Perched high above the ice in the corner on the balcony suite level, Anthony Gioia has a birds-eye view of the entire Wells Fargo Center on Saturday during the Flyers matinee against the Coyotes.
A standard black director’s stand with a three-ring binder full of notes and announcements sits directly in front of him. With a headset on, arms crossed and his right hand resting below his chin, he studies the action on the ice and takes the temperature – figuratively – of the building.
Sensing a minor lull early in the contest, he turns to his sound guy seated next to him and asks for the “Let’s Go Flyers” chant to play on the video board as the game returns from a commercial break. The crowd responds – and so does the team.
Less than a minute later, Scott Laughton scores to put the Flyers up, 1-0. Instead of pumping his fist or cheering, Gioia points again to his sound guy, who turns a key and presses a non-descript yellow button that triggers the loud horn played after a Flyers’ goal.
With the crowd barely quieting down from the goal celebration as the game resumes on the ensuing faceoff, he prompts public address announcer Lou Nolan over the headset to announce the goal scorer and assists, which brings the crowd back into a fury.
As the Senior Director of Game Presentation for the Flyers, Gioia is responsible for everything the 19,000-plus fans see and hear – and when they see or hear it – from the moment they walk through the turnstyle to the minute they exit the building.
“When people come to a Flyers game, they have an expectation level,” Gioia said during an interview in his office before the game. “When you work for the Flyers, there is an expectation level, too. That is something I was taught a long time ago, and we have to exceed it every game.”
He has plenty of help, too.
Producer Artie Halstead oversees the control room, which is filled with a talented group and endless monitors, buttons and switches. Game Presentation Manager Corinne Yamada also has a heavy hand in the production.
Between the three of them and their team, the game presentation department runs a tight ship that delivers the ads, in-game and historical statistics on the arena vision, contests, music and much more.
“I like to call it controlled chaos,” Gioia said.
There is a script, which is in his binder on the director’s stand that he writes himself before each game and has to follow, but other than the ads that need to be displayed or read or other necessary announcements like starting lineups provided, Gioia changes it up constantly depending on the game’s ebb and flow.
“We stay 100 percent focused on the tempo of the game, which I feel is the right way to direct a game,” said Gioia, who joined the Flyers in 2007 after similar stints with the Carolina Hurricanes and New Jersey Devils. “Instead of having a tight [and strict] format, we are more flexible depending on the temp of the game. If we are winning, we do things to keep the crowd into it. If we are losing, I might tend to back off a bit.”
The Flyers jumped out to a fast start and took 1-0 and 2-1 leads midway through the first period. The building was jumping and Gioia made sure he kept it that way with energetic music blasting and high-octane video highlights on the big board during breaks.
It’s also why he wanted Nolan to quickly announce the goal scorers – to sustain that positive momentum in the arena.
“The best thing we do is we are as flexible as possible,” Gioia said. “My crew has no idea what to expect. They have to be on the ball or they will miss a cue.”
Gioia’s responsibilities are not just limited to what fans see on the arenavision or video rings that wrap around the building, either. Everything fans might lay their eyes on in the entire arena falls under his umbrella.
It is why he takes a couple of laps around the main concourse before the game to make sure displays, signs, booths and even balloons reflect the team’s long-established brand.
“The best thing about the Flyers is we have our identity and we know who we are – that is Mr. [Flyers Chairman Ed] Snider’s vision,” Gioia said. “I don’t think we ever compare ourselves to anyone else.