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#YourCrowd is an initiative dedicated to the study of crowd behaviors and experiences, created and moderated by the strategy team at BaAM.

Sports, cultural and entertainment organizations have always gone the extra mile to keep their fans safe. Construction of venues adheres to strict guidelines which take into account everything from crowd navigation to ensure the safe and smooth flow of traffic to natural disasters – like earthquakes.

Following 9-11, venues adopted new policies in an effort to prevent a terror attack including pre-entry screenings and prohibition of handbags, backpacks, etc.

So how are crowds going to feel when they return to cheer on their favorite teams, attend a long-awaited event or watch their favorite musical artists perform post the COVID-19 crisis? And, how can all of us who own, host, manage and support these venues keep them safe – and feeling safe?

Andrea Finnegan, a Chicago-area therapist tells me that many of her clients are currently experiencing trauma. That’s right, not just stress due to COVID-19 but actual trauma. “We define trauma as the emotional ramification of exposure to a real or perceived threat to our and/or a loved ones’ physical wellbeing." Given the current pandemic, all of us are experiencing the real threat of COVID-19 to our physical wellbeing to varying degrees, both in terms of risk factor and perception. We can even consider this pandemic a collective trauma, which is the trauma experienced by an entire society.”

Finnegan also explained that the trauma is compounded: “In the case of this crisis the trauma is compounded because people have been instructed – wisely – to isolate. This leads to a loss of connection which is one of the primary factors of resiliency and healing from trauma.”

“People will be starved for the connection that gathering for their favorite games and events can provide
however, it will be paramount to consider how you maintain their safety so that ‘coming back’ is everything they hoped. You’ll need to strike a balance between the excitement of coming back, safety and security and normalcy.”

So, how do we make ‘coming back’ and taking part in these games and events feel safe for your crowds?

Finnegan suggests the following:

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Demonstrate Understanding

Think - Awareness, Acceptance and Action. A lot of human response is reactive rather than proactive. So often we react at the initial awareness of a problem, jumping right over acceptance to action. You might want to spend some time understanding and internalizing the experiences of your fan base before determining a course of action.

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This is about peers helping peers. I know many in your industry are reaching out to their colleagues to help develop a coordinated response. And that result will be really helpful – and less stressful and more effective – for people if rules and procedures are very similar from venue to venue.

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Now you are better prepared to share with your fans the steps you are taking to keep them safe when they come back. For example, you might describe your new cleaning and admittance protocols and explain how you developed those guidelines and how they comply with expert recommendations. And don’t be afraid to tell fans what you expect from them to help contribute to crowd safety.

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Be Honest

As organizers of large-scale events you didn’t sign up for this and yet decisions about so many lives will be pushed to you. Share both your decision-making and your emotional process and be clear about the information you used to help develop the processes to keep your fans safe.

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Be Human

This impacts how you communicate to your fans. You and many of those you know will have experienced great loss – whether that’s a loved one, a business, employment – and this will have profound impact on your decisions. It will be very hard to separate the personal from the professional and with a trauma such as this one, it is helpful to understand and acknowledge what you’ve been through and how this impacts your choices going forward.

Andrea Finnegan is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Therapist based in greater Chicago. A graduate of the University of Illinois at Chicago, Finnegan has been in private practice for more than 15 years. Full disclosure, Andrea is a Packers fan.

Lucy Strong has 25+ years of experience in sports and entertainment marketing on three continents. She is thrilled to be a member of BaAM's Strategy team.

We know significant research efforts focus on fans and followers as individuals, but with #YourCrowd, we are tapping the brightest minds and broadening the dialogue to better understand factors at play when engaging larger audiences in real life or in digital life.

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