Change Management in Covid Times

In this ALSD Member Highlight, meet Nicole Meloff, VP of Experience and Special Projects for the Florida Panthers.

Change is the only constant. We’ve all been intimately reminded of that fact of life over the past 12 months. Certainly, Nicole Meloff has. Meloff is the Florida Panthers’ Vice President of Experience and Special Projects, a leadership position she ascended to in January 2021. Five months into the role (her 15th season with the Panthers), she has reevaluated just about every aspect of the guest experience and employee experience at BB&T Center.

“It certainly has been a difficult year for everyone,” says Meloff. “I do strongly believe, however, that from these challenging times, many positives were created that may not have come to light without the tough times we endured.”

The Florida Panthers have reinvented their business and arena operations in numerous ways over the past year. Notably, BB&T Center is now completely cashless. Paper has been eliminated in all meetings. The organization has displayed increased focus on mental health issues and created a Diversity & Inclusion Committee. The common thread governing all these changes is a change in mindset – how things have always been done is not how they need to be done now.

The ALSD recently caught up with Nicole Meloff to learn more of the positive changes implemented by the Florida Panthers in the past year. The following transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

What has your organization stopped doing in the past 12 months?

This pandemic truly forced everyone in sports and entertainment, and the world alike, to take a hard pause from a constant, on-the-go mindset and allowed us the unprecedented extra time to truly focus on important priorities and what matters.

Aside from stopping how we conduct business in traditional physical ways, we began transacting completely cashless at the arena and eliminated paper in meetings and across other areas of the business. It forced brand-new types of decisions, including seating pods with social distancing in mind.

We made it a point across the board to stop operating with the behaviors of how we did it in the past and start evaluating how we wanted to move our business forward in a new normal that all of us here with the Panthers have quickly and successfully adapted to.

Yes, procedures and policies continue to evolve. However, I believe our attention to stopping the approach of ‘how we used to do it’ and instead being adaptable and open-minded in all scenarios has allowed our entire organization to effectively make it through these challenging times together.

What has your organization started doing in the past 12 months?

Two impactful creations that immediately come to mind are our organization’s focus on mental health and an increased focus on social justice issues and equality. I remember hearing on a podcast last spring that compared the experiences of the pandemic to us ‘all being in the same ocean, however, all in very different boats’, which deeply resonated with me and how I managed my team. Some were hundreds of miles from families living on their own. Others were thrown into emotional situations taking care of family members in a time of uncertainty.

I started to focus my attention on genuine well-being check-ins with my staff and held weekly chats about everything other than the pressures of work to keep spirits up. As a team, we began touchpoints with our fans to simply check in and ask how they’re doing, which provided an outlet for our fans to escape the reality we were facing by chatting with a friendly familiar voice.

As an organization, the leadership and employees worked together to create a Diversity & Inclusion Committee that encouraged staff from all departments to have their voices heard in impactful ways. We began to open dialogue for employees in safe spaces with guest speakers on topics and courageous conversations that have been quiet for so long. Not only has this opened cross-departmental communication that may not have existed for everyone, but this also allowed our employees to engage in areas they feel very passionate about and discuss issues and ways to make our workplace and community better.

What has your organization continued doing in the past 12 months?

Our organization, under the ownership of the Violas, has always been a family atmosphere. Community engagement is a very important characteristic of our team’s DNA, and I feel that over the last year, this has continued to shine through even more as our entire organization, from top to bottom, jumped right into action as soon as the world shut down last March.

I was proud to watch our organization answer the call during our community’s time of need, from creating face masks for those in need to cheering up healthcare workers. I’ve always felt that what we do for the fans and our community we serve is bigger than the actual game being played on the ice, and over the last 12 months, we continued to prioritize this outreach in any way we could.

Between virtual 5K’s that benefited first responders at local hospitals, meal donations to children’s organizations in need, virtual fans cheering on our team in the playoff bubble last summer, and a drive-through pep rally for fans to keep spirits up, we continue to show that Panthers Territory is one strong family unit.

How have you personally been able to manage yourself, your family, and your team in the past 12 months? 

In my 15th season with the Panthers, I have seen my fair share of change to say the least. From different business needs, to changing landscapes, and the launch of a few new things called social media and mobile tickets during my career in sports that began many years ago, my dedication for being open-minded and adaptable is something I feel has allowed me to pursue my passion of working in sports for this long.

Every situation presents a learning moment. Over the last year, I genuinely believe that being flexible to so many new and unpredictable changes in my life and my family’s lives was what helped me manage a positive outlook to our new and very different lifestyle, as I balanced virtual Zoom meetings with work and virtual classrooms for my kids.

Recently, I was provided the opportunity to oversee our guest experience and special projects for our organization, and without being open to change, I don’t think this path would have presented itself. I’m privileged to lead the charge in so many areas that I am incredibly passionate about, where I hope can lead to significant impacts for years to come.

ALSD WEBINAR: How the Atlanta Hawks and Florida Panthers Prepare for Play in the Age of COVID-19