Report of the Task Force on Crowd Control and Safety

Chapter II - Seating

1. Introduction

The arrangement of seating types in facilities is determined by the capacity and layout of the building and regulated by building and fire codes to assure that the physical capacity of the building is not exceeded and that evacuation can be accomplished safely in emergencies. The numbers of and locations of aisles and exits determine seating arrangements and the patterns of patron entrance and egress.

Three kinds of seating types are most commonly used for major events:

1) Festival Seating - rather than a seating arrangement, festival seating simply provides an open area without seats where a ticket holder may congregate during a performance. The ticket is a license to enter the area; no places are reserved for specific ticket holders.

2) General Admission - does not reserve specified seats for ticket holders. The ticket entitles the patron to a seat on a first come, first choice basis.

3) Reserved Seating - each seat is reserved for a specific ticket holder. This, therefore, allows each ticket holder to claim a particular seat and the facility to move ticket holders to specific locations.

The seating type, or combination of types, to be used at an event is determined by the facility in conjunction with the promoter and the entertainers. The choice of seating arrangement is most often determined by the kind of audience response and involvement that is desired and/or by profit considerations. The following discussion defines each seating type and states its advantages and disadvantages.

2. Festival Seating

Festival seating is reminiscent of picnic style seating. The arrangement implies the festive and mobile characteristics of outdoor activities. Today, festival seating in a facility is a misnomer. Seldom does festival seating allow for sitting at all, especially on the main floor of a facility. It really is festival "standing".

Whether for dancing or listening, certain types of rock music can be especially exciting and upbeat. To be able to move around, stand up, cheer and otherwise express oneself is one of the advantages of a festival seating environment. The fact that every festival seating ticket gives the ticket holder a chance to get as close as possible to a performer's stage adds to the anticipation and excitement of the actual show and explains why festival seating patrons gather in front of the facility's doors in a competitive spirit for the limited prime spaces.

At festival seating events patrons can wander throughout seating sections and the facility with minimal, if any, restrictions. Patrons know that there will be few ushers or other authority figures present. Patrons also know that in this environment control of alcohol and drug use is more difficult, if not impossible. Many facility operators consider festival seating an opportunity to reduce staff costs by hiring only the minimum staff necessary for security and ushering.

Advantages of Festival Seating:
  1. Many patrons want and enjoy festival seating.
  2. It is suitable for hard rock and entertainment that excites an audience.
  3. Festival seating offers more people an opportunity to be close to the performer(s).
  4. Tickets are easier to sell and can be sold at a uniform price.
  5. Facility staff can be reduced, making it a more profitable concert for the promoter.
  6. Friends can meet at an event and, once inside, stay together even though tickets were purchased at different times.
  7. There is no need to buy tickets early in order to get the best seats available.

Disadvantages of Festival Seating:

  1. Safety codes are not enforceable.
  2. It is more difficult to detect overselling or overcrowding.
  3. Patrons sense absence of authority and law enforcement, thereby encouraging vandalism, fireworks, and drug and alcohol abuse.
  4. Exterior crowd management is more difficult due to competitive nature of crowd.
  5. Unsuspecting patrons often are forced into chaotic crowd situations when entering the facility or event site.
  6. Individual patrons are encouraged to compete with each other for best concert vantage points.
  7. Facilities typically are not architecturally designed for festival seating events.
Festival seating can work under some conditions, but not those found at indoor rock concerts. Even under the best conditions and in the best circumstances, festival seating is inherently more threatening to the safety of audiences than reserved seating or general admission seating.

Since a festival seating ticket does not reserve a particular space or seat for the purchaser, the best spaces go to those who are willing, often literally, to fight for them. That awareness can bring hundreds or thousands of people to a facility hours or days before the scheduled event. At hard rock concerts, many come resolved to compete for the prime locations in front of the stage, a condition imposed upon ticket holders of both festival and general admission seating. This situation has ominous implications. Crowd safety is greatest when the individuals in a crowd are not competing for limited space but rather are cooperating toward a common goal. In a festival seating crowd, the individual can best achieve his or her goal - a prime viewing location - by competing with others for those limited areas. That competition can generate degrees of excitement and unruliness at entrances sufficient to endanger public safety.

Within the facility, enforcement of safety codes is practically impossible under festival seating conditions. Limiting the number of persons congregating in any one place, enforcing no smoking and open flame bans, and requiring open and clear aisles are all essential to the protection of lives. Moreover, there are more people on the floor than exit doors can handle and these people are compacted so tightly that accessibility within the crowd, should it be necessary, is impossible.

