The Pete Winemiller Guest Experience Innovation Award was presented to one leader from each NBA franchise as part of the NBA Annual Sales and Marketing Awards. This year’s NBA awards are based on franchise’s performances during the last 24 months and combines the 2021 and 2022 years due to COVID-related challenges.
Chapa was the Mavericks’ selection because she pioneered a comprehensive approach with her team to get fans back in the arena during a critical COVID-19 era and helped set the standard for the NBA.
“Gina is always ten steps ahead and has been a trailblazer for the company and industry-wide,” said Dave Brown, COO & General Manager of American Airlines Center. “Gina deserves this award because she embodies the culture, the core values and the spirit of the American Airlines Center.”
Chapa first joined the AAC in 2003 and will celebrate her 19th anniversary next month on May 20, 2022. She’s spent nearly two decades championing an exciting game night culture for fans and employees at Dallas Mavericks and Dallas Stars games and other concerts and events. She oversees a team of 600 event employees and game night staff, people she refers to as teammates and friends.
When we sat down to discuss the 2022 Pete Winemiller Guest Experience Innovation Award with Chapa, she repeatedly redirected questions back to her fantastic team. She pointed out every employee in our vicinity, sharing little tidbits about their names, tenures and what makes them excel at their jobs.
There are only 30 people in the entire NBA to win this award, which is an extraordinary accomplishment considering thousands of employees work in arenas across the country each year.
When asked what this honor means to her personally, she said it represents her entire team.
“It means everything,” said Chapa, a graduate of Angelo State University and CUNY Brooklyn College. “It means that all of the hours, effort, tears and joy have paid off. This would not be possible without all of the Guest Services and Security staff that show up every game and give their best. To be personally recognized feels amazing. However, nothing — I mean nothing — is possible without the amazing team of managers, supervisors and staff. Dave Brown (COO & GM) told me about the award after a Mavs game when we were down on the court. I burst into tears right then and there. That validation for me and the department is an incredible feeling.”
Chapa said the Pete Winemiller Guest Experience Innovation Award is significant because it’s named after someone who made an incredible mark on the league. The late Pete Winemiller, Senior Vice President of Guest Relations for the Oklahoma City Thunder, was a beloved member of the Thunder staff for more than 20 years, creating a world-class experience for fans.
“I had the privilege to know Pete,” Chapa said. “We met at an NBA meeting around 2013, and I was taken with his deep understanding of human experience, especially how it translates to sports fans. I was fortunate to do a benchmark trip in OKC and learn directly from Pete how he created and operated his great guest experience program. Back then, most things were referred to as Guest Services. He was the one who helped transform it into the “Experience” as we know it today.”
Chapa’s efforts over the last two years were particularly extraordinary. She embraced the challenges of preparing the workforce and facility in the protocol-intense environment while striving to maintain the AAC’s culture of excellence around the guest experience.
This included co-chairing the Return to Events Committee, creating and managing all COVID-19 policies and procedures for internal and external guests, and she led/participated in league-wide discussions regarding Return to Events. Last season, she also stepped up to the challenge and helped create the Healthcheck app. This season, this app transitioned into testing and vaccine verification for all fans and staff.
She’s been on the cutting edge of countless moments that transformed the game night experience in both the NBA and NHL. In 2019, Chapa pioneered the new AAC Feedback app as the primary real-time communication with guests and employees. Several other NBA and NHL venues also now use this technology.
Brown said Chapa is always looking for fresh ways to enhance the fan and guest experience. Her work falls under three main pillars: guest experience, security and building initiatives. Some of her nightly activities include monitoring guest feedback, individual conversations with employees and guests, and ensuring the arena is continually in compliance with building and league mandates.
She’s responsible for the overall direction and management specific to the Guest Services and Security departments. She plans, directs and oversees the ongoing development and implementation of comprehensive security programs and processes for American Airlines Center to ensure the safety of the facility, employees and guests.
Ben Wise oversees floor security at AAC events and has worked alongside Chapa for 15 years. When asked about his experience working with her, Wise smiled and, without a beat, described her incredible spirit.
“Gina is one of the most wonderful people you will ever find,” Wise said. “She’s lovable, friendly, and has great customer service, and she’s a gem to us. As far as employees, everybody loves her because she’s always there for us. I can’t say enough about her. You see her smile, and she will approach you and look into your eyes and listen to you. She always listens; that’s one of her greatest values.”
