Safety in the Stadium
On May 17, 1939, NBC aired the first televised sporting event in the United States—a college baseball game between Columbia and Princeton. Forty years later, the debut of ESPN revolutionized sports, helping to grow and strengthen fan bases worldwide. The televised allure of the bright lights and loyal crowds have made live sports some of the most-attended events in the United States.
Athletes spend their entire lives trying to win a championship, but for event planners, it’s often not whether win you win or lose but how you manage the risks of the game. Event organizers face risks such as alcohol and drug abuse, crowd control, fire safety, emergency medical services, player injury, food safety, weather events, power outages, emergency evacuation, media relations, terrorism and more. And keep in mind, these events are high profile and highly volatile, so risk managers and insurance advisers must be prepared to handle the unexpected in front of a live audience of millions.
One of the most challenging risks is athlete disability. Fans show up to games and tune in to see their favorite superstars. With soaring contract values and rising concerns over injuries such as concussions, it is critical to be aware of what is happening in the insurance marketplace and to consult experts when necessary.
Teams in most professional sports leagues in the United States, except for those in the NFL, offer guaranteed contracts to their players, which leaves the responsibility of a disabled player with the franchise. Advisers working in this area need to be highly skilled and understand the exposures and insurance solutions available to teams and individual players. “If you think about it, many of these players’ contracts are so large that, independently, they are their own business, and their largest commercial exposure is their ability to play,” said Chris Lack, executive vice president with Exceptional Risk Advisors.
In addition to the health of players, event organizers must also consider the safety of the fans. For example, a well-known insurance company was hired to help an NFL team control fan behavior, safety and security while the team played its last home game in a stadium that was soon to be demolished. The concerns, in addition to the weather, were how the crowd might act during the final game played in a storied venue.
Meetings were held between insurer, team, stadium, league and law enforcement personnel to augment the normal emergency and game-day plans. They reached a decision to prohibit the sale of alcohol during the game and increase the visibility of the security team in the stadium to discourage inappropriate behavior. Emergency plans were reviewed, updated and discussed at staff and crew meetings.
Stadium personnel were informed of the changes and reminded to be observant of fan behavior. Public announcements were made through the media to inform attendees that certain changes would be in effect. Patrons were also encouraged to use text messages, phone calls and social media to inform stadium management of situations that might require their attention. Extra signage was added in the parking lots and stadium entrances regarding acceptable fan behavior and conduct. The insurance company also provided on-site personnel at the game to observe and respond to requests and, later, to prepare a review for stadium management regarding the success of their efforts.
In the end, the game went off without a hitch. Instead of blemishing the stadium’s history on its final day, fans were able to give the venue the send off it deserved.