Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, crowd management was focused on the guest experience and physical security of the facility. This included access control efforts such as entry point monitoring and bag screenings, as well as broader security measures like dealing with behavioral threats and securing the field from surprise intrusions. Coordinating these efforts requires a highly trained team with a singular vision in mind — keeping the facility safe to provide an enjoyable, memorable experience for all.
Now we’re contending with an invisible threat that continues to cause confusion and controversy, particularly when you’re dealing with large groups of people.
As we approach warmer weather and more Americans get vaccinated, sports teams are looking to return to some sense of normalcy — a sure sign of hope for fans across the country and a new challenge for teams looking to engage their fans, while still exercising caution and creating a safe environment.
Though many restrictions are still in place, the situation is fluid and it’s important that stadiums and teams begin to prepare now. That way, when restrictions lift, they can reopen in a timely, safe manner. Here are critical strategies we follow when working with partners to inspire crowd confidence and ensure security:
Don’t wait — have open conversations with your employees and vendors now
While states have different guidance, private organizations and companies may have their own standards. Employees also likely have their own comfort levels that need to be considered. Venues can’t reopen without adequate staff and partners in place.
That’s why it’s important to start communicating with employees about any reservations they have about returning to work and how you can address those concerns. Additionally, be proactive in your conversations with vendors to ensure everyone is aligned on your approach. As guidance continues to evolve and case numbers fall, stay in touch with updates to avoid any confusion.
Set clear expectations, then stick to them
Guidance varies by state and, in some cases, by city or town. For many people, it can be difficult to keep up with what’s permitted and what’s going to minimize personal or crowd risk.
In the beginning stages of reopening, it is critical that venues and teams set clear expectations and commit to consistent enforcement. Make sure that clear instructions are posted throughout the facility and that they are as specific as possible, anticipating any questions, confusion or potential skirting of the rules. If food and beverages are offered in a venue that requires guests to wear masks, instructions should clearly explain where, when and how to enjoy concessions.
You should also be prepared to respond if a fan is concerned about an individual or group’s adherence to guidelines. Make sure your staff has been trained in conflict management and sensitivity around these delicate issues.
Focus on proactive communication to manage potential anxiety
For sports fans, the excitement of returning to their home stadium to cheer for their team has been building. However, the presence of the virus continues to be a threat.
Anxiety may stem from going to your first in-person event, dealing with crowds after months of being relatively isolated, or dealing with new processes and protocols. In recent months, events that have run the smoothest are those where teams communicated with fans prior to an event.
For instance, some venues may limit entry to specific gates or require fans to stay in a designated part of the building once they’ve been granted admission. As much as possible, give fans a heads-up about these standards so they aren’t taken by surprise when they arrive.
Remember, it’s still about the customer experience
At the end of the day, it all comes back to the experience for the customer. The best experience is going to be enjoyable and memorable, but it’s also going to be safe.
From what we’ve seen so far, fans are committed to following the guidance put forth by their team. Most people are used to mask wearing and social-distancing protocols — and are so excited to be able to attend an in-person game — they’re not dissuaded or worried that these standards will disrupt the experience.
While many venues remain at reduced capacity and likely will for some time, the need for effective crowd management standards and training has never been greater. We’ve seen that it takes as many — if not more — on-site staff and trained professionals to make events safe, comfortable and enjoyable for everyone. As more venues and teams seek to reopen, prioritize having a strong crowd management partner and invest in ongoing education for both staff and fans. Additionally, seek feedback from all stakeholders and continue to evaluate your strategies to create an optimal experience for all.
Jeff Spoerndle, vice president of BEST Crowd Management, a GardaWorld company, has over three decades of successful experience in the crowd management and event security market segment. Spoerndle has coordinated the guest services and security programs for some of the nation’s largest events including the Super Bowl, NFC and AFC Championship Games, the World Series, the American and National League Championship Series, the NCAA Final Four, the Republican and Democratic national conventions, the NFL Draft, NBA All-Star Weekend and the U.S. Open golf tournament.