Thousands of people enjoyed seeing and hearing Elton John perform on March 5 at the Spokane Arena.
Once they got in the doors, that is. Enhanced security measures, including metal detectors, introduced last fall at the Arena, as well as poor line management, meant that several thousand people were still outside when Captain Fantastic took the stage.
It’s a problem not lost on the Arena’s general manager Matt Gibson. It’s the sort of thing that keeps him up at night.
And with three big shows coming to the Arena in the next four days, Gibson said his staff is ready.
Patrons who attend concerts by Journey on Thursday, Eric Church on Friday or the Rock and Worship Roadshow on Sunday will see more Arena employees outside the doors, ready to answers questions and point concertgoers in the right direction.
“You’re going to see a notable difference with (Arena staff) with flashlights and light up vests,” Gibson said. “And the number one rule is be proactive. Tell people what they should be doing. Don’t say ‘There are shorter lines over there.’ Escort them.”
Gibson also has some advice for concertgoers.
“Arrive as close to door time as you can,” Gibson said. “We understand that not everybody is going to do that, but the folks that we talked to (at Elton John) who got in more speedily, they were there right at 7 or immediately thereafter. They were inside in five or 10 minutes, no problem. If more people get there at door time, it will help out.”
The other thing? “Leave what you don’t need at home,” he said. “Don’t leave it in your car. Leave it at home.”
That pocketknife you carry every day? Per the Arena’s posted security policy, it’s considered a weapon and is not allowed through the doors. Same goes for wallet chains, guns and pepper spray.
(A revised gun policy for off-duty law enforcement is pending, according to the Arena website. For now, the post states, “Off-duty officers will be asked to leave their weapons at home. Citizens with concealed carry permits will be asked to leave their weapons at home and will not be allowed entry if they bring those weapons with them to events.”)
Any camera not part of a mobile phone needs to be able to fit in a pocket – no detachable lenses allowed. As every purse and bag is searched before entry, patrons are encouraged to pack very light: cellphone, tickets, ID, car key, and money. Searching large bags takes more time and slows down the line.
“Do you need your knapsack? No,” Gibson said.
Also, be aware if there’s an opening act. If there’s an opener, then getting there close to showtime and having to wait in line will be less of a big deal. The ’80s band Asia is opening for Journey on Thursday. But with no opener as there was with Elton John – and there’s no opener for Eric Church on Friday – headliners typically go on stage close to the posted start time.
The crowd for Journey likely will be a bit smaller than the 11,000 or so who were on hand for Elton John. Eric Church on Friday should see a comparable turnout as John. Generally, doors open 60 minutes before showtime, but in Church’s case Friday night, people can start filing in at 6:30 p.m. – 90 minutes before the 8 p.m. start time.
Gibson draws a parallel between enhanced security at events and what we saw at airports after 9/11. “It took people a long time to get used to the idea that they need to get there early,” he said. “And I think we’re just in the middle of that. To be honest, we’ve only had (the metal detectors) six months, and I’m surprised we’ve only had one mishap. For the most part its been really great.”
At the Carrie Underwood concert in September, all bags were searched and patrons were wanded with hand-held devices. But people had been warned to arrive early; they did, Gibson said, and the evening went smoothly. Given that the metal detectors have been in place since October, and the Arena previously had hosted big-selling shows from Florida Georgia Line and large hockey games, the exact cause of the jam at Elton John is still a bit of a mystery.
There were 22 points of entry to the Arena open that night, but for some reason, a large number of people tried to get in the doors on the lower level entry, across from the Flour Mill.
“We’re still trying to figure that out, and rest assured that’s all we’ve been talking about since that happened,” Gibson said on Monday. “What was it about this one that gave us the headache. From the calls that I’ve received, there are some parallels. ‘We got there around 7:30,’ being one. But even that doesn’t explain it all, because some of those folks were in line earlier than that. It seems there were some issues with the lines from the northeast entrance coming down around Howard to Mallon, and the line coming off the southeast entrance somehow getting merged. Something happened there where people thought they were in line for the main doors and they were in line for the southeast doors, where there are only four points of entry down there.”
And that’s where Gibson admitted the Arena staff was slow to be proactive in moving people around. That’s changing this week, “and for here on out,” he said.
Normally, he said, the Arena staff can move 500 people per hour through the metal detectors. With 22 points of entry open for Elton John, the math spells out they should have been able to get 13,600 in a hour. “That should have been possible. Clearly it wasn’t,” he said. “This is the stuff that keeps me awake at night.”
The silver lining, he said, is it has let Arena mangers understand they need to take a different approach with some of these events. Since October, the Arena has sent email to ticket-holders and used social and traditional media to let audiences know about security measures and advice for getting in promptly.
“A lot of the calls we got were saying ‘I never got that, or I didn’t see it,’ and they weren’t aware of it,” Gibson said. “That tells me, all right, we have a different audience for this type of show, we need to do something different.”
Gibson added, “At the end of the day, the last thing we want to do is inconvenience anybody. We want everybody to come and have a fabulous time and enjoy the show. That’s what we want.”
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