How Lambeau comes alive on Packers game day
More than three hours before kickoff, the Green Bay Packers' other team is finalizing its game-day plan.
Gathered around a sprawling conference room table in Lambeau Field, a crew of 16 goes literally minute by minute over how the game will play out as a live entertainment production for a crowd of 78,000.
What will DJ Dr. B be playing from his turntables high above the field on Level 6 for the player warmups? Everything from "Banjo'' by Rascal Flatts to "Lose My Mind'' by Young Jeezy to "You Are Undeniable'' by Mos Def and Marvin Gaye. The playing time for each song listed down to the second for the 37-minute stint.
Is there a way to find a few extra seconds for public address announcer Bill Jartz to let fans know there will be a flyover of two F-22 fighter jets so they can be at the ready with their cameras? Without prompt, someone immediately sets their watch and has him run through his national anthem introduction to see. It clocks in at 14 seconds.
What about music for the parachute team scheduled to land on the field during halftime? Perhaps "Jump'' by Van Halen, comes one suggestion.
By meeting's end everyone walks out with a seven-page script that maps out every aspect of the game — player introductions, fireworks, contests, commercial breaks, the Tundra Line drum corps, every song, every "Go Pack Go!'' And then they fan out, in constant communication via headsets, to their respective locations down on the sidelines or up in the control room to do what they do behind the scenes, along with the help of hundreds of others, for every Packers home game: They make Lambeau Field come alive.
"People come to the game, and they're actually here to watch football,'' said Kandi Goltz, game and fan development manager for the Packers. "They don't know that somebody is pressing a button for that song to play and somebody has the exact timing that the anthem is going to be and somebody tells the team when to come out of the tunnel. It all just happens.''
Goltz has been with the team for 26 years and a key player in game-day production for the last 15. There was a time years ago when the TV commercial breaks meant Lambeau simply filled that time with in-stadium commercials. But the NFL's league-wide initiative to amp up fan engagement and improve the live experience has been, if you pardon the pun, a game changer.
"It really is about keeping the fans entertained and in the game. We've got great fans. They're here to watch football. ... So we try not to distract them, but we really want to get them into the game as well. We want them to stand up, make some noise.''
Not unlike Packers head coach Mike McCarthy, the entertainment teams has a whole list of plays they can call depending on what happens on the field.
Sometimes it's as simple as flashing the score of the Chicago Bears game when the division rivals are trailing or showing Packers linebacker Clay Matthews doing his beast pose with the message: "Predator Mode. Get Loud.''
Other times it's Goltz or Gabrielle Valdez Dow, who joined the Packers this year as vice president of marketing and fan engagement, calling an audible from the sidelines to Kregg Shilbauer, manager of audio and visual production, high up in the control room — a mind-boggling space of TV monitors and banks of equipment showing more than a dozen camera angles. If they notice quarterback Aaron Rodgers is having problems hearing, for example, they'll cue Shilbauer that the "Men at Work'' video message needs to go up to quiet the crowd. And when weather conditions prevent the parachutists from jumping at the last second ...
"You basically have to roll with the punches,'' Goltz said. "We have to be flexible, and we've pretty much learned that over the years.''
But those moments when the stadium erupts after a touchdown and celebrates with a Lambeau Leap, or "when the mojo is going and you can just feel the energy,'' that's what it's all about, Valdez Dow said.
"Fans inspire the players. The players feed off the fans' energy. I just can't say that enough,'' she said. "It's that 12th-man concept of our fans helping us drive that emotion and excitement.''
Music: 500 fresh songs
The Packers have added more than 500 new songs to their game-day playlist this season, courtesy of Valdez Dow, who listened to all of them before they made the cut. There are songs in every genre from R&B and classic rock to pop and country. All of them checked for clean lyrics, per a mandate from the NFL.
"The goal is to pick songs that resonate with fans,'' said Valdez Dow, who spent eight years with the Baltimore Ravens before joining the Packers.
She went for a mix of the biggest hits from rock stalwarts like Led Zeppelin and U2 to edgy, powerful tracks that also modernize the playlist. A sampling of music played at the Philadelphia Eagles-Packers game last month included "Can't Hold Us'' by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, "Diamond Eyes'' by Shinedown, "Truck Yeah'' by Tim McGraw, "The Walker'' by Fitz & The Tantrums, "Twist & Shout'' by The Beatles, "Some Nights'' by Fun., "Supermassive Black Hole'' by Muse, "Happy'' by Pharrell, "Home'' by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, "Crazy Town'' by Jason Aldean and "Come With Me Now'' by Kongos.
Valdez Dow listens to the top-rated stations in Los Angeles and New York via SiriusXM satellite radio for new music. It's not uncommon for the 40something mother to hear a song in the car that catches her ear and prompts her to jot down the title.
Some songs, of course, are so iconic to the Lambeau experience, like Todd Rundgren's "Bang the Drum All Day'' after a touchdown or the "Beer Barrel Polka,'' that their place on the playlist is forever secure. It's that careful balance of new and traditional that is always at the forefront in all aspects of game-day entertainment.
