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Live Events Revisited: How Outdoor Venues are Reinventing Live Events

By Anne Chapman

February 11, 2021

Columbus Crew Soccer Match 59

We've all missed it: the shouting crowds as your team scores. The friendly atmosphere as tailgaters grill hotdogs and ladle chili into bowls. A crowd singing along with their favorite band's number one hit. These sorts of live events are part of the fabric that weave our lives together.

COVID-19 postponed many live events and greatly changed others. As we cautiously reopen, live entertainment venues are adapting to new realities to keep guests safe while also allowing them to enjoy the sort of connection and excitement only a live event can bring.

Adapting To Outdoor Venues

Many events that would otherwise have been in indoor venues moved outdoors so the show could go on. For instance, live theater in many cities relocated to outdoor stadiums so guests could enjoy the show safely.

New Jersey's Paper Mill Playhouse seats 1,200 in their main venue. However, this past fall, they held outdoor shows in a makeshift venue on another part of the theater's property. This venue seats between 80 and 90 guests, but it allows local artists to continue performing and gives patrons a taste of the live performances they have been missing.

Many theater companies have adapted their productions for venues such as local stadiums, where they seat guests in pods on the playing field. These sorts of outdoor pods are often set up as small, cordoned off areas. For instance, a 12-foot by 12-foot area may be used for lawn seating for a pod of up to six guests.

Changing Tailgating

Parking lot celebrations before the big game or concert are, for many, an integral part of the game day experience. Arenas, stadiums, and their design partners have worked hard to develop a safe tailgating experience for their fans—some even making investments in long-term structures.

Arena and stadium architectural designer firm, Populous, has been working with arenas and stadiums to redesign the tailgating experience for COVID precautions and beyond. By utilizing parking garage structures and even shipping containers, a hybrid tailgating and drive-in experience for sporting events can be achieved in the parking lot.

By putting up large screens in stadium parking lots, stadiums can offer safely-distanced viewing of sporting events that embody the tailgating spirit. Populous is helping stadiums envision premium tailgating experiences with concepts like “suite towers” made of stacked shipping containers that allow groups of four to six to view the event from the furnished tower.

While these types of setups and structures help maintain social distancing and utilize the benefits of outdoor air circulation, they could become permanent, transforming into bars or concession stands when the pandemic subsides and restrictions are lifted.

Drive-In Shows: Not Just For Movies

Drive-in performances are another method for outdoor venues to continue to host events while maintaining social distancing. Each car at a drive-in show gets its own parking spot carefully distanced from neighbors on either side. Within the comfort of their vehicle—or from the hood or roof—guests can eat, drink, and enjoy the show.

A wide range of artists and venues have switched to a drive-in model. Andrew McMahon performed the Jack's Mannequin album Everything in Transit for sold-out drive-in crowds in New Jersey and California. Keith Urban played a drive-in show for medical workers at the Stardust Drive-In outside Nashville, Tennessee. Performers from Staind and Godsmack played unplugged shows to outdoor audiences on their national American Drive-in Tour.

Seating in Pods

Even outdoors, maintaining distancing is vital. Venue owners are selling tickets for events in pods, which are small groups who live in the same household or who occupy the same social bubble. Seats between pods are blocked off, locked, or potentially removed so that people do not accidentally move too close to another group.

Enhanced Safety Measures

One of the biggest challenges is providing an enjoyable experience while also keeping guests safe and secure. Venues have added a number of safety measures that allow shows and games to run smoothly while keeping everyone protected. Some of the measures venues are using:

  • Mask policies: In many parts of the country, state or local ordinances call for the use of masks when indoors. Even in areas they are not legally mandated, many venues are posting notices requiring them.
  • Contactless entry: Venue have introduced digital tickets that can be displayed on a patron's phone and scanned at the entrance of the venue. By reducing the number of items handed back and forth, the chances of transmission are reduced, as well.
  • Cashless concessions: Digital payment can be used at concessions, as well, to reduce contact between guests and staff.
  • Smaller, more frequent showtimes: Smaller audiences can mean lower revenue. Having multiple shows in a day is a way to counter this and increase revenue.
  • Timed entry: To cut down on crowds, ticket holders may be asked to enter and leave outdoor venues at specific times.
  • Hand sanitizer stations: The virus can be spread by touch. Frequent hand washing is the best defense. When that is not possible, hand sanitizer use can help. Locate stations throughout the venue to encourage their use.

    By consistently keeping with social distancing and other safety measures, we can cut the transmission and keep outdoor games and performances a part of our daily lives.