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In Memorian: Rick Nafe

Rick NafeRick Nafe, long-time stadium manager, co-founder of the Stadium Managers Association, father and husband, passed away on May 26. Here’s a look back at his career from his peers.

(Editor’s note: this obituary was prepared by the Stadium Managers Association.)

Nafe, a longtime player in the Florida sports community, is only one of two facility managers to have hosted a Super Bowl, World Series and the NCAA Final Four. Rick’s complete resume is somewhat dizzying.  In the 1980’s Rick joined the Tampa Sports Authority where he was later appointed as the Executive Director, overseeing the construction of Legends (George Steinbrenner) Field, the New York Yankees spring training and Minor League facility; the Ice Palace (Amalie Arena), home of the NHL Tampa Bay Lightning; and Raymond James Field, home of the NFL Tampa Bay Buccaneers. If that wasn’t enough, Rick served as the Tampa Bay Rays Major League Baseball team Vice President of Operations & Facilities from 1996 until his retirement in 2019.

Seemingly out of dust nearly four decades ago, Rick helped form The Stadium Managers Association from a social gathering of stadium managers, getting together to blow off some steam and trade war stories. From those humble beginnings and with the help of others, Rick eventually built the world’s premier stadium organization. 

The flagstone event of the Stadium Managers Association, the annual seminar, was where Rick’s star shined brightest. Under Rick’s leadership and as Master of Ceremonies, attendees laughed so hard at the annual seminar they didn’t realize how much they learned and how many contacts they made until they got back home and thought about it. Rick made learning so much fun, if formal education had been anything like this, no stadium manager would have ever left school.

And, oh, the places Rick took stadium managers for the annual seminar:  From the sunny shores of Florida, to the Arizonan dessert, Palm Springs, Hollywood, and to the always popular the Del in Coronado. Somehow, one year Rick even convinced a bunch of teams to fund their stadium managers to fly out to Honolulu for a seminar 

When you are a stadium manager, people assume the best part of the job is the fantastic stadiums you work in or all the great events from Super Bowls to World Series to premium concerts you’re part of.  But, honestly, the best part of the job is the people you meet while working, and the lifelong relationships you develop because of it.  Rick was everyone’s friend in the industry, and his loss will be deeply felt.

Rick Nafe, a life well lived.