The Ball is In Your Court: The role of Public Safety Campaigns in reducing Crowd Control problems

April 08, 2011

Katharine M. Nohr, Esq.
Nohr Sports Risk Management LLC

Combine passionate fans, alcohol and football, the equation for spectator unruliness, and your university may have a crowd control problem to contend with. It is not unusual for stadium and event management to engage in a public relations campaign in an effort to prevent anticipated rowdy behavior or address safety concerns before a big game. As you can well imagine, underdog University of Hawaii Warriors football team elicited a tsunami of fan excitement leading up to its Sugar Bowl berth. After a home game against Fresno State, some visitors complained about fan conduct in Aloha Stadium. In response, and before its remaining games against Boise State and Washington leading to an undefeated season, Coach June Jones made television public service announcements and advertisements were placed in electronic and print media to curb potential fan violence. His ‘good sportsmanship’ message urged the fans to show their ‘aloha spirit’, and specifically asked “for the safety of players, please refrain from throwing paper or other objects on the field.” Security was significantly beefed up for subsequent games and there was no repeat of the problems reported at the Fresno State game.

Hawaii followed the example of other collegiate athletic programs with its media blitz. Penn State University encouraged its fans to be enthusiastic as well as ‘safe and responsible’ leading up to its televised game against Ohio State several seasons ago. Penn State was successful in decreasing spectator injuries by increasing police presence at games. Fans were warned if they engaged in disruptive or dangerous activities, they would be removed from the stadium and face criminal charges. Students of Penn State would also face referral to the University’s Office of Judicial Affairs. Penn State encouraged fans to hold each other accountable for maintaining the standards of their community and for upholding their ‘long-standing reputation as a civil and respectful student body’.

Last year, University of Iowa Hawkeyes played Ohio State University in a football game starting at 7:00pm, and ending late at night, which raised concerns about safety for fans. The University employed ‘Safe Saturday’ guidelines, in order to encourage the fans to be cognoscente of personal safety. The goal of Safe Saturday was to provide the fans with a ‘safe and civil environment’ so that they would be able to enjoy the game. Safety tips were provided to fans in order to assist them with the University’s safety goals.

A well attended athletic event can quickly turn violent or unsafe. Obviously, litigation can arise from injuries that occur at your athletic facilities as a result of spectator behavior. Safety publicity campaigns such as described above have been successful in reducing crowd control problems. Even if your event is not expected to draw tens of thousands of people, you may wish to inform your anticipated audience in advance of your athletic season or a big game about the standards of behavior expected; any consequences of unruly behavior as well as any safety rules that will be in place. This can be done by newsletter, website, flyers distributed with event tickets, e-mails, advertisements, television or radio public service announcements, or any other means by which you can reach the attendees. With these measures, your team’s passionate fans can focus their energy on cheering for victory rather than rowdy behavior.

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