Festival seating facilities do not have to be oversold to be overcrowded. At a festival seating event it is legal to sell the specified seating capacity for a facility's main floor, as though there were actual seats there, plus all of the fixed seats in that facility. This appears to be an acceptable practice but has actually been a factor in producing unsafe crowd conditions, especially on the main floor. When an event like a rock concert is presented, a stage is erected at one end of the main floor making hundreds of seats behind and to the side of the stage unacceptable to patrons because of their poor viewing locations. Rattler than sit in those seats patrons will either migrate to the main floor where there are no seats or will sit in the aisleways if allowed. These actions cause unsafe overcrowding problems on the main floor and obviously in the aisles.

Tickets are easier to sell since, as in general admission, all are similarly priced - the best seats and spaces as well as the worst. Thus, a poor seat or a seat that might not sell at all in a reserved seating facility, has a very good chance of selling at a higher value because the purchaser is not actually buying that seat but an admission to the facility.

Festival seating also compromises the effectiveness of facility security. Both on the exterior and interior, people have come to expect an "anything goes", uninhibited environment. Festival seating relinquishes control of the audience both on the main floor and throughout a facility. Within the facility, the aisles in the fixed seating sections surrounding the main floor are often used by patrons for sitting. On the floor where aisles do not exist, segmenting the audience or preventing people from becoming a condensed and an impenetrable mass is impossible.

Rowdyism and vandalism are encouraged by the lack of restrictions on patron seating and movement throughout a facility. With a facility that does not require its audience to sit in certain seats or particular sections, there is only minimal need for ushers, thus saving staffing costs. Some facilities do, however, increase their private security, including Cincinnati Riverfront Coliseum.

Festival seating can work well in its originally intended environment - outdoors. In an unconfined area, where the assemblage does not overtax the site, festival seating remains viable.

The largest rock concerts today are held in sports stadiums and coliseums. Some stadiums do not allow festival seating, or any seating on the field, while others do. In Cincinnati, one "moderate" rock concert was held after careful planning in 1978 by the municipally-managed Cincinnati Riverfront Stadium. The event was held mid-week, using the field for festival seating. There were few incidents in that day-long concert which attracted 51,855 people. Whether or not future stadium rock concerts should allow festival seating will depend on City Council's determination of whether future concerts can maintain safety code regulations. The Task Force consensus is that many of the same problems exist in an architecturally restrictive stadium as they do in a totally enclosed facility.

3. General Admission Seating

General admission seating is a compromise between festival and reserved seating where a ticket guarantees that every purchaser will have a seat, but its location is unspecified. This seating is appropriate for graduations, religious activities, business meetings, movies, theatre, certain concert and sporting events, etc. that attract self-governing, disciplined and orderly audiences.

Most facilities were not designed to have the main floor occupied by spectators. With the increasing popularity of concerts, facilities are being modified in order to permit patron seating on the playing floor. To do this additional fire doors and emergency exits have to be added. The seats that are used on the main floor are designed to lock together to prevent individual chairs from being removed, relocated or inappropriately used. Cincinnati Riverfront Coliseum was able to add an additional 1,800 potential patrons to its legal capacity by meeting the requirements of the Fire Division.

If aisleways are clear and the seating arrangement is correct, it is possible to maintain the safety codes and ordinances, an aspect that distinguishes general admission from festival seating. Because of the nature of the audience and because patrons can more or less sit where they like, it may be possible for the facility management and promoter to reduce staffing expenses. However, many facilities respond to general admission by reducing ushering but increasing security details.

Advantages of General Admission Seating:
  1. General admission offers some ticket holders an opportunity to be close to the performer no matter when a ticket was purchased.
  2. Friends can meet at the event and sit together even if tickets are bought separately.
  3. Tickets are easier to sell and can be sold at a uniform price.
  4. There is a seat for everyone.
  5. It is possible to enforce safety regulations.
  6. Minimal staffing of security and ushers is sufficient.
  7. Works well with many types of events.
  8. It is a profitable seating type for promoters.

Disadvantages of General Admission Seating:

  1. Provocative events may make it difficult to keep people in seats, sacrificing crowd safety.
  2. Exterior crowd management becomes more difficult when crowds gather early in order to compete for best seats.
  3. It is difficult to detect the overselling of a facility.
  4. At hard rock concerts patrons may sense absence of authority and law enforcement, encouraging drug and alcohol abuse and vandalism.
  5. The unreserved nature of general admission seating means that one's seat may be taken by another if left unattended too long.
  6. Some facilities may not have safety modifications for people on main floor.
  7. Ushering may be reduced.

The same crowd management compromises that exist in festival seating are also present to some extent in general admission seating, particularly at anxiously awaited events. The same temptation to arrive hours before facility doors open for a show is still present. Those who came to get the best possible seats (and not just to arrive before the crowd) must compete with others around them, jeopardizing their safety as well as that of the crowd in order to achieve their objective. Also because of the unreserved seating and the freedom to move around, it makes it difficult to keep aisles clear and people in their seats. For the same reason, the inability to keep track of or manage a crowd makes it possible to oversell or overcrowd a general admission event.