Brown noted something similar, commenting on her unique ability to be a leader, but one that treats everyone with great compassion and kindness.
“Gina is not above doing the work of her line-level staff,” Brown said. “She will pick up a scanner, do bag check, health check, line triage – you name it, she will do whatever it takes to enhance efficiency. She is in the trenches with our staff and would not ask them to do anything she would not do herself.”
The Dallas Mavericks are proud to join the NBA in celebrating the achievements and extraordinary accomplishments of Gina Chapa as the recipient of the 2022 NBA Pete Winemiller Guest Experience Innovation Award.
Mavs.com sat down with Chapa to learn more about her life and career.
MAVS.COM: How was this past year different than all the others you’ve worked over the years? Tell us more about the tenacity and spirit of the AAC staff, who many of us consider more like family. What makes you the proudest?
CHAPA: The number of league requirements that we had to meet were daunting. And then there were constant changes. Once we got something figured out, we would have to pivot again to a new way of doing things. I cannot say enough how proud I am of our staff. We have been given obstacles at every turn. They not only faced each challenge head on but did it while still offering excellent customer service and a smile. What makes me the proudest is when we get a compliment that represents our culture. A couple of minutes out of the night can help to create a memorable experience for both guests and employees. We have the privilege to getting to help people every day. One small act of kindness in the moment can create a lasting impact.
I meant to send this last week, but I wanted to acknowledge above and beyond customer service at the arena. I took my 2 boys to the Mavs – Warriors game, we were celebrating my youngest 10th birthday. The usher “Larry” that works section 102, noticed the sign my son man for his birthday, and Larry was so nice to us. At the end of the game, he put us in a spot where the boys could scream, and they were screaming, as the players left the game. What a great game, for a special night for my son, and Larry, as well as our Mavericks, really made it extra special. As you know it is the little things that people do to make experiences special. I don’t know who at the AAC is in charge of ushers, but if you could forward this email, and let them know that Larry is doing a great job, I greatly appreciate it.
MAVS.COM: Representation is important. As a Hispanic woman, what are your words for other little girls who are just like you? What is your message for children who dream to have your position?
CHAPA: My best friend told me a long time ago, “You’re no shy turtle. Poke your head out!” I love this because it is a reminder of who you are and what you can accomplish if you just take the chance. Don’t be afraid! And embrace opportunities that come your way.
MAVS.COM: Is there a challenging moment from this past year that stands out above the rest and how did your team overcome these moments?
CHAPA: We overcame many difficult moments by being honest and transparent. Communication with the staff was the key to getting us through the rough patches. We pride ourselves on being a family and we were able to rely on each other during those difficult times. Management and staff had to support each other in a real way.
MAVS.COM: Can you share more about your father, and the card he left you? Dave Brown told us the story about how you found a card after your father passed away in 2017 that he had written many years before. There was a quote inside that gave you purpose. It said: “Help your fellow man. The work for humanity is the best work in life. One can never get better satisfaction than to help other people. If you can learn this, you will always be happy.” Tell us more about your extraordinary father. What do you think he’d say about you winning this honor? I imagine he’d be quite proud.
CHAPA: My father wrote me cards and letters all the time. He would tell me what was going on in his life, funny stories and always these profound, simple life lessons. He always drew little animals too like birds and heart-shaped rats. My dad was always proud of me. He told me how proud he was all the time. All the time, like every day. If he was here, he would call everyone including all the family and all his friends to tell them about this honor. He would want to put it in the paper. He was not shy or embarrassed about his love and pride in his children.
MAVS.COM: I always think that leaders rise because there are people who believed in us long before we believed in ourselves. Who are your “people” and the ones who pushed you to dream big? Now is your time to give them some love, so who gets YOUR lifetime achievement award?
CHAPA: My mother and father. My mother always encouraged me to participate in everything and told me I could do whatever I set my mind to. She was always and continues to be my biggest supporter. Dave Brown – he took a chance on me and was an avid supporter through my career growth. I am also lucky to have many lifelong friends. However, none of this would be possible without the entire Guest Services and Security Team: Mike Ebow, Maribel Montoya, Jeff White, Francine Harris, Jasmine Noldon, Felicia Brown and Jason Adams. I am so lucky to be surrounded by a team that I can count on no matter what. This award really belongs to them.