When Jonathan Cowen came to Fresno State from Napa, California, he wasn’t sure where the world would take him. Little did he know his path would lead him to become the event manager for the Staples Center – one of the most electrifying and well-known sports and entertainment venues in the entire world.
Home to the Los Angeles Lakers and host to the Grammy Awards and countless big name concerts and events, the Staples Center serves as the entertainment hub for millions of fans who gather to have an incredible experience, whether on stage or on the court; and at the center of it all is Cowen.
Before entering the Staples Center arena, Cowen was a student at Fresno State studying Recreation Administration, with an emphasis in Sports and Entertainment Facility Management. He graduated from the University with his bachelor’s degree in 2009. During his undergraduate career, he was also part of Fresno State’s Bulldog Marching Band. In fact, the band is what initially sparked his interest in Fresno State. After seeing the band perform at a local high school competition, he decided to attend Fresno State, where he went on to participate in the band for three years.
“I played the saxophone and got to go to all the games, and be a part of the experience of being on the field,” Cowen said. “Those three years gave me tremendous pride in being a bulldog.”
He took that love of entertainment and applied it to his career, but his quest to be an event manager did not come easy. After his 2009 graduation, Cowen moved back to his hometown of Napa and took on any part-time position that he could get in the event world. He remembers applying to more than one hundred jobs before landing his current position.
“I set up chairs and poured wines for weddings just to get the experience,” Cowen said. “It’s important to get that experience across the board no matter what type of job it is.”
His long hours of work finally paid off when he received a job offer at the Ontario Convention Center in Southern California. After almost two years in Ontario, Cowen wanted to expand his horizons, so he applied to be an event manager at the Los Angeles Convention Center. Coincidentally, the boss for the Convention Center was also conducting interviews for the Staples Center. After meeting her at the interview she offered Cowen two job positions as an event manager for both centers.
“I met her at the interview and didn’t think anything about the Staples Center until one week later when she called to tell me one of her event managers quit,” Cowen said. “I was offered two jobs on the spot – one at the L.A. Convention Center and the other at the Staples Center. It was pretty crazy.”
After many years in the business, Cowen essentially landed his dream gig at the Staples Center.
A typical day for Cowen is separated into event days and non-event days. On non-event days Cowen is in the office preparing for the next event. On an event day, he is right in the middle of the action, delegating set-up, communicating with the entertainment and vendors and leading his team. As an event manager, Cowen is the main point of contact and serves as the “in-between” for the talent and the center. His work can take up to 20 hours on some days.
“On a typical event day we come in in the morning and make sure everything is set up okay,” Cowen said. “A tour or concert will start loading in at 3 or 4 a.m. Around evening time, we walk around and check to see if everything is set up right and if staff is in place. During the event we are in the office making sure everything is okay and we’re available on-call for anything that happens.”
Most of our work happens before and after the event. So, if I have a tour that comes in, the tour managers come to me for everything that they need and I will go to my departments whether that’d be, operations, guest services, or security and make sure they provide what the show wants.”
Cowen is most proud of the support and follow through he feels with the events he manages. Seeing things from start to finish is the best part, he said.
“We put on crazy shows and work a lot of hours, so to see your finished product and hard work pay off, whether it’s for a concert or an event like the Grammys – it’s the best feeling,” Cowen said.
Cowen says facing new challenges that arise on the job is the most rewarding part about working as an event manager. Every day for him is a chance to experience something new.
“Every show that comes in is different, whether it’s Justin Bieber, or Adele, they’re all different people, who have different personalities, and want different things,” Cowen said. “It always keeps you on your toes and you’re always learning. You meet great people and the biggest thing for me is you get a new challenge and a new day, every day. That’s probably why we keep doing it no matter how crazy people think we are for the hours we work.”
Cowen is proud of the work he’s accomplished thus far, and credits the education he received at Fresno State for getting him there. He stays in contact with his program advisor, Dr. Michael Mahoney. Once a year, Mahoney brings his class to the Staples Center, where Cowen guides them on a personally-led tour around the center. For students in the field, Cowen advises them to keep pursuing the profession, saying their efforts are bound to pay off.
“I hope people know, especially those in my department, to just stick with it. You might need a little luck like me, but something will happen if your committed and passionate enough.”
-Written by CHHS Communication Student Assistant, Rebeca Flores.