In late August, the Orlando City Soccer Club played its first game since its games and operations shut down in the spring due to COVID-19. It was a great evening, says Robert Schnettler, who is Senior Director of Security and Guest Services for the club and Exploria Stadium. Orlando City is an American professional soccer club in Orlando, Fla., that competes as a member of the Eastern Conference in Major League Soccer (MLS). Orlando City SC began to play in 2015 as the 21st franchise in MLS.

“It was good to be back on the field,” Schnettler says. “Our guests wore masks and they practiced social distancing, and everyone complied. I think that they were so happy to be watching soccer again that the new rules didn’t bother them.”

Schnettler is thrilled with his position, but he’s also a bit surprised. Growing up in St. Louis, Mo., he cheered for the St. Louis Cardinals. “I would go to the baseball games, and I was just mesmerized by the energy, the atmosphere, the fans and the stadium, and I thought, ‘I would love to be involved in this stadium and the game.’”

He was fortunate to obtain an internship with the team, which only furthered his love for all that was baseball and the Cardinals. Years and a college degree later, and after a few sports’ management roles with the Colorado Rockies and the St. Louis Blues, he learned about a new expansion soccer club in Orlando. He connected with the general manager and was hired into his current position. He says, “Soccer is in my DNA. I love it. My dad always wanted a [St. Louis] Cardinal, and we joke that he didn’t get a Cardinal, but I am in sports at least some way. And I did technically start off as a Cardinal with my internship.”

Of his security team, Schnettler says that, “MLS operates on a little bit smaller scale than a lot of people realize. We have an in-house team of 10 supervisors, depending upon the event. We have 14 in-house security guards, for training, practices and for games. And we contract 400 personnel for game days or event days.”

He has unwavering support from the team owner, Flavio Augusto da Silva. “He holds us to gold bar standards, but he stands behind me and my team without question. We’re very lucky. They’re always challenging us to do better, but that’s to be expected.”
Part of doing better requires constant training. “All personnel receive training, and not just one day, but continuous training,” he says. “We train with local law enforcement and the fire department and with multiple internal groups. Soon we’ll begin hurricane preparedness. Then we review the training and begin again, all to maintain the gold bar standard.”

He also speaks with colleagues from rival teams. “It doesn’t matter if we’re rivals on the field. As security professionals in this league we need to do this together. We share ideas and strategies. Our leadership expects us to have those relationships. For example, I spoke to a colleague who works at Minnesota United to hear about a specific security technology that he’s using. In Minnesota in October, he can get snow, and we deal with heat and rain, so maybe we can’t share conversations about specific technologies, but we still have a lot in common.”

Funding can be an issue in every security operation, but Schnettler takes on the challenge of showing the ROI to stakeholders. He says, “Each year I receive funding to improve internal or external processes, but I have to show the ROI. Right now, I am looking at technology to push out our perimeter as we are basically a one-block radius property, and I’m communicating to management how doing so will improve the fan experience and safety and security.”

One of the aspects of the job that Schnettler enjoys is boots on the ground. “I like to not worry about accolades and my personal growth, but the professional growth of my employees. How are you helping your employees grow, because at the end of the day it’s not about you – your team is only as good as you are as a leader. I’m out on the field at 2:30 am pulling down tents because I want my team to know that I won’t ask them to do something that I won’t do myself. I’ll sit a post, partly because I like being involved, but also to lead by example. I try to always be humble and let my staff know that I respect them, and I hope they respect me.”

In his free time, Schnettler enjoys playing golf, going to the beach and watching his children’s soccer games. He also enjoys mentoring young professionals who are interested in a sports security career. He says, “If you can inspire another individual with your knowledge, then you will likely help them to create a successful security program.”