4. Reserved Seating

Reserved seating is a system in which each patron is guaranteed a specific seat. It is popular because many patrons are willing to pay an additional charge for the certainty of a seat they can select and because it eliminates most of the competitive behavior that other types of seating may promote.

Reserved seating patrons, knowing what seat they have, consistently arrive in a more orderly manner, which can mean an easier processing procedure by facility security. The reserved seat crowd tends to enter the facility in an orderly and cooperative fashion.

Reserved seating offers the patron a choice of seating with the best seats at the highest price and those with the least pleasing or obstructed view at a lower price. In addition, the person who buys early gets to choose from among the best seats available. With reserved seating, interior crowd management can maintain safety codes since everyone has a place to sit and no one has a reason to move from section to section or to sit in the aisles. Moreover, troublesome patrons are more easily identified and isolated. Patrons are unable to congregate as they can with festival seating.

The most popular hard rock can be performed in an all reserved house without the difficulties associated with festival seating. After the December 3 concert in Cincinnati, where The Who performed to a predominantly general admission and festival seating crowd, The Who went on to play successfully elsewhere in reserved seating facilities of similar size.

With reserved seating it is not possible to conceal an oversold or overcrowded house, since it is possible to detect when there are more patrons than seats.

Advantages of Reserved Seating:
  1. Patrons have a guaranteed seat of their own selection and chosen price range.
  2. There is little sense of urgency to arrive early.
  3. Safety codes are easier to enforce.
  4. Overcrowding or overselling is readily detectable.
  5. Crowd management techniques are easier to enforce.
  6. Lawlessness and vandalism are reduced.
  7. Patrons are aware of an orderly and controlled environment and act accordingly.

Disadvantages of Reserved Seating:

  1. Patrons are required to sit in their assigned seat.
  2. Facility staffing costs may be higher.
  3. All tickets may be more difficult to sell because the best seats are bought first.
  4. There may be crowd problems at ticket outlets.
  5. Late arrival of a large percentage of patrons could pose a crowd management problem.

Reserved seating will require more ushers and perhaps other staff such as private security and ticket takers. In a soldout concert the total attendance will be reduced because of the likelihood that certain sections of seating such as those behind the stage or in poor viewing locations cannot be sold. These factors could raise the price of a ticket considerably over festival and general admission tickets.

From the point of view of enjoyment, reserved seating can become an obstacle when events like hard rock concerts are held and the loud, upbeat and rhythmic music along with the performer's encouragements makes people want to stand up and dance.

One of the factors that led to the ban on festival seating in Cincinnati was the uncontrollable and excitable crowd buildup prior to show time. With all reserved seating shows, the potential problem exists of large crowds at ticket outlets where the rush may develop for the limited choice tickets for a popular rock show.

Festival seating crowds may arrive hours or possibly days before an event making ticket processing difficult and crowd crushes part of the admission rigors. With reserved seating, the crowd tends to trickle in until approximately one half hour before the main act appears on stage at which point the crowd size increases dramatically. This characteristic of reserved seating can create crowd buildups in the last few minutes before a show, creating a potential environment for crowd problems.

5. Mixing Seating Types

Numerous facilities mix their seating types: festival-reserved; general admission-reserved; and festival-general admission. The mix will depend on the desired effect or on the promoter's judgement as to how difficult the seats will be to sell. Combining seating types does not alleviate the disadvantages inherent in each type. A festival-reserved seating arrangement can cause congestion as soon as the doors open. That situation could continue until and past show time when the reserved ticket holder comes just before the show begins.

6. Related Items

Other Establishments:

Seating capacities are established by the City of Cincinnati for all entertainment facilities, restaurants and other places of public assembly. In many of them signs are posted stating their capacity. Even where they are not posted, the owner or operator of the facility is likely to be aware of legal capacity. This has not prevented some local establishments from allowing overcrowding of their facilities. The City should continue to be as vigilant as it has been in prosecuting such violations as at the Coliseum.

Disabled and Handicapped Patrons:

National efforts during the last decade have begun to result in provision of accommodations for the disabled and handicapped in public places. For example, some public and a few private facilities now include special sections for wheelchair patrons. Most, however, do not; leaving wheelchair patrons in the aisles where, should an emergency occur, their safety and the safety of others would be jeopardized.



  1. Festival seating should be banned in all enclosed and restricted facilities at events accommodating more than 2,000 people.

  2. Festival seating should be allowed to continue in unconfined, outdoor areas.

  3. General admission seating should be permitted for events that are expected to attract a disciplined and orderly audience.

  4. Reserved seating should be the only seating allowed for those events that attract excitable and competitive crowds.

  5. Special accommodations should be provided by facilities for handicapped patrons.

  6. The legal capacity level of each facility should be prominently displayed for public viewing and enforced by the City in all facilities.

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