• Open Access

Implementation of effective alcohol control strategies is needed at large sports and entertainment events

Authors


Correspondence to: Mr Mark Lyne, ALAC, PO Box 5023, Wellington, New Zealand; e-mail: central@alac.org.nz

Abstract

Objective: To assess the implementation and effectiveness of strategies and actions to eliminate and/or reduce alcohol-related problems at large sports and entertainment events in New Zealand.

Methods: We conducted site visits and monitoring observations at venues before, during and after a variety of large events between March 2009 and November 2010. Thirteen events were attended at nine different venues. Events included rugby, rugby league and cricket matches, motor racing, rowing, horse racing, an outdoor music festival, and food and wine festivals.

Results: Most large events appeared to pass with few or no alcohol-related problems. The exceptions were one of the horse-race meetings, a rugby league match and one food and wine festival. Common contexts at events where alcohol-related problems were seen included: inadequate alcohol control and management by security staff; the ability to purchase four alcoholic drinks (rather than two) at a time; inexperienced bar staff untrained in responsible alcohol service; no or little promotion of low and non-alcoholic drinks; and a lack of monitoring and enforcement of the law on intoxication.

Conclusions: An important approach to prevent and reduce alcohol-related problems at large spots and entertainment events is the use of specific alcohol-control strategies. The management of alcohol consumption is a major part of event management that must be planned with harm-minimisation strategies well in advance of the event itself.

Implications: If strategies and actions are not properly implemented to manage the sale and supply of alcohol at large events, there is significant risk of alcohol-related problems and harm resulting from them.

It is increasingly recognised that intoxication is a key factor in experiences of alcohol-related problems for communities, families/whānau (Māori language word for extended family) and individuals.1 The likelihood of such alcohol-related problems may be high, prior to, during and following large events, particularly where those events combine large numbers of patrons with significant alcohol sales.2 In the past few years, there have been many well-publicised alcohol-related problems at sporting and other large events in New Zealand involving drunken behaviour of attendees and problems either during or after the event.1 New Zealand is not unique; alcohol-related problems have been reported at sporting and other large events in many other countries.3–6

Many of the factors associated with risky drinking and violence (e.g. a permissive environment, a large proportion of young males, crowding, etc) are present at sporting and other large events where alcohol is available.7 Aggressive behaviour is more frequent in drunken crowds than sober crowds, and intoxicated crowds display greater levels of violence as crowd size (i.e. density) increases.8 Several reasons have been suggested to explain the link between intoxication and increased violence. Some propose that alcohol interacts powerfully with a masculine social identity to exacerbate violent behaviour, with the perceived defence of ‘male honour’ often being a trigger.9,10 Crowd demographics of those attending large events (especially sporting events) have changed over recent years and more women, children and families enjoy the occasion, which makes the management of alcohol at large events all the more important.11 Furthermore, research indicates that drinking to the point of intoxication or ‘drinking to get drunk’ is the accepted norm for people of all ages in New Zealand and many adult drinkers do not see drinking to intoxication as a problem.12

Although few studies focusing on alcohol-related incidents at large events have been published, drunken behaviour of attendees and subsequent problems during or after the event (e.g. assaults, drunk driving) have been the topic of many news stories.3 We found few studies examining the management of alcohol at sports stadiums and/or other large events.4,13,14 We found only one study examining alcohol enforcement at sports stadiums.3

The management of alcohol at large events

Ineffective alcohol management at large events, particularly irresponsible serving, is often accompanied by high-risk behaviours and can lead to a variety of problems.15 Poorly managed alcohol consumption can exacerbate problems to the point where the event is neither safe nor successful for patrons as well as staff and organisers, and the way that alcohol is consumed at large events can send powerful messages about the acceptability (or otherwise) of alcohol-related behaviours.16 Alcohol is often seen as a symbol of celebration and is included in many public events as one of a range of services and part of the entertainment package.15 The majority of patrons attend events to have a ‘good time’ and under normal conditions public events proceed with little or no problems.17 However, when something goes wrong there can be serious consequences for everyone involved in alcohol management.18

The ultimate goal is to stop alcohol-related problems before they begin. The socio-ecological model provides a better understanding of violence and the effect of potential prevention strategies.19 This model considers the complex interplay between individual, relationship, community, and societal factors, and allows us to address the factors that put people at risk for perpetrating violence. Using this model, prevention strategies should include a continuum of activities that address multiple levels of the model, and should be developmentally appropriate and conducted across the lifespan. This approach is more likely to sustain prevention efforts over time than any single intervention.19

To prevent alcohol-related problems at large events, Guidelines for the Management of Alcohol at Large-Scale Public Events was published by the Alcohol Advisory Council of New Zealand (ALAC) in 2008, to promote the use of range of strategies and actions when planning for alcohol events throughout New Zealand.20 In 2010, a review of the guidelines was carried out following a thorough consultation process and the updated Guidelines for Managing Alcohol at Large Events was published.1 The guidelines are designed for individuals and agencies who work collaboratively in ensuring that alcohol consumption at large events is managed legally and effectively. These include; police, District Licensing Agency licensing inspectors, Public Health Services staff, licensees and bar managers, event organisers and security providers.

Methods

This study reviews the use of ALAC's Guidelines for Managing Alcohol at Large Events. We assessed the implementation and effectiveness of the strategies and actions documented in the guidelines during a variety of large events throughout New Zealand. We visited 13 events held at 9 different venues and conducted monitoring observations and investigations before, during and after the events between March 2009 and November 2010. Events were selected where the anticipated attendance was greater than 12,000 people and which provided a varied range of sport and entertainment across the whole of New Zealand. The events constituted: three rugby matches in three stadiums; two rugby league matches in two stadiums (one of which was the same stadium as one of the rugby matches); one cricket match (in the same stadium as one of the rugby matches); one motor-racing event; two horse-race meetings (both in the same stadium); one rowing event; one outdoor music festival (in the same stadium as one of the rugby league matches); and two food and wine festivals at two different venues. Crowd size varied from 12,000 attendees (food and wine festival) to 45,000 attendees (outdoor music festival and rugby league match).

Table 1 lists 13 strategies/actions of Guidelines for Managing Alcohol at Large Events we assessed for their implementation and effectiveness. The authors carried out the monitoring and observations before, during and after each event. Photographs and notes were taken throughout. We monitored the 13 strategies and interviewed staff responsible for alcohol management including police officers, event and venue managers, licensing and regulatory staff and security and bar staff. We monitored: the sale and supply of alcohol at alcohol outlets, including signage and the provision and promotion of low and non-alcoholic drinks, water and food; the way in which alcohol was restricted at entry points; the hours alcohol was available for purchase; the drinks containers and the maximum number of alcoholic drinks which could be purchased at any one time; the role played by security staff and their efficiency with regard to alcohol management and crowd control; the proficiency of bar staff with regard to responsible service of alcohol; whether the law on intoxication and supply to minors was properly enforced and how; and the venue and crowd behaviour in general. We used the