Crowd Management

Leonardo da Vinci was known for the “Mona Lisa.” Donatello was known for “David.” One piece of art that surrounds us every day and does not have a famous artist is the portrait of crowd management. Whether you are hosting a football game, concert, music festival, or performing arts show, the type of crowds and behavior changes for each event. There is no equation that we can use that will tell us exactly what we want to know; however, every time we stand out on our concourses, parking lots, or plazas we are watching the painting come to life right before our very eyes. We have the opportunity to learn a little bit more about our craft, just like da Vinci did as he painted “The Virgin and Child with St. Anne.” But ask yourself, do we truly ever fully master the art of crowd management?

When speaking with many of the top professionals in our industry, we always ask, “How is the ingress and egress?” Ask yourself where your ingress starts. At the entrance to your building as a guest’s ticket is being scanned? With the flow into your parking lots or off of the highways? Does it include the average time for a person to wait in line to purchase a hot dog or wait in line to use the restroom? Our professional leagues have all adapted metal detection protocols and policies at their events, and as operators we have an obligation to ensure we execute a safe, clean, and family environment, while exceeding guests’ expectations. A major task that we all have is to mitigate wait times, to ensure everyone is in their seats to see the first pitch, kick-off, puck drop, or the main headliner hit the stage. We have to over promise and over deliver on our experience.

What if we were to change crowd management through buyer type? Individuals and habits are all different, so specifics of diagnosing and changing the patterns at our events differ from event to event, person to person, and behavior to behavior. Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit, speaks about three key traits in behavior and why humans are compelled by habit—cue, routine, and reward.

Cue is the automatic behavior to start something. Our guests are going to choose to come to the game and are going to take the most comfortable route to get to the building.

Routine is the behavior itself. Our season plan holders, our frequent visitors, know the main entrances into our buildings or where the most popular concession stand and team store is.

Reward helps the brain remember the pattern.

What if we were to change the habit of our guests to effectively alleviate some of the transportation challenges with overloaded streets? If we pre-sell parking by zones and load the streets so that people who are traveling from the north have to park in the north, and people who are traveling from the south have to park in the south, will this help with cross traffic and cars driving around in circles? We all have a gate that sees the largest percentage of guests enter. Can we “sell” the guest experience outside of the gates to change our pedestrian traffic to move in a different direction that ultimately will lower the percentage of guests entering one entrance? This creates more of a balance. Every little bit is a victory.

We know that our crowds do not like to take risks. If a guest takes the risk of walking halfway around the exterior of the building, which a guest might not have ever done before, what is the reward? Is the reward entering into the building faster? Will they continue to do it moving forward, and have we now created a new habit? What if we start the guest experience outside of the building with fan ambassadors equipped with bull horns or fan ambassador carts that become destination locations for people to ask questions and team members providing information to help influence a person’s decision, such as a unique concession stand or retail location? A smiling and courteous event staff is critical in establishing the trust and first impression with our guests. Does stagnant signage communicate the message we want, and do people actually read the signs? People listen to someone who is constantly repeating information that could assist them. The more way-finding that we have around our building, the more education we are providing to our guests. Now buildings have started to engage their guests live while standing in line through social media. Buildings post key information and live wait times for entrances, bathrooms, and concession stands to influence crowd behavior. Sponsorship and marketing activations on more than one side of the building will help drive people to other areas, too. How can we measure this? Does it work, and are we influencing the behavior of our guests?

As we continue to evaluate how we load our parking lots and our buildings, and ultimately our internal circulations, do you think this affects our buildings’ per caps? Does this influence our guests’ buying patterns when they arrive inside? Will they still visit their favorite stands that might be on the other side of the venue now, or will they start to purchase at a concession stand they never knew existed. Crowd movement can be tied to a building’s per cap, and you could see a rise in specific stands or a retail store. Strategically placing retail portables or specialty beer portables in specific locations can help create a new habit for where people purchase an item. Can we build an ROI on how our guests enter and move around the building with how our retail and concession stands are doing? The wait time to purchase food and beverage directly correlates to our building revenue and how fast we can move our crowds through concession lines. If we can get our guests parked earlier, into our building faster, our gross revenue for that day should increase. If we can tactically incentivize our guests on how they purchase parking and where they park, how they enter or exit and move throughout the building, the overall guest experience will improve.

Crowd management is known to be one of the most essential aspects within any major event. Working collaboratively with all building external and internal partners through pre-planning stages and execution is vital to success. Crowd control techniques lay the foundation for a controlled, safe, and well-regulated environment. As operators, we can have all of the certifications, training, and manuals that our industry has to offer, but this is one piece of art that not even da Vinci could have mastered. Crowd management is an evolving art that we continue to learn and prepare for at every event. Our paint brushes are constantly being used to paint the best possible portrait for our guests. FM

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(Image: Chris Murphy/Creative Commons)