To explain how Rupp Arena produces the flash and boom of Big Blue Madness, Bill Owen credits Bob Stoops. Not the football coach, but the technical services manager for Lexington Center Corp.
“He’s kind of our man behind the curtain,” said Owen, the CEO and president of Lexington Center Corp.
The reference to the “Wizard of Oz” seems fitting given the sensory overload that is Kentucky’s Madness celebration. The smoke (actually, carbon dioxide) billowing upward in cannonading blasts in previous shows seemed straight out of Emerald City.
But Stoops recoiled from the idea of being the man spinning wheels and flipping switches behind a curtain in order to enhance the great and powerful UK basketball program.
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“It’s just that I am the person who is responsible for putting this all together,” Stoops said this week.
Stoops, 63 and unrelated to the football family of the same name, is a native of Louisville. He studied civil engineering at the University of Louisville before transferring to the University of Kentucky and changing his major to architecture.
While attending UK, Stoops worked part-time at Rupp Arena as a stage hand. He took a full-time job in October 1978 and took charge of UK’s Madness in 2010.
The process of staging Madness works like this: UK comes to Rupp Arena with ideas of how to put on a show. Stoops figures out what is plausible.
“Sometimes the thing that limits you is just the cost,” he said. “The cost becomes prohibitive.”
UK pays the Madness production costs. The estimate is usually around $300,000. Owen said Rupp Arena charges UK $1 in rent.
Stoops, who sat and spoke with a reporter in the first row of Rupp Arena seats last week, said he did not have a favorite Madness moment.
“My mind doesn’t really work that way,” he said. “I don’t think of the biggest and the best or the strangest. You take it one day at a time and figure out and solve those problems. We’ve done a lot of great things in here for Madness.”
Stoops took obvious pride in the video screens that rotated over center court one year. “Kind of neat to figure out how to do that,” he said. “You just find the right vendors.”
In that case, Stoops worked with Show Group Production Services, which has offices in Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Nashville.
Typically, the staging of Madness involves about six Rupp Arena employees, plus about 30 people with outside contractors that handle, say, special lighting and pyrotechnic needs, Stoops said.
Nathan Schwake, an associate athletic director for marketing and promotions, said the UK Athletics involvement included staffers in the marketing, public relations, compliance, ticketing and event management departments, plus, of course, players and coaches.
Schwake described moving Madness from Memorial Coliseum to Rupp Arena in 2005 as giving UK “a bigger canvas to play with.”
That was literally true the year a projection cloth covered the court. In a darkened Rupp Arena, Madness projected images and lasting memories off a 94-foot screen.
I don’t think of the biggest and the best or the strangest. You take it one day at a time and figure out and solve those problems. We’ve done a lot of great things in here for Madness.
Bob Stoops, technical services manager for Lexington Center Corp.
“That was fantastic,” said Stoops, a circumspect man not given to hyperbole.
Stoops and his staff got the idea from watching a Super Bowl halftime show earlier that year, he said. He also looks for ideas during the Olympic opening and closing ceremonies.
Stoops denied that he feels pressure to make Madness ever bigger, louder or brighter.
“I think that’s unrealistic to approach it that way,” he said. “You just try to put on a good show every year.”
UK’s Madness is Friday. The doors open at 5:30 p.m. The show starts at 7.
Big Blue Madness
When: 7 p.m. (doors open at 5:30)
Where: Rupp Arena
TV: SEC Network
Tickets: Sold out