"I have fresh eyes, but I will always be respectful of the tradition and the heritage and the stewardship of the brand. I cannot forget that,'' Valdez Dow said. "That's the most important, the history of this team and doing things that improve the game-day experience but don't change us to something we're not. We will never have Frisbee dogs on the field, and we're not a team that will open with pryo and flame pots like a lot of other teams. We have to respect and honor the tradition of this organization.''
DJ: Dr. B in the house pregame
Music played during player warmups on the field is decidedly different than what fans hear throughout the game. Milwaukee DJ Dr. B brings his turntables to Lambeau only for that segment of game day, playing music specifically selected by the players. Much of it leans rap. Think Eminem, Drake, Kanye West, Jay-Z, Puff Daddy, Wiz Khalifa and Lil Wayne, but don't count out country acts like Luke Bryan or Florida George Line, either.
"When they're on the field and they're warming up, I want to cater to them,'' Valdez Dow said. "I want them to get energized. I want them to get in the right mindset. Everything and anything I can do to help them get their juices pumping is what we should do. The rest of the game is really about just keeping the energy alive.''
Video screens: Not just for watching
The fan experience of going to an NFL game has evolved considerably from 15 years ago, said Goltz.
"It was like, 'Hey, come on in and watch a football game, and we have commercials during the break.' ... Now it's more what can we give them?''
Goltz works with the Packers sales department, which sells sponsorships for advertising aired at Lambeau, to come up with ways to use those messages to get fans involved. Maybe it's a gift card giveaway as part of the commercial or an on-the-field contest at halftime, in which case a crew of eight college and high school students called the Pack Attack spring into action as runners, delivering prizes up in the stands or getting contestants on and off the field.
While the giant video screens are key in prompting the crowd to make noise at the right time by flashing commands like "Get Loud'' in giant letters, Valdez Dow has found a way this year to use them to get players involved, too. Videos that show montages of some of the defense's best hits from recent games play on the screen to get both players and the crowd pumped. Next thing you know Clay Matthews is raising his arms to signal the crowd to make even more noise.
"We show all these different hard hits and they (players) get inspired and go, 'Oh yeah. Yeah, I'm bad. I'm going to kick some booty,''' Valdez Dow said. "You want them to get inspired and they do.''
The video boards also pulled off a Lambeau first this season when a live feed featured soldiers in Afghanistan doing a halftime chant with fans in the stands. The really amazing part of that? The soldiers couldn't hear the fans, Valdez Dow said. They'd say "Lambeau!'' and then count how long it would take the crowd to yell "Go Pack Go!'' before saying their next "Lambeau!''
National anthem: Experience required
As you might expect, Goltz gets oodles of requests from people who would love the gig.
"Everybody wants to sing the anthem at Lambeau Field. That's everybody's dream,'' said Goltz, who begins lining up singers (and marching bands) as soon as the Packers schedule comes out in spring.
She works to find performers who complement certain themed games, such as breast cancer awareness or the salute to veterans. She goes with national recording artists for regular season games, because of their experience with singing for large crowds.
Fireworks: A new blast this season
Fireworks go off this year during the "and the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air'' portion of the anthem and, for night games, during player introductions. The effect is more subtle by having them go off from the rooftop rather than on the field, Goltz said.
"It goes along with the whole Green Bay idea of us being this iconic football team without getting crazy and having all the smoke and stuff on the field that you see at some football stadiums, but how can we do it in the manner of the Green Bay Packers?'' she said. "We don't want to take anything away from Lambeau Field, but how can we enhance it?''
To that same point, some fans may have noticed the Lambeau tunnels have been painted green this year and accented with green lighting.
One request: Fans, pease stand up!
Valdez Dow has a theory about what makes Green Bay Packers fans — represented in 132 countries and 73 percent of whom are from outside of Wisconsin — unique in the league.
"What's special about Packers fans is that, in my opinion, if you're not a diehard Packers fan it's usually your No. 2 team, because of whether it's the way the team is owned or the history or whatever the makeup may be. ... So whenever the Packers play whatever nemesis you can't stand, you're usually rooting for the Packers.''
She does have one request for the fans who come to Lambeau: Stand up more and sit down less.
"When you go to the biggest stadiums, when you go to Seattle and you go to New Orleans and you go to San Francisco and you go to New York, they're all standing. They're creating that 12th-man scenario, and the noise is so much louder,'' she said. "You can yell louder when you're standing versus when you're sitting.''
She'd love to have the crowd on its feet the whole game, but she'll gladly settle for at crucial times.
"I want them up when we're third down and about to make a big play. It's easy to get up for all the touchdowns, but let's get up when the defense needs us. I just want them up, and I want them engaged.''
And somewhere in the script for the "Monday Night Football'' game against the Altanta Falcons, there's a play call to do just that — timed perfectly right down to the minute.
— firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @KendraMeinert