Stephen Collins ’87 started his Gettysburg College career as an engineering major, never imagining he would find a career in sports and entertainment and win an NBA championship ring in the process.
Today, Collins is the chief operating officer at the Golden State Warriors Arena, a $1B privately financed development in San Francisco, which will become the new home of The Golden State Warriors. He has been in the business for almost three decades, most recently holding executive positions at Madison Square Garden (MSG)—managing iconic buildings like the MSG Arena, Radio City Music Hall, The Beacon Theater, The Chicago Theater and The LA Forum while also leading projects such as the renovation of the MSG Arena complex and The Los Angeles Forum. Prior to that, he managed the operations of Giants Stadium and Meadowlands Arena at the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority.
“It was something that, to be honest, I fell into,” Collins said. “The Meadowlands was interviewing for a custodial supervisor. It was a position that was responsible for managing a union workforce of over a hundred very diverse workers. The combination of a liberal arts education focused on business management and the fact that I had worked in positions ranging from dishwasher, cook, bartender, and even garbage collector just fit perfectly. I think they saw someone who could relate and interact with executive management as well as the front line employee—and the service industry experience rounded it all out.”
At the Meadowlands Arena, Collins quickly worked his way up to events manager, serving as the point person for hundreds of events annually from concerts to the home sports teams, including the NJ Devils and NJ Nets and the NCAA Final Four. In 1992, he was promoted to Assistant Director of Operations, which would serve as the starting point for his now 24-year career in operations.
There was one quick break in his operations career when Collins decided to pursue a position at a technology company. But it would only take one year for Collins to realize he missed managing operations in the arena and stadium environment.
He’d soon fall right back into the entertainment world: at The Madison Square Garden Company. Collins’s first project would be completing the renovation of Radio City Music Hall. Later, he’d assume responsibility for MSG’s Operations and Event Production departments, managing the one million square foot arena, which hosts over 300 events per year. This role included managing the company’s relationships with its labor unions; in 2004, this meant wading through negotiations in the midst of a potential labor strike right before the Republican National Convention.
“The Convention was a huge event for MSG. They asked me to come down from Radio City and put me in charge of the operations and production side,” said Collins. “The convention was a huge success and one thing led to another and they asked me to stay at MSG Arena.”
Working his way up in the organization in 2010, he became the executive vice president of the facilities division. There, he’d encounter one of the most significant challenges of his career—managing the $1B renovation of the MSG Arena complex and a $140M renovation of The LA Forum, the former home of the LA Lakers and Kings and now the preeminent concert venue in LA. MSG hosts over 200 events per year and is home to the NY Knicks and Rangers. Moving the teams was not an option, so the project was broken down into three 22-week summer shutdowns, re-opening the arena in a new configuration each time.
“We couldn’t relocate the teams. The only way to do that was to perform most of the work during the off-season. We would close the building at the end of the NBA and NHL season and reopen in October,” he said. “It was probably the most challenging thing I’d ever done.”
As Chief Operating Officer of the Golden State Warriors Arena, Collins’s latest challenge is one that will thrill Warriors fans: building a permanent home for the team in San Francisco by the 2019-20 season. Collins is responsible for developing an 11-acre parcel of land that will house not just the 800,000 square foot arena, but also 600,000 sqft of office and 100,000 sqft of retail space.
“After working 13 years with the Meadowlands and 13 years with MSG, I was extremely fortunate to be offered this once in a lifetime opportunity. I am surrounded by amazing people and get to work for an organization that is so beloved by the entire Bay Area,” said Collins. “They have really become a national phenomenon. I was fortunate enough to start right before [the Golden State Warriors] won the 2015 NBA Championship. One of the highlights of my career was riding in the parade through downtown Oakland with my son surrounded by 1 million rabid Warriors fans. The passion the people have for this team is incredible.”
Collins attributes much of his professional success to working hard since he was 12-years-old in a variety of whatever jobs he could get his hands on, long before first stepping foot in the Meadowlands.
“My success is also due in part to being able to work with a diverse group of people in a variety of roles. I’ve prided myself on the ability to relate, motivate, and manage regardless of my level in an organization, and that’s helped me the most,” said Collins.
And exposure to the liberal arts education at Gettysburg helped prepare Collins for whatever came his way throughout his career.
“Gettysburg helped me in that regard, as I didn’t pigeon hole myself into one area or one school that specialized in one thing,” he said. “It was a broad, diverse environment that focused on a more rounded education, which in the end allowed me to cast a wide net when looking for a career. This allowed me to avoid graduating and figuring out what I was going to do with that one thing.”