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Nick Sautner - General Manager Operations, Telstra Dome

Nick Sautner
'Even if an athlete is able to achieve an AFL career, I believe it's still important to live a balanced life and have an interest outside of AFL, whether it's study or employment.'

Being a football player is not a lifelong career. 'It's important to have interests outside of football', Nick Sautner says. Nick has translated his interest of football, having played the sport and worked for the Australian Football League (AFL), into a career in operations management. Nick also continues to play in the Victorian Football League (VFL) competition for the Sandringham Zebras.


How did you get your position at Telstra Dome?

The owners of the Telstra Dome, who had appointed Nationwide Venue Management to operate the venue under the name of Colonial Stadium, were looking for employees with knowledge of sports and entertainment and, in particular, an understanding of the AFL, as it's the core business of Telstra Dome.

I moved across from an unrelated role at the AFL during a change of management whereby the owners decided to take over venue operations. The previous AFL operations manager, who was approached to facilitate the role of CEO at Telstra Dome, contacted management at the AFL and asked if there were any staff interested in coming across to work for the venue. Following an interview process, I commenced employment with the venue in June 2000.

What experience did you have beforehand?

I had studied sports management and business at university and was working at the AFL at the time. Although my background wasn't specifically in event or venue management, I had knowledge of the AFL industry.

What sort of work do you do on a day-to-day basis?

I am responsible for the Operations Department that includes five areas; arena management, facilities, parking and security, event operations and venue services. I work closely with my direct managers to ensure we deliver to the expected standards. Generally, on a day-to-day basis, a large percentage of my role is managing people and ensuring that we maintain strong relationships with our clients.

Our core business is delivering events, so it's vital to focus on the relentless planning that is necessary to deliver great events, which consequently ensures all available revenue streams to the venue are maintained. This includes the Medallion Club Corporate Suites, Parking, Advertising and Sponsorship.

How does a career in VFL merge with a career in venue operations?

Playing VFL football opens up opportunities for you. There is a profile associated with playing football, whether it is VFL or AFL, and it helps to build relationships with people from various industries. In Melbourne, most people follow an AFL club and know about the AFL and VFL competition, so playing VFL can certainly serve as an icebreaker when being introduced for the first time down there.

I've been fortunate and the CEO has been supportive of me being able to continue to play at VFL level.

What is VFL?

VFL is a second-tier AFL football competition. Any AFL player who isn't playing in the AFL competition is playing in the VFL competition. VFL is one of the succession paths into AFL or the development of AFL listed players, so VFL competition is a combination of professional and semi-professional players.

How do you cope with working full-time and and playing VFL?

It's important, whether you're playing AFL or VFL, to ensure that you lead a balanced life. It's imperative to have an interest outside of playing football so that you don't become confined in one environment. For me, whether I played well or poorly on the weekend, come Monday, I have to put that in the back of my mind because I have a job to do.

Do a lot AFL or VFL players have careers related to AFL or VFL?

Not necessarily. In the football club I play with, there are a number of players that are either studying or have a diverse range of career paths. In our team at Telstra Dome, other than the CEO who played for Carlton and later became the president of Carlton, there is no other person involved in an elite level of football. The AFL has introduced the Next Goal program which offers employment and a career direction to AFL players at the conclusion of their playing career. This perhaps explains the trend of ex-AFL players going into coaching or administrative type roles.

What is your VFL career highlight?

I've been fortunate enough to play in five premierships with Sandringham Football Club and lead the VFL goal kicking on seven occasions – a competition record.

Where to from here?

I'm 31, so my job at the Telstra Dome is my first and foremost priority. I hope I can continue to balance VFL and work commitments. In the past two years, I have on a limited number of occasions missed matches due to international travel commitments with my role. As long as I'm able to maintain a balance between my family, job and my football, I intend to continue to play.

Do you have any advice for someone who wants to go down a semi-professional sporting career path?

Even if an athlete is able to achieve an AFL career, I believe it's still important to live a balanced life and have an interest outside of AFL, whether it's study or employment. Having an outside interest keeps you grounded and, at times, can act as a good diversion from your sporting performance. It certainly means you can mix with a wide range of people, whether it is an 18-year-old drafted player or a volunteer property steward who has been associated with the club for 40 years.

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