We are now moving into a more detailed phase of the investigation, where we need to define the size of the event in terms of expected audience numbers.
Estimating audience numbers
Many of your event arrangements hinge on the size of the audience; get this wrong and you get an awful lot wrong. Think of the services and facilities that are based on the event size: the number of toilets available; the car parking space; the number of gates in use; the number of gate staff; the amount of cash float; and the number of burgers you may have bought in for resale.
You must concentrate on generating an accurate estimate of the number of people who will attend. The larger the prospective event the more imperative it is that you invest time and effort in getting this right.
If you derive an audience size using three separate methods and two methods indicate your audience is going to be around 3000, but the third method indicates an of 20,000, you must look further. One or more of your approaches is wrong. You must get the estimated target audience right, to make the event a success.
Making your estimate either too high or too low will almost certainly cause you problems and cost you money.
Underestimating attendance could cause major problems. If too many people arrive, your event site may not be large enough to accommodate them. There could be insufficient facilities and it may be unsafe (or even illegal) to allow more than the specified number to enter the event site. This will alienate your audience (so don’t bother running the event again next year because nobody will come) and you will grossly aggravate logistical problems. You are then also denying access to people who have come a long way to give you money to visit your event. You will have to close the gates, ruining your reputation and that of your event too.
Similarly overestimating attendance will also cause you problems. If less than the planned number arrive, you will have wasted money on unnecessary and unused facilities and staff and all too easily will have made a significant financial loss.
How do you arrive at an accurate estimated attendance figure? There are a number of methods, some of which are more accurate than others. You should use three or more appropriate approaches to give you confidence in the accuracy of the figures that you derive.
Previous years’ attendance
Some events are run annually or at least on a fairly regular basis. It should be an easy to check on the attendance from previous years to arrive at an estimate of the numbers that might attend the event you are planning.
If previous event records are available, refer to them. Better still if the people who organised the previous event are available, don’t be frightened to consult them for inside knowledge, things that went well, things that went wrong, price levels, attractions booked and attendance etc.
It is important that you do not simply assume that you will get the same number of people attending your event this year. Perhaps at the brass rubbing show last year, there was a passing fashion or trend for brass rubbing that boosted their figures. Alternately, the weather may have been terrible last year, suppressing attendance – that is an added bonus of talking to the people who ran the event last year. They can interpret the statistics and fill in missing information! Make sure you read any reports from last year’s event, talk to staff and check by using other methods to estimate event size.
Similar event attendance
You may be able to gather information on attendance figures at similar events. This method is simple, but wide open to misinterpretation and error. If a recent bicycle-racing event at your site attracted 3000 people, can we really assume that 3000 people would be interested in a trick cycling event on the same field?
The answer is no and perfectly illustrates the need to use more than one method to independently gauge the size of the attendance, to help you make some decisions.
All we know from the attendance at the bicycle-racing event last year is that there were 3000 people who were interested in bicycles – or maybe 3000 people interested in racing. Or could it be that perhaps a local first division football match was cancelled that day last year and 3000 people came to the event because they wanted something to do before the coaches came at 6pm to take them back home? Alternatively, was it held on a bank holiday and everything else for 20 miles in any direction was closed? Perhaps a local holiday camp was evacuated due to a fire alarm or flood. Or… or … or … well, or any number of other external factors that can totally reverse the projected and planned audience and attendance numbers.
All we really know is that there was a figure of 3000 people on that day, simply an indication. If the event staff and or accounts and reports are available, there may be additional information that could help you to understand this attendance and allow you to apply that to your proposed event with an increased degree of accuracy or confidence.
Some events require that players or team entries have to be made in advance. For example, players in a football league or tennis tournament will have come up through the club leagues, so all potential participants will be known and expected.
The participants will know the non-team members they will bring (they are doing a similar but smaller exercise and arranging their own transport etc. so they know quite accurately, e.g. managers, teams, coaches, reserves, supporters etc.). Once the information is gathered, it is a quite simple matter to collate numbers and arrive at a fairly accurate total attendance figure.
Some events may require competitors to register their interest and attendance in advance and they may also be required to pay an entry or registration fee in advance. Where competitions are part of the event, for example a half-marathon, runners may be required to register and pay say a £ 5 entrance fee that will pay for first aid cover and insurance etc. If this is the case, by the time of the registration deadline you should know fairly accurately how many people will probably be coming. As an indication of their commitment to attending, you have their £ 5 fee in the bank. If some do not come on the day, there is no loss because they paid their non-returnable registration fee.
It is possible that the venue may dictate the maximum audience that an event will be allowed to attract. Football grounds, theatres and some other venues have a legal maximum capacity. Some events require safety certificates from the local authority and/or emergency services. The certificates and authority to hold the event are issued when the organiser has proven that appropriate regulations and necessary safety obligations have been met.
In such events, once the venue is decided, the seating capacity is then known. Remembering that it is possible that some seating may be taken out of use to accommodate equipment (such as flood lights and sound control electronics at a pop concert, or partitions separating opposing fans at a football match). It is a simple matter to then calculate the maximum number of attendees.
Some events will be limited by time. For example, referring again to the football league example, if there is only one pitch, you cannot invite 50 teams to a knock-out tournament on a single day. With only one football pitch, there is insufficient time to arrange and play enough games in a single day to arrive at a winner.
Restricted and prescribed attendance
Some events by their nature very strictly define and restrict the attendance. These include investitures at Buckingham Palace, reunions for holders of the Victoria Cross etc. At these events the organiser closely specifies and invites the attendees, so he or she knows exactly who is coming and can even tell them when and how to arrive.
Effect of current circumstances
You have now arrived at a figure that is your best estimate of the numbers of attendees you will be expecting, but beware. You must also consider current and imminent changes in circumstances. You must remember that your investigation, planning and preparation will take some months and during that time there could be significant changes that will or may affect your event. Your potential audience could change considerably over two or three months and depending on circumstances may change radically within hours. You may get ten times the expected attendees, or one tenth of your estimate. You must allow for this in your planning and arrange matters suitably. What could cause such a change?
Such problems as a sharp rise in interest rates, or the closure of a major local employer will almost certainly cut the numbers attending. At times of economic crisis, ‘the public’ counts every penny they spend and disposable income plummets. They may to come, but they have to spend the cash they have on rent and food and save any surplus for a rainy day, so there is little or no money available for entertainment or charity etc.
On the other hand, favourable interest or exchange rate changes, the opening of a new factory locally, or unlimited overtime in the local factory making electric fans in a hot summer, will put money in people’s pockets, give them confidence and almost certainly increase the size of attendance.
A huge storm will keep all but the most hardy and dedicated enthusiast away from almost any event. You may even find that the exhibitors you have booked will stay away in very bad weather. Apart from the travelling difficulties, a vintage car owner will not be too keen to park their pride and joy in a storm-swept muddy field for your event! Even the helpers and staff may stay away during a severe cold spell, or gale force winds.
However, an unexpected Indian Summer, when an October weekend is suddenly very dry, warm and sunny, will increase the number of people looking for outdoor entertainment, deciding to take one last unexpected day out in the sun before winter drives them indoors.
Everyone who wants to attend has to get to the event. If there is a train or bus strike, or a protest demonstration gridlocking local roads, or severe weather making it dangerous to drive, or a signal failure or flu epidemic severely curtailing services, people just won’t come!
It is just possible that transport problems could increase your attendance, but highly unlikely. If, for example you propose to hold your event on a bank holiday weekend, it is just possible that the public will prefer to come to your local event, rather than fight the bank holiday traffic. Another example may be that unscheduled engineering works on the main railway line will prevent locals going up to town for the day and they may look for alternative entertainment locally, boosting your audience and income.
A well-publicised terrorist attack will severely reduce the number of people willing to attend an insecure public event, hence attendance and interest will almost certainly , if not vanish. (This illustrates the need to show that your event is professionally managed and run and is safe.)
An outbreak of foot and mouth disease or other similar national emergency will impose legal restrictions on travel, meeting and use of land. Such an outbreak would kill an event.
A tennis-related event would naturally attract significantly increased numbers if it were held at or around Wimbledon fortnight. Similarly, any craze or fashion could potentially increase the number of attendees at your event. During your investigation and planning, keep an eye on changing circumstances to get a feel for trends and be prepared to consider adding a new fashionable and crowd pulling attraction, but only if it is economically viable.
Similarly, don’t expect to succeed if you are basing your whole event on last year’s summer sensation – it may have had its time and now be defunct. Beware, nothing is more changeable than teenage trends and fashions.
You could deliberately organise an event that was totally out of season if you had strong demand. For example, the summer skiing event might work if you can appeal to the dedicated snow junkie who is suffering summer withdrawal symptoms being away from skiing for the summer months. You might also take advantage of holding the first such event before the new season begins, especially if you can advertise it well and it become known as ‘the event’ that sets the trend and exhibits all that is new for the coming season. Hard to do, but possible.