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Balancing security and the spectator experience

This is an excerpt from Security Management for Sports and Special Events by Stacey Hall,Walter Cooper,Lou Marciani & Jim McGee.

Balancing Security and the Spectator Experience

Effective customer relationship management is the key to continued support and attendance, which many times results in huge economic benefits. Given the threat of terrorism to sport and special event venues worldwide, the challenge of balancing the fan experience with optimal security management practices has been greatly magnified. The dilemma that faces most sport and event organizations is how those responsible for safety and security can create a somewhat transparent yet highly efficient and effective security management system that does not become excessively obtrusive.

A variety of sport and special events frequently draw large, highly emotional crowds. Every event has a unique set of circumstances, differing in fan demographics, number of spectators, and unanticipated outcomes. Highly emotional crowds, such as those at rock concerts, can be challenging for security management. With high emotion comes the possibility of aggression and spectator violence. Madensen and Eck (2008) identified several event characteristics associated with spectator violence: crowd demographics, event significance, performance quality, alcohol availability, crowding, performer behavior, and event duration.

According to Madensen and Eck (2008), males are more likely to engage in violent behavior; therefore, events that attract males are more likely to involve violence. Organizers can combat this tendency by promoting the event as a family experience. In addition, sport events that attract many visiting supporters and have highly dedicated fans can engender acts of violence. Event significance also plays a role in spectator aggression. Events of known significance, such as a championship match, can provoke celebratory rioting. Poor performance by a team may provoke crowds to engage in verbal abuse and throw objects at each other or onto the playing area. Some of these incidents may occur (or escalate) because of alcohol consumption. In addition, performance behavior has been noted to affect spectator behavior. Spectator violence normally follows player violence during soccer and football games (Madensen & Eck, 2008).

Crowding plays a factor in aggressive behavior and the likelihood for violence because crowding limits spectators' mobility, increases the likelihood of unwanted physical contact among spectators, and increases wait times for entry, exit, and purchases. Pre- and postevent activities such as tailgating can also create opportunities for spectator violence. Spectators congregate before and after games and normally consume alcohol (Madensen & Eck, 2008). Different sports and events pose different problems, so security personnel should rely on assessments of risks and lessons learned from previous incidents to know what to expect. Security personnel should be prepared to handle crowd management problems such as field or stage invasion, rioting, and assault on players or performers.

The sport or event marketing and operations department must be committed to planning and working effectively with security operations. Achieving an optimal balance between entertainment (enjoyment) and security must always be considered. The operations side of a sport or other event includes such aspects as site preparation, parking, signage, ticketing, concessions, announcing, and press coverage. These elements are somewhat easily recognized and evaluated based on satisfaction or dissatisfaction of those involved. The focus is on customer relations management, and the desired result is to optimize entertainment and enjoyment.

The challenge becomes how an organization can maximize the event experience for the customer while also assuring that optimal safety and security policies and procedures are in place. One side or the other not may not understand or respect the responsibilities of the other. Organizations often seem to have two teams competing against each other—entertainment versus security—rather than one team made up of several components that cooperate. For example, the need arises at university football games to use the Jumbotron to communicate key safety and security messages, including evacuation information if needed. In tough budget times, marketing departments are charged with maximizing fund-raising efforts through ads. Pregame time is prime time exposure. The goal should be to increase fan awareness of security policies and procedures without forgoing critical fund-raising opportunities. The marketing department is ultimately responsible for selling tickets and providing an enjoyable fan experience. This aspect is enhanced through sponsorship deals. The marketing team is also responsible for venue signage, video screenings, Jumbotron announcements and commercials, halftime shows, competitions and prizes, and giveaways.

Facility management wants to ensure a safe and secure environment as well as a fun and enjoyable one. Therefore, they may implement policies that may not be fan friendly in some way. For example, they may conduct pat-downs and bag checks and limit alcohol sales. Pregame and halftime shows may also generate a conflict if the marketing department wishes to use small aircraft to fly over the stadium for promotional purposes (e.g., parachuting, good luck signs) and the security team (and sometimes the FAA) wants to institute a no-fly zone in times of heightened alert of a potential terrorist attack scenario (e.g., a small aircraft dispersing chemical or biological agents across the playing area). The facility management team should ensure that all responsible parties are present during the planning of an event so that all needs and perspectives are addressed to form a common policy on such matters.

One of the advancements made in sport and event security is the embracement of spectators as first responders. Through new technology, spectators can now instantly and discreetly alert venue security personnel to any problem, whether it is a health emergency or an unruly fan sitting nearby, by sending a brief text message. Within seconds, venue personnel will receive the message and then can monitor and respond to the issue. The Department of Homeland Security has established the “If You See Something, Say Something” campaign to raise public awareness and strengthen security in the sport industry. The goal is to remind spectators to report indicators of terrorism, crime, and other threats to the proper authorities at sport venues.

Read more from Security Management for Sports and Special Events by Stacey Hall, Walter Cooper, Lou Marciani, Jim McGee.

More Excerpts From Security Management for Sports and Special Events