Socially Distanced Event Logistics
Socially Distanced Event Logistics
At big, busy events, walking 100 meters through the throng of racers getting their bibs can take an hour. It’s jam-packed. Until there’s mass-testing and an effective vaccine for COVID-19, the format of big events has to evolve.
So what are the practical plays that can ensure the small races can start taking place in the coming month, and big races rebound from Q4, and Q1 next year?
Here are some ideas that event organisers, venue operators and exhibitors might want to explore. Some of the solutions here involve cost and might put a strain on delegate logistics and the business models adopted by most event organisers, but we bear in mind, the goal is to host a safe show, with the possibility of social distancing.
1. Extend the race time-frame and stagger attendance
Could the race be hosted over a longer time frame?
Sure, there are challenges with this protocol. Exhibitors have to be present for longer. You may need several major keynote speakers in order for delegates to have a similar quality of experience and content. A big-name speaker, like an Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg or Eric Schmidt might not be able to hang around for several days to give all attendees exposure to their wisdom and celebrity.
Spartan have led the way here, by reducing their heats to 24 from the usual 300, and staggered the start with waves going off every 5 minutes. They used a hexagonal pattern over a square grid set-up, citing that you can save half a foot per row and reduce the risk of entrants running directly into the person in front.
A walking flow is also a good alternative for runners who need to move forward and maintain a consistent flow towards a location for the start area: An example of a walking flow can be seen at Spartan’s event below.
For organisers who are new to wave starts, Overland Timing’s Race Corral Calculator here offers a great interactive tool to help you calculate corral sizes based on area dimensions and social distancing constraints.
What is clear is that a successful wave start relies on clear communication and it’s important to obtain the correct information such as expected finish-time during the booking process; to inform runners to arrive close to their allocated start time; and to ensure that signage toward the start-line is clear and safe.
One method is a self-serve bib collection. Prior to the event, organisers can email all entrants their bib number and ensure that, upon arrival, runners are clearly signposted and directed toward a pre-packed bib collection. This is a method that has been used with success by some race directors in the US.
3. Restrict attendance and scale ticket price
Event organisers might have to take the view that, in order to enable better social distancing, fewer participants can attend.
8,000 participant events may instead have 3,000 places and some element of control over access in certain windows. Much like going to the supermarket in the present pandemic climate, access to start lines could be managed by staggered starts to avoid overcrowding.
To compensate for the loss of participant and ancillary income, prices can be partially hiked; the opening day would cost more than day two onwards, using a pricing scale.
4. Pre-Posted Packets
Pre-posting packets, albeit more expensive, is another great contactless alternative which means that participants can arrive ready to race.
Alternatively, you could use a third-party provider to handle this process, from start to finish, for you.
5. Moving Finish Line - Not Static
Another issue facing organisers is mass gathering of runners following the event. While we’d love for participants to be able to hang around, interact and meet like-minded individuals, this will not be possible for the time being.
Generally, races involve large queues, numerous points of contact, mad rushes prior to the race start and people hanging around in groups after crossing the finish line. Evidently, none of this will be allowed with social distancing legislation and, as a result, event organisers must begin to think about how they can make these stages of race day safe.
Spartan solved this problem by giving people a strict time-limit; people had to enter the venue no more than 30 minutes from their start time and leave no longer than 30 minutes after finishing.
A more creative option, and one which has been successful in the world of virtual racing, is offering a Zoom meet-up the evening after the race for all entrants. This allows participants the chance to debrief and discuss the event with fellow competitors from the safety of their own homes. A virtual goodie bag for people to access post-race can still give people a post-event pick-me up vibe to help them review your event.
6. Instill comfort and safety for racers
As event organisers, we are all eagerly anticipating the return of in-person events. That being said, it is important to understand that many people will be apprehensive about returning.
These are a few easy ways to instil a sense of comfort and security in your participants:
1. Plexi-glass screens in place for payment or registration stations
2. All staff onsite should wear a mask and gloves at all times
3. Enforce participants to wear a mask both before and after, but not during, the race
4. Have extensive hand sanitisation stations set-up (perhaps even include some within your race pack)
5. Make sure everything, from toilets to sign up, is clearly sign-posted and distanced
6. Inform runners to be self-sufficient as aid stations are an unnecessary point of contact. This will also reduce waste and minimise environmental damage. If you do wish to provide nutrition during the race, make it a grab-and-go system with individually wrapped snacks and no hand-offs.
While taking part in a race is, arguably, safer than visiting your local supermarket, it is not an essential risk, and as an organiser it’s crucial to offer participants both comfort and security throughout the event.
Alongside a well laid out start and finish area, consumer confidence can be instilled through clear and instructive signage, which outline the regulations and expectations from the organiser. We put together this sign which instructs runners to wear a mask both before and after the event and to adhere to social distancing regulations.
A new normal, a new playbook
There’s little doubt that people will want to attend events again, big and small. It’s frequently said that we are social animals.
True, contact is important to us, whether for entertainment, embracing our friendship circles or for business reasons. However, there’s also a recognition that a new normal may emerge from this global pandemic. COVID-19 may be with us for a long time to come. If the big events with people flocking in from far-flung geographies are to happen, the approach to safety and reassuring audiences will need to evolve. It will require innovation and good communication, to provide reassurance.
Excitingly, the return of in-person events in the UK seems imminent after the most recent government guidelines. Clearly, the US illustrates that races can still attract and excite participants. What remains unclear is whether or not the demand will be there or if consumer confidence remains low.
With this in mind, starting to plan for in-person events now will really serve to benefit your business when events do return. Use this time to interact with your audience, ask about their main concerns, and what they would like to see at your events in this new age of mass participation sport.