How To Manage Crowds at College Sporting Events

Emergency planning, stadium security, and enforcing good spectator conduct through PA and video board announcements as well as a texting system will help keep your sporting events riot free.

The underdog wins the big game, and the crowd’s emotions are running high. If the spectators rush onto the court, creating a serious safety hazard for themselves and your sports teams, will your security personnel take the appropriate actions? What could you have done to prevent this?

According to two sports management officials who spoke with CS, a combination of alcohol enforcement, emergency planning, communication with your spectators and preventive security measures will help your sporting events run smoothly.

Prevention is the Best Policy
“If the people are storming the court, it’s already done,” says Lou Marciani, director of the National Center for Spectator Sports Safety and Security (NCS4) at the University of Southern Mississippi.

Marciani urges security administrators to concentrate on deterring riots by assessing risks, implementing strong incident action plans, coordinating with outside agencies like local law enforcement and closely monitoring social media for signs of a riot.

Also, “it’s important to continuously nurture and enforce good fan behavior,” he says. At the University of Southern Mississippi, this is accomplished through video board messages, PA announcements and a texting system that allows spectators to text the command center with information about disruptions and inappropriate behavior in the stadium.

Emotions Run High
Marciani says that championships and big rivalry games have a higher potential for rioting.

“Celebratory rioting is an emotional overture for excitement about someone in their university succeeding in something,” he explains. “They’re going to go on the court, they’re going to go on the field, they’re going to take down a goal post because they’re emotional and excited about their allegiance to that particular team or university.”

To prevent such activities, Marciani says, it is important to plan ahead for emotionally-charged games by taking a serious look at emergency plans and alerting partners such as local and state police that they may be needed.

The Southeastern Conference, which is made up of 14 teams, has never had fans storm the field in 20 years of championship games, according to assistant commissioner Craig Mattox. Mattox attributes this to the conference’s preventive security measures.

“We have plans in place to increase security if need be,” he says. “We may send out more security personnel five minutes before the game ends to stand around the fans of a team just to … hopefully discourage people from coming on the field.”

“We also make numerous PA announcements throughout the event to warn fans not to enter the playing area.”

Eliminate Alcohol
“From what I’ve observed, most [rioting] incidents seem to be centered on alcohol in some way,” Marciani claims. “So inside our venues themselves, there is no alcohol [for sale].”

The Southeastern Conference similarly bans alcohol consumption in the stadiums.

“The Southeastern Conference doesn’t sell alcohol at any of our events, at conferences or institutionally,” says Mattox. “But in private areas, suites and club lounges and things like that we sell alcohol. But they can’t bring it into the stands.”

Security outside the stadium or sports venue should be able to weed out fans who have been drinking elsewhere and are too intoxicated to sit in the stands. Tailgating parties are where most of the drinking occurs, according to Marciani.

“If someone is drunk, obviously we don’t let them come into the venue,” he explains.

Despite these restrictions, Mattox notes that, inevitably, some fans will end up in the sports venue intoxicated. Security measures such as a texting system can act as a second line of defense against inappropriate spectator conduct associated with drinking.

‘The Role of the Fan Has Changed’

Three years ago, the University of Southern Mississippi implemented a texting system allowing sports spectators to alert the campus command center to disruptive or unlawful behavior.

The phone number, says Marciani, is printed on stadium signage and on materials in season ticket packages, screened on the video board throughout a sporting event and announced regularly over the stadium’s PA system.

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