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The New Fanscape: When Festivals & Events Reopen, What Must We Do Differently?

25 June 2020

Blog post submitted by Trixstar


Recently, we came across a post via Matt O’Neil of Ichi Go's LinkedIn which really resonated with us being in the event industry. Matt’s insight and expertise having been with the Dallas Cowboys for 4 years was leaned on in assessing how arenas and stadiums will need to adapt to a new norm when things reopen.

As this global pandemic progresses, more and more large events have had to make tough decisions to reschedule or outright cancel. It is crippling to the industry with no end date in sight. When gathering bans are lifted, operational and logistical standards will have changed. Concertgoers will have a heightened sense of awareness for all things hygiene and germ related. Here are a few ideas developed from O’Neil’s original thoughts:


Lineups: Do you have the space outside of your entrance (as well as any internal lineups at bars, restrooms, ATMs, merch, etc) to have people lineup in 6’ increments? Not only between each person in a single line, but between the lineups themselves too.


Cleanliness: Any and every surface will have to be constantly cleaned - potentially after every time it is touched (or breathed on) by anyone. Think of the best process for this, and how much your volunteer/staff base will need to grow to accommodate.


Payment: Tap-and-go/touchless payments will be a necessity for all aspects; likely being completely cashless on-site. This would also apply to a digital system for drink tickets and food tickets, when applicable.


Ordering: Staff should physically touch as few things, and people, as possible. Specific laws on serving alcoholic beverages will be a hurdle to overcome, but how can you expedite this process? Consider a majorly simplified form of American Sign Language - pointing to a large photo of a concession item on a board, for example - seeing as people could be wearing masks (more on that later). Plexiglass barriers could also be a requirement at any bars, concessions, box offices, merchandise tables, etc.


Preparation: What will food vendors have to do differently to have less contact with the food? Half-wrapping hot dogs, disposable single-use tissues that are not passed between the worker and customer to handle any food products, sliding products across a counter instead of handing it person-to-person, etc.


Process: Festival staff shouldn’t grab people’s tickets to check them, pass out programs or promotional materials hand-to-hand, artist meet & greets and autographs will look much different (or not happen)…everything from top-to-bottom will need to be looked at and changed. Wristbands with RFID could be mailed in advance to alleviate that process on-site, with touchless RFID pads and a green light/red light visual for security to see. Site maps and info will have to be delivered digitally via email or event apps; keeping in mind this will be new to a lot of demographics.


Timing: Due to changes in the entry process, extended lineups and a generally slower process for everything from beginning to end - you'll have to keep your schedule in mind when planning. Can you open doors sooner (and get that message out) to process people? Keep in mind, just because you open sooner, doesn't mean people will come earlier - you may have to have people buy tickets for staggered entrance times. You may need to increase your entry lanes not only by size but by quantity because of this. Same for lineups during intermissions or changeovers - the process of getting a drink or going to the bathroom will take longer for patrons so keep that in mind when scheduling. Egress after the event is going to be the toughest to maneuver safely.


Testing: How will you be testing everyone on site, including staff and the general public, in a safe and concise manner. You may need to have health/safety certified staff at the entrances monitoring the security process (or have qualified individuals doing this vs. what is sometimes done with volunteers to save costs.)


Masks: If masks are going to be required by everyone on site, you will have to be able to supply them. What are the basic minimum requirements for people bringing their own? What is the protocol for drinking beverages (best to bring plastic straws back?) Same goes for eating. How will this affect performers? How will it affect your staff, and communication on site - at loud concerts/events sometimes reading lips is a necessity.


Restrooms: Portable toilets will be a major concern; you will need much more space and frequent cleaning. Can external handles and internal locks be added on the bottom of the doors to use your foot? And a foot-pump for hand sanitizer instead of using your hand? This will come down heavier on the suppliers and contractors to ensure their product is evolving with the demands. You may need to double the amount of porta potties to alleviate wait times and cleaning procedures.


Security: In addition to whatever live testing you may have upon entry, standard security practices will certainly still apply. Can metal detectors completely replace pat-downs or what will still be missed with security measures becoming more distant? Policies and procedures will have to be made clear for people disobeying any of your new safety practices on site.


Criminal Acts: In what used to be considered active shooter situations, large protests, vandalism, or large fights - what will the procedure be for someone going around and purposely coughing on others or licking things? It may sound far-fetched, but it is something that will have to be thought out.


Crowd Control: Gone could be the days of mosh pits and crowds getting up close and personal to the stage/Artist. If you have chairs set up in pairs with space in between, what do you do for a family of 3 or any larger groups of people coming together? Checkerboard/Tetris/staggered seating plans could be in effect for quite some time which can easily cut your capacity in 1/8, 1/4 or 1/2.


Travel: Think about how your staff, Artists and attendees are getting to the event. Gone will be the days of cramming 15 people plus gear into a 15 passenger van, or 60 people into a school bus. Shuttle services will have to be doubled or tripled to take this all into account - especially on the egress when everyone tends to be leaving all at once vs staggered entrances. There could be travel restrictions still in place to keep in mind as well for Artists, crew and gear to consider, or levels of comfort for people traveling depending the process of things opening back up.


Space: General site guidelines could easily double or triple with the square footage you’ll require per person. The sheer size of your site and how people are getting around is going to need to be reimagined and you might have to sacrifice some esthetics for function in a lot of cases. Aisle ways will have to expand up to 5x the normal size as well to include enough space and lanes of directional foot traffic, or in cases where they are fixed (stadiums and arenas) change to one-way flow; also think about how you will properly mark and enforce these.


Training: Not only will you need to train your entire staff, volunteers, Artists, contractors, etc with the new policies - but the general public will need to be trained too. Even if you produce a festival that has been going on for many years in the same location, this will all be brand new. Every single event should be treated as though it's in a brand new venue with all first-time attendees. This will require a lot of patience at many levels.


Sponsorships/Activations: How can you get creativeand recoup some funding with what will be a new norm? Brands may come alongside to sponsor or provide gloves and masks, dedicated branded spaces (e.g., Heinz Condiment Zone? Kohler Hands-Free Restrooms?), program dispensers or other creative ideas to promote fan welfare.


Communication: With the standards changing constantly and people having varying levels of comfort, communicating your plans clearly will be paramount. People will be chomping at the bit to get out to events, but many will still be overly cautious and not feel safe no matter what you put in place.


Now more than ever, it will be critical for event managers to address the consumer's concerns around attending a live event and think of the entire journey from their perspective and experience. From the moment they buy a ticket, the communication they receive leading up ensuring they are prepared for, and comfortable with, the changes on-site, arriving to the grounds and getting inside, ordering food & drinks, using the washroom, and enjoying their favourite Artist on stage with their friends. Question everything.

All of this is going to come at a massive cost, be it a smaller capacity for your venue, contractors increasing their rental price due to changes they were forced to make, sponsorship dollars being slashed, and the sheer staffing requirements needed, but there really is no other option. It will be interesting to see how consumers react to it all; how much of a ticket hike will be acceptable for these safe, intimate and much needed/highly missed live experiences? Or are people going to be much tighter on their budgets after lots have lost their jobs, changed to single income households, or had major investments go awry.

It’s all speculative for now, but it will be important to stay proactive as further developments are rolled out and always remain fluid enough to adapt to plan X, Y and Z when they inevitably come to fruition. Just as safety and security measurements have changed drastically for large events in the last 20 years, the industry as a whole is going to have to be diligent on how to make these altered experiences and new way of life feel just as inclusive, comfortable, inviting, exciting, safe, experiential and, most importantly...normal.


Blog post submitted by Edmonton Chamber Member Trixstar

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