Bon Secours Wellness Arena Employees Make Things Run SmoothlySep 12, 2023 12:57PM ● By Angelia Davis
Not many people can say they shot confetti from a confetti gun in the middle of a show with country singer Garth Brooks on stage. But Nikki Malpass can.
In fact, Malpass considers that one of the many highlights in her 24 years at Bon Secours Wellness Arena, where she serves as director of event production.
Malpass is one of a small group of staffers who’ve been at Bon Secours Wellness Arena for nearly as long as it’s been open. The arena is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year.
“It’s quite a feat to be able to look back and pay homage to the people that have been here, the staff that has been here, the shows that have been here, and really relish in that success and pay tribute to what we’ve done,” Malpass said.
Malpass’ most memorable arena shows include Paul McCartney, Garth Brooks, Kenny Chesney, and SpiritFest. The latter was the third show held at the arena and “we’re still doing it,” Malpass said.
“To have those shows come back year after year or our hockey team – all of them are amazing,” she said. “I think whether you have 1,000 or 15,000 people, they’re all good events. Everything we do makes somebody happy. That’s why we do it. That’s why I do it.”
Prior to joining the arena in Greenville, Malpass worked in a 20,000-seat amphitheater in South Florida. She was burned out and wanted a change of scenery.
Friends told her about an opening in Greenville. The rest is history.
The team at Bon Secours Wellness Arena is one of the best in the business, she said, and the arena has an “amazing reputation in the music industry and live entertainment.”
“That’s what entices so many of these big shows like a Paul McCartney or the Foo Fighters,” she said. “Our reputation is built on our people, and we can draw people to what is a B-market that typically might not come here.”
Dixie Puleo has been working part-time on the arena’s event staff for six years.
By day, Dixie Puleo oversees logistics for a company that makes carbide cutting tools for the aerospace and automotive industries. It can be stressful, she said.
Her role at the arena is a “fun job.”
“I can come here and not have to think about stuff and just be able to help people,” she said. “That’s what makes it nice, that I can help people that need things, even if it’s just, ‘Can you help me find my seat?’”
Puleo and other event staffers get to choose the events they work. Their job can involve helping with production, being a ticket taker, or working the floor to help guests.
One of the perks, Puleo said, is getting to see different events and genres that she would never listen to on purpose. Examples, she said, are monster truck shows, wrestling, and a Spanish concert.
Another perk, she said, is being able to build relationships with co-workers, guests, and season ticketholders for hockey games.
Puleo got her husband, her mom, and her dad jobs on the event staff. The entire family worked the Elevation Nights event held July 20 at the arena.
She got her own start at the arena after finding joy working as a part-time supervisor at Clemson football games.
When the season ended, she missed helping guests.
“I enjoyed just figuring out situations because there are always things that come up – wrong seating, helping ADA people,” she said. She found the job opening on the Bon Secours Wellness Arena website and was excited to be hired.
Puleo’s highlights at the arena include a show featuring singer/songwriter James Taylor. He’d been on tour with Reba McEntire, who was out sick.
“He came out and performed during her set,” Puleo said. “Then, he sat down on the stage and signed autographs. Then he stood up and performed his set. It really impressed me that he did that.”
Another memorable event, she said, was when she came face-to-face with a bull during a rodeo show. She was in the tunnel when the bull came up.
“Bulls are big, and the door was open behind me. I guess he thought it was maybe a way out,” she said. “He just stared, and I just stood there going, ‘What do I do?’ I was frozen.”
A border patrol cowboy at the show roped the bull and escorted it away.
Puleo thinks it’s wonderful that the arena has reached its 25-year milestone. In her time there, Bon Secours Wellness Arena has added a Sensory Suite, a breastfeeding room, and a Well Walkers program allowing people to walk inside the arena for exercise.
Not only does the arena pull in big names rivaling venues in Atlanta and Charlotte, but it also hosts community initiatives, Puleo said. A Habitat for Humanity house was built in the parking lot there, she said. There have also been anti-human trafficking events, blood drives, food drives, and other events.
“It was tough when we had Covid,” she said. “We all kind of missed being here and helping people. I think people just need to have fun and relax because a lot of us work really hard. We just need time, even if it’s a few hours on a Friday or a different night of the week, to just enjoy life and have a good time, make a memory.”
As the executive director of South Carolina United Methodist Camps and Retreat Ministries, Arthur Spriggs is constantly “on point.” He needed an outlet.
Six years ago, he joined the team of part-time event staffers at the arena. He initially tried to volunteer for the role because he didn’t know it was a paid position.
“I’m a people person, no doubt, so I knew that this would give me an opportunity to interact with people,” said Spriggs, who has since been promoted to event staff supervisor. “Just to enjoy folks and particularly knowing that people are coming for enjoyment, how cool is that to play a part of any production where the whole idea is we just want you to come and have a great time and fun.
Spriggs’ own life experience has been enhanced just by working at the arena.
A native of East Tennessee, Spriggs was a welfare kid and the youngest of eight. Access to events, concerts, and those types of things were not readily available to him, he said.
“One of the highlights for me is to be able to experience several of the artists that come here in a way that I never did get a chance to, nor would I probably have done even in my adult life,” he said.
Another highlight, he said, has been being able to enhance the customer experience.
He recalls a time when a woman wearing white pants sat on a seat with gum on it. He apologized and got her an even better seat. He checked on her later and presented her with $15 in vouchers for concessions.
She was grateful, and Spriggs said he knew he’d taken that bad experience and turned it into something even better.
“Even though I don’t know some of these artists and they don’t know me, I still feel like I’m a part of their production,” he said. “They’re here to help everyone here have a good time. I’m on the same bus.”
Once, before Spriggs became a supervisor, he was asked to escort Tim McGraw through the stands.
“So, I go get him, we do the greeting and the fist bump thing. Then we are waiting for the cue,” Spriggs said. “It’s just he and I back in the hallway.
“We probably got three or four minutes where we’re just standing there,” said Spriggs, who added that event staffers are not supposed to talk to artists unless they start the conversation.
“He goes right into it, ‘Man, you doing alright tonight? I’m like ‘Yeah, I’m good, Mr. McGraw.’ He said, ‘No, just call me Tim.’”
“Then he said, ‘Man, after this concert I’m gonna get in my airplane. I’m going to fly to my private island and go fishing.’
“I said, ‘Are you a pilot?’ He said, ‘Yes.’ I said, ‘I am too.’ Next thing you know we’re talking pilot talk. I walked him down through the crowd and onto the stage. That was probably one of the coolest moments, escorting him down to the stage.”
Spriggs appreciates that a lot of thought and effort goes into the arena trying to look for ways to make the guest experience better.
“I think there’s always room to grow, and we’re constantly working out ways to do that,” he said. “I’ve gone to other venues, and I do think that we do it better or just as well as the best of them. I think that says a lot about our staff, a lot about the commitment of trying to ensure a great experience for the public.”