job and oversees officers throughout the arena on game nights and helps manage the flow of foot traffic in and out of the building.

“It was quiet when there were no fans,” Ransom said. “It was dull. I wasn’t used to that. It was odd seeing people play basketball with no one cheering. I could hear their feet on the court. Having them here brings excitement to the game. It was challenging, but we stuck it through.”

Maurice Bragg, a self-described people person who has worked at Capital One Arena for over three years, is one of the many security officers tasked with keeping patrons in attendance safe and orderly. Bragg spends most of his time on the event level, monitoring the comings and goings in an area that includes both team personnel and fans.

“It’s good having fans back because it’s been so long,” Bragg said. “We’re here to support and make sure the fans are happy when they come in the building and when they leave.”

Fans returned to the arena in April in limited capacity, helping the team along their late-season push for the playoffs. Washington welcomed 10% capacity back into building and built up to 50% for their postseason series against Philadelphia. While the atmosphere was noticeably different from the emptiness that hung over the majority of season, it still couldn’t match the feeling of a full-capacity arena.

“When they started coming back in smaller numbers, they were still a distance from the floor,” Gooch said. “The only interaction I had was when they were coming in the doors or on the concourse.”

As fans and staff are welcomed back into the building, a number of steps are being taken to ensure that the game-night environment is safe and healthy. In addition to a mask requirement inside the arena, the concessions payment process has gone cashless to reduce contact and lines. At the building entrances, new ticket pedestals have been installed to reduce close interaction between fans and ticket-takers. No bags are allowed, eliminating another touchpoint between patrons and security.

For Gooch and the other workers around the arena, the Wizards crowd is not a singular entity. Instead, it’s a collection of separate pockets of familiar faces that come into their lives a few times every week. With at least 41 Wizards home games and so many other events held at the venue every year, building staffers come to know the regulars on a personal level – friends they not have not seen in over a year and half.

“Some of these longtime fans, you saw them like we were a family in a sense,” Gooch said. “We’d been there for so long and some of the fans have had season tickets for so long…A lot of staffers that actually know the fans by name, know their families because they are season ticket holders and they are working in those particular areas and know those fans. A lot of them are looking forward to getting back to their other family.”

As the home opener draws nearer, Friday night’s game against the Pacers will be a welcome return for so many.

“The energy and excitement are a lot of the reason that I am in this business and most people are drawn to it,” Silberman said. “The energy and adrenaline you get during live events. It was different last year, playing with limited crowds. To get back to what is so enthralling about this industry and experience is what’s great. It’s all about the collective fan experience and getting people to come together. It’s great to get people back in here to share in that.”

“I am excited to have people back,” Ransom said. “I’m excited to see people’s faces. It makes my job worthwhile. That’s why we work these events.”

“I can’t wait to come to work, do my job and make sure everyone is safe and happy when they come into the arena,” Bragg said.

“I am really looking forward to it,” Gooch said. “All the supervisors are looking forward to it. We all have these other families with the fans working in different areas. We have a fanbase that we are looking forward to seeing again and just welcoming people back. I get a real kick out of the people coming back and you can put a smile on their face. That goes a long way. We’re going to enjoy doing that and we’re looking forward to getting back to the new normal.”

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