The Golden Knights' opening night ceremony received high marks. Photo credit: Daniel Clark/LVSportsBiz.com

In-Game Entertainment Leaders at Golden Knights, UNLV Games Shape Fans’ Experience

By ALAN SNEL

 

A year ago, neither Jonny Greco nor Megan Caligiuri were living in Las Vegas.

 

But these days, your experience at Vegas Golden Knights and UNLV Runnin’ Rebels games is shaped by the handiwork of Greco and Caligiuri.

 

In April, the Golden Knights hired Greco, an in-game sports entertainment veteran as the hockey club’s vice president of events and entertainment. Greco and his production staff were credited with crafting the team’s emotionally powerful tribute to the Oct. 1 shooting massacre victims and first responders when the Golden Knights inaugurated their home ice Oct. 10. Golden Knights President Kerry Bubolz had worked with Greco at the NBA Cleveland Cavaliers. Greco also worked video and event production for the 2002 and 2010 Winter Olympics, the NHL Columbus Blue Jackets, the MLB Florida Marlins and the WWE.

 

First responders played a big role in the Golden Knights’ opening night. Photo credit: Daniel Clark/LVSportsBiz.com

 

Then in August, UNLV Athletic Director Desiree Reed-Francois hired Caligiuri as associate athletics director for content creation and fan engagement. It’s Caligiuri’s job to oversee UNLV sports’ creative content and video, fan engagement and marketing areas while also developing a new media strategic plan and fan engagement program. Reed-Francois had worked with Caligiuri at Virginia Tech.

 

UNLV Athletic Director Desiree Reed-Francois knows Megan Caligiuri’s video production work for their days together at Virginia Tech.

 

While both the Golden Knights and the UNLV basketball team are off to winning starts this season, it’s up to Greco and Caligiuri to keep the fans entertained when the puck and basketball are not moving and there’s a lull in the game action.

 

Both are new to living in Las Vegas, but they are working for very different sports programs in very different venues, too.

 

Vegas Strong has been a theme all season long. Photo credit: Daniel Clark/LVSportsBiz.com

 

The Golden Knights are still carving out their identity as Las Vegas’ first major league team at a new-ish arena, while UNLV basketball has a history in Las Vegas with fans who have literally grown old watching the market’s first major sports team that once had national appeal and could boast of a national championship. The Rebels play at Thomas and Mack, a workhouse arena that is three decades older than the Golden Knights’ home only two miles to the west.

 

A knight character is part of the in-game entertainment. Photo credit: Tom Donoghue

 

And Greco and Caligiuri go about their jobs on game day differently, too.

 

At T-Mobile Arena, you will see Greco with a head set and a thick stack of stapled papers outlining every scripted moment before, during and after Golden Knights games. The details are spelled out in very specific form, from music and videos that must be directed seamlessly. His video production staff’s room on the arena’s top level looks like a cross between the interior of a TV sports network production truck and a NASA launch room.

 

Jonny Greco has worked for the Olympics, the NBA, WWE, Florida Marlins, Columbus Blue Jackets and Cleveland Cavaliers.

 

At Thomas & Mack Center, Caligiuri’s staff is not as large as Greco’s production team but she also oversees the creation of new video content aimed at showing the personality behind the student-athlete’s jersey. Caligiuri is also not shy about deploying video cameras herself and you will see her filming the Runnin’ Rebels in action.

 

At Thomas & Mack, arena Executive Director Mike Newcomb pointed out there are, “six camera guys and a full blown staff of production assistants and director in the control room plus all the personnel working the floor in game entertainment. We are always looking at enhancements so I’m sure the fans will see something either in the openings or the video boards.”

 

UNLV also can tap into the university spirit of students and alums.

 

Part of the job at UNLV is tapping into the student spirit.   Photo credit: Erik Ricardo

 

Interesting enough, both the Golden Knights and Runnin’ Rebels have trademark openings to their respective home games.

 

For the Golden Knights, it’s a dramatic light show sword act complete with actual skaters representing the opponent and the VGK that’s consistent with Las Vegas’ over-the-top entertainment style.

 

Golden Knights owner Bill Foley enjoys the team’s opening game sword act.

 

For the Runnin’ Rebels, it’s a pyro show that Thomas & Mack Executive Center Executive Director Mike Newcomb said, “is the greatest fireworks opening in all of college basketball.”

 

 

Both Greco and Caligiuri drop in a friendly live quiz game for fans at games into the in-game entertainment. And even UNLV football coach Tony Sanchez was enlisted for video duty when he goes head-to-head with UNLV quarterback Armani Rogers.

 

“I find myself watching all those videos. The ones where the player and coach go head to head on identifying different songs are great. I think the fans thoroughly enjoy them too it give them a connection to the athletes when they see them doing things outside the court and show a little bit of their personality.” Newcomb said.

 

“This makes the fans want to root for them. I think they have done a great job with the entertainment,” he said.

 

Greco told LVSportsBiz.com he would welcome the chance to sit down and talk shop with Caligiuri even though their teams occupy different spots in the rapidly-expanding Las Vegas sports market.

 

 

Follow LVSportsBiz.com on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Contact LVSportsBiz.com founder/writer Alan Snel at asnel@LVSportsBiz.com

 

 

 

 

 

Alan Snel

Alan Snel brings decades of sports-business reporting experience to LVSportsBiz.com. Snel covered the business side of sports for the South Florida (Fort Lauderdale) Sun-Sentinel, the Tampa Tribune and Las Vegas Review-Journal. As a city hall beat reporter, Snel also covered stadium deals in Denver and Seattle. In 2000, Snel launched a sport-business website for FoxSports.com called FoxSportsBiz.com. After reporting sports-business for the RJ, Snel wrote hard-hitting stories on the Raiders stadium for the Desert Companion magazine in Las Vegas and The Nevada Independent. Snel is also one of the top bicycle advocates in the country.

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