Leadership / 03.17.20
Fears of COVID-19 Have Gone Viral Among Venues That Sell Tickets
The headlines have been dizzying. If there were still newspaper boys on the corner barking out, “Extra! Extra! Read all about it!”, they’d have all lost their voices by now. “Coachella and Stagecoach Are Postponed Due to COVID-19 Fears!” “Live Nation to Pause Arena Tours!” “NBA Suspends Season!” “March Madness Cancelled!” “Broadway Goes Dark!” “MLB Delays Opening Day at Least Two Weeks!”
Of course, most newspaper and wire services don’t use exclamation points in their headlines anymore. But you get the point. To try and contain the coronavirus pandemic, venues that sell tickets are going dark either by choice or by government mandate nationwide and around the globe.
Whether you are the operator of a theatre, performing arts center, arena or stadium that is staying open or closed, there are still some common-sense steps you can take now to prepare for the worsening outbreak. Ken Stein, President and CEO of the League of Historic American Theatres, recommends, “This would be an excellent time to become more familiar with your insurance carrier. It’s too late now if you don’t already have a policy in place for event cancellations or business interruptions. But now would be a good time to review your policies to make sure you put in place what you need if this ever happens again.”
Crystal Brewe, Senior Vice President, Strategic Marketing & Communications of Kimmel Center Inc. in Philadelphia, says now is definitely the time for an “all hands on deck” approach. She urges “assembling a nimble, cross-departmental task force to continue to assess developments, communicate regularly and navigate change. [It] has been a helpful way to weed out the good information from the bad. With the overwhelming tidal wave of information about the virus spread, misconceptions and disinformation have the potential to leave everyone vulnerable. Fortunately, performing arts centers across the nation are speaking frequently each day via listservs, conference calls and group chats to share information and best practices. I recommend finding your cohort and begin information-sharing.”
The information flow has also been top of mind for Tammy Koolbeck, Executive Director of the Iowa State Center in Ames and Board Chair of the International Association of Venue Managers (IAVM). “Be prepared with your messaging for as many contingencies as you can imagine,” she says. “The messages you deliver to your patrons, clients, staff and the general public have the power to ease minds and inspire confidence. Connect with the public health decision makers that are in your community so you’re sitting at the table with them as decisions are being made about mass gatherings. If there is a threat of cancellation of your event, discuss with your promoters/artists about offering refunds, especially to those patrons with underlying medical conditions who are more at risk.”
And, of course, good old basic scrubbing has become more important than ever. When cleaning and sanitizing facility interiors, additional attention should now be given to frequently touched doorknobs, countertops, handrails and so forth. While in increasingly short supply, additional hand sanitizer dispensers should be installed in all venues both at the point of entry and throughout.
Stein, Brewe, Koolbeck and others have certainly heard the grumbles of arts patrons and sports fans alike who wonder whether a state of hyper over-reaction has been reached. For the most part, venue operators are just following the lead of state and local government and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in trying to keep the general public as safe as possible.
Michael P. Downing is Chief Security Officer of Oak View Group/Prevent Advisors, a Los Angeles-based global advisory, development and investment firm for the sports and live entertainment industries. “With any crisis comes danger and opportunity,” he says. “Much of the danger comes from the uncertainty about this virus, and this is creating an environment of hysteria. There is much disinformation coming out regarding the virus from both intentional and unintentional sources. Factually based perspectives are critical to maintaining situational awareness, operational readiness, good healthy business practices and continuity planning. The more prepared and situationally aware the venue leadership and staff are, the more confident and competent they will project the brand and physical venue in a positive, professional light.”
Stein, meanwhile, concedes that the old adage of “perception is nine-tenths of the law” applies to this crisis. “Our patrons are going to be watching the same news shows and reading the same news stories that we are,” he says. “That means if the media is hyping it — real or not — perception is everything.”
For those venues that are opting to remain open, at least for now, what are some measures that must be taken to allay the health concerns of those patrons who will continue to come and enjoy live events in person? Koolbeck was quick to reply. “Be visible with your cleaning and sanitizing protocol, both with signage and staff. In our pre-performance notes for our ticketed events, we are adding language about the steps we are taking with sanitizing before, during and after events, as well as encouraging patrons to stay home if they are showing any symptoms.”
Koolbeck, meanwhile, advises venue operators to confirm with their staffers that they should stay home if they are exhibiting any coronavirus symptoms or if they are in the at-risk population.
Brewe agrees. “At the time of this interview [March 5], we are continuing with all performances as planned unless the information we receive changes,” she says. “As a precautionary measure, we’ve increased daily disinfection practices for all areas of public and private spaces in our facilities. And we are providing guidance to staff and artists, as well as engaging in ongoing internal conversations, to offer the best and safest experience to our patrons. Hand sanitizers have also been increased in our lobby areas and at all entrances.”
Moving forward, those interviewed for this article all expressed hope that not only will venues and ticket sellers learn from this crisis but will also look back to the past for lessons gleaned from previous large-scale scares and calamities. “After 9/11, we saw artists, especially international artists, cancelling shows because of travel concerns,” Stein says. “Patrons also stopped buying tickets, [and] donations declined as people gave to relief efforts rather than their favorite causes.”
Downing concludes, “The most surprising things about pandemics is that we are still surprised they happen, and we shouldn’t be. In fact, even though we have defeated diseases such as polio, smallpox and other communicable diseases, epidemics today are spreading faster and farther than they did in the past. Globalization has caused what used to be locally contained to spread globally with lightning speed. There are more than 1,400 known human pathogens, and nearly all of them are capable of causing epidemics. Considering this will be an even bigger problem as we move into the future, there are lessons from past epidemics and pandemics that should inform our strategy and tactics to effectively mitigate risk.”
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Tags: Venues , Leadership , COVID-19 , Coronavirus