For many in the hospitality industry, working mega-events holds a particularly tantalizing allure. These are events like Art Basel, the Miami Book Fair and the Tortuga Music Festival.
These are high-stakes events. There are guest speakers or artists to book, people flying in for the event, caterers to contact, tables and arrangements to set-up, equipment to test-run, a program to create – and an experience to provide.
“It feels like you’re right in the beating heart of the action,” says Dan Cormany, assistant professor of events management. It’s fun and a challenge, he adds.
“As things grow bigger, more and more things can go wrong,” he says. “People like it because they ask themselves, ‘Can I do it?’”
When they successfully pull off a huge event, the victory is sweeter – not to mention that career and pay opportunities are often greater for larger events.
To help meet the demand for educated professionals in this area, the Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism Management rolled out a new degree with a specialization in mega-events last year. The specialization focuses on course work for festivals, trade shows, major conventions, sports events and concerts of 10,000 people or more.
Cormany, who spearheaded the program, says the degree was created partly because of the university’s involvement in the Food Network & Cooking Channel South Beach Wine & Food Festival presented by Capital One (SOBEWFF®).
The Chaplin School started the Festival at the Biscayne Bay Campus and has been an integral part of the Festival’s growth ever since. Now in its 19th year, the Festival features more than 110 events and brings in more than 65,000 attendees annually. Additionally, more than 1,200 FIU students help run its 3,200 plus shifts.
“The general public associated us with SOBEWFF® and people thought this would be a great place to get a master’s degree in mega-events,” Cormany says. “We had so many calls from people that had either been to SOBEWFF® or had worked and wanted to pursue this degree.”
Cormany and the Chaplin School responded, creating a curriculum and assembling a world-class group to teach for the program, including faculty members who’ve experienced working for Olympic and Super Bowl games as well as international experts with a background in a variety of areas in the field. The first students enrolled in August of 2019.
FIU, says Cormany, is the ideal spot to study the science of mega-events.
“We are in an events-rich area,” he explains. “We have a huge book fair, SOBEWFF®, Art Basel and we’ve hosted more Super Bowls than anyone else. If you are interested in large events and festivals, this is the only master’s degree in the world that is focused entirely on mega-events. You are learning from people who have actually been there, done it, learned from their own mistakes.”
The program is also geared toward providing students with real-world experiences, helping connect students with volunteer and internship opportunities. Case in point: Chaplin students were stationed at Super Bowl LIVE, a week-long fan fest at Bayfront Park during the game this year.
Grace Garay, one of the students who volunteered during the Super Bowl, began the mega-events program earlier this spring. Garay also signed up to volunteer at SOBEWFF® and is eagerly waiting to start her role helping out at Tequila Cazadores presents Tacos after Dark hosted by Danny Trejo on Thursday night – and hoping to pick up an extra shift during the Festival.
“SOBEWFF® is going to be a great opportunity for me,” Garay says. “It’s extremely valuable. I don’t think any other university gives this opportunity to its students, to be in the action and apply what we’re learning.”
Garay, who is currently taking courses in hospitality and technology as well as event sponsorship, says she’s already seeing how important sponsorships are as she analyzes marketing for the Festival and how the sponsorship packages function.
“I’m seeing all the marketing and sponsorship that’s involved to put on this event,” she says. “The class has helped me understand SOBEWFF® and SOBEWFF® is helping me put the class into reality.”
Alex Eliason – another mega-events student who will also be volunteering during the Festival this year – found out about the opportunity through one of his professors.
“It sounds like a really fun, good learning experience,” Eliason says. “This is a great way to build a resume. In a few days, you can get a ton of experience. At this kind of event, people aren’t afraid to teach you everything they know.”
Eliason, who would eventually like to manage events, says he’s interested in getting a feel for how the Festival – one of the largest mega-events hosted in Miami – works.
“I’m hoping to learn logistics and management of logistics, to learn what goes on in the background of the Festival and learn how I could manage a large number of people.”