Managing Geelong's Simonds Stadium is an exercise in multiskilling, writes Carolyn Rance.
A passion for sport and a head for business helped Natalie Valentine win one of local government's highest-profile sports jobs.
She is the manager of Simonds Stadium - known to generations of Australian football fans as Kardinia Park - home of Geelong Football Club, three times AFL premier since 2007.
Valentine is also the co-ordinator of three multipurpose indoor sports venues that, as with Simonds Stadium, are owned and operated by the City of Greater Geelong.
She believes the key to a successful career in the increasingly competitive world of sports administration and venue management is a long-term plan.
As a student of exercise science and human movement at the University of Ballarat, she ensured her course included modules for business and management skills.
"A lot of people want to get into the sports industry, so you need to focus on the direction you want to take and have a five- or 10-year plan for your own career," she says.
"Sometimes you may need to take sidesteps and sometimes you might make big leaps forward, but it's important to enjoy the challenges along the way."
Her working life began as a personal trainer, but she was soon working in sports development across all Deakin University campuses. She became the manager of Simonds Stadium two years ago, after three years with the council.
It's a demanding role. Valentine says sports venue managers need a good head for operations and the ability to solve problems.
When the Cats play at home, it is her responsibility to ensure the venue is ready, scoreboards and broadcast equipment work and adequate staff are in place.
She must also have an eye to the future. Two major construction projects are under way with funding from the Victorian government, the council and Geelong Football Club. A new southern stand will expand facilities and seating for fans, and installation of lighting towers will enable night games from midyear.
Valentine says it is unusual for a large football stadium to be owned and operated by a council. To ensure she is up to date with industry trends, she liaises regularly with Sport and Recreation Victoria and her counterparts at Victorian and interstate sporting venues operated by private organisations and trusts. A holiday in the US in January will include an insider's tour of MetLife Stadium, the home of New York's Giants and Jets and reputedly the most expensive in the world.
"As a stadium manager, you are not just involved with the operational side of a venue; you are involved with its future strategic direction [as well]," she says. "We believe the changes here will increase national recognition of Simonds Stadium's ability to host all sorts of sports, including soccer and rugby. We've got an amazing asset, and it's part of my job to find ways to share it."