‘SEVEN ON SEVEN’ SERIES WITH JOHN SACCENTI, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, LAS VEGAS BOWL
May 4, 2016
John Saccenti was named executive director of the Las Vegas Bowl in June 2014. He’s a 1998 graduate of the University of Nevada Las Vegas and has spent his entire professional career in that city. He joined the bowl staff [as well as ESPN Events] in 2001 and worked in numerous bowl-related capacities over the next 13 years. He sat down with FBA Communications and spoke of the game’s growth over the years, and what it takes to stage a successful event in one of the country’s most unique locales.
With football and basketball coaches moving around so much now, what is your hiring philosophy as an athletic director in being ready when/if it occurs?
“You always have to have a thought process each year of what you would do. It is a fluid list that you usually do not want to actually use but you must be prepared.”
What is your opinion of the bowl system as it stands now? Some critics say there are too many games, yet the student-athletes themselves have never said this.
“There are a lot of games and I do not think we need to add any additional games. I can understand the debate that you should have a 7-5 or better record to participate. However, our students do enjoy their experience and we should keep that in the forefront of our decision-making process.”
You have made two notable football coaching hires, Dan Mullen at Mississippi State and Rich Rodriguez at Arizona. In what ways were the hiring processes similar, and in what ways did they differ in terms of what each program needed at the time?
“The similarities were that I had a small number of people involved in both hires…you have to keep the information in a tight circle to prevent inaccurate information being shared publicly. With both searches, I told each candidate I spoke with that if it leaked that they had interviewed or were the leading candidate “according to sources” then I assumed they did not want the job.
“The biggest differences between the two hires: The MSU hire was done in a short window, ten to twelve days, if I remember correctly, because we made the change after the end of the regular season. The U of A hire took about a month and a half because we made the change midseason and I had a lot more time to work with. The other difference between the two is that we used a search consultant for the MSU hire and did not use one for the U of A hire.”
Your father was an athletics director. When you were growing up, did you decide as a teenager that was a viable career path for you, or did this not take root until later on?
“I actually wrote a career report in fourth grade about being an athletics director. I probably was the only middle schooler that read the NCAA News. I loved early on being around the college campus, the student-athletes and the passion of the fans. To grow up around that environment was a true blessing and I can’t thank my Mom and Dad enough.”
The Arizona baseball team moved into an off-campus facility in 2012 and went on to win the College World Series that year. What was the thought in moving the games off-campus?
“It’s a huge benefit. Our game will always be a pre-Christmas game, which leaves us a short window from team announcement day to game day. The airline market has adjusted to the bowl season, thus making it difficult at times to book air travel on such short notice. We traditionally have our best crowds when we have teams that can drive and stay a few days in Las Vegas.”
What are some of the game-week activities that make coming to Las Vegas a unique experience for the competing schools?
“We are proud to have been a part of the Las Vegas community for the past twenty four years and look forward to showcasing the Entertainment Capital of the World to the players, coaches and fans each year. Our event schedule touches on all of the facets of the Las Vegas landscape. The teams are welcomed on the historical Fremont Street Experience with an outdoor dinner and show before being shuttled over to the world’s largest observation wheel, the High Roller overlooking the Strip.
“We showcase the charitable side of our city by introducing them to two charities that are native to Las Vegas – Opportunity Village and the Goodie Two Shoes Foundation. You can’t visit the Strip without seeing one of the nationally recognized shows, so the teams are treated to Show Night each year (Cirque du Soliel, Jabbawockeez, BlueMan Group, Stomp, etc.) The coaches and administration dine at the Bellagio while overlooking the world-famous fountains.
And just before we turn to football, the day before the game, the teams and fans are invited to our annual kickoff luncheon at the convention center and the pep rally downtown.”
In the time you have lived and worked there, how has Las Vegas grown as a sports community?
“It’s been tremendous. Our community continues to attract world renowned major sporting events including the National Finals Rodeo, NASCAR, NBA Summer League, USA Rugby and we are now the official home for college basketball championships, hosting four different conference [postseason] tournaments. For the first time Las Vegas is at the forefront for two major league franchises potentially coming to our city with the NHL and possibly the NFL.”