Catching up with Mike Duncan is a bit like trying to catch a hummingbird that moves from flower to flower at light speed. If I included Mike’s photo you’d probably say to yourself, I see that guy at every event the University of Oregon hosts.
Mike is a Senior Associate Athletic Director and in that role, he oversees events taking place at University athletic facilities. He’s also a long-time Travel Lane County board member. When I was finally able to catch up with him I was excited to learn more about the world of events management and how he and his staff manage to keep up with the hundreds of events occurring throughout the year.
A graduate of the University of Oregon, I discovered Mike was interning in the sports information department during my final two years of playing football and attending the UO. He went on to become the sports information director at Sacramento State and then did a stint with the Sacramento Kings. It was during his time with the Kings that he realized how much fun it would be to manage events of all types and he began managing the Arco Arena.
Mike joined the UO 11 years ago and as a Senior Associate Athletic Director overseeing events, the scope of his oversight is more than simply an arena. While he notes that the most challenging event he’s managed was a 40,000-45,000 person crowd for a Billy Graham Crusade in Sacramento, overseeing multiple facilities at the UO keeps him and the roughly 40 event staff busy throughout the year. I jokingly asked when he gets time off and his wry smile gave me the answer I suspected. It’s pretty much a year-round job, though he did say July is often a time when he can come up for air. With the 2020 Olympic Track & Field Team Trials returning to Hayward Field in June, it looks like Mike and his team may get that well-deserved breather in July!
Athletic events, concerts, speakers, monster trucks and high-flying acts like Cirque de Soleil are all very different and yet have similar strands that Mike and his team manage with professionalism and apparent ease. The economic impact of these events is hundreds of millions of dollars and with that, I wondered what kept Mike up at night. I could come up with a whole list of things that would give me a reason to worry, but for Mike, it boiled down to “late arrivals.” When you throw a party for tens of thousands of guests and your performer doesn’t show up, it makes sense that the event manager might get a little testy.
In our work at Travel Lane County we are planning content a year in advance and often working on securing convention and sports business one to three years out. In Mike’s world, the planning horizons are generally 6-9 months though many athletic schedules are planned years in advance there are some that arise with short notice. An example is planning for teams to host playoff games, which means keeping facilities free in the event Eugene is selected for one or more rounds.
I was curious if Mike had a favorite from the events he’s managed. While mentioning the Rolling Stones, which makes a lot of sense, it was the more recent June 2019 Garth Brooks concert at Autzen Stadium that he talked most about. What made this event stand out was the involvement of the performer. Garth apparently interacted with the event staff in all aspects of planning and this interaction made a connection with all involved.
When asked about retirement, Mike once again smiled and said, “No plans for retirement. I get paid to go to great events that other people pay money to go to. Plus, I work with a fantastic staff of energetic young people and great long-term people that make this the best job in the world.”
We are fortunate to live in a community that has assets to provide cultural and athletic events for residents and visitors to enjoy. We’re also fortunate to have folks like Senior Associate Athletic Director Mike Duncan and his team, who are great at what they do day in and day out.
Learn more about the University of Oregon’s economic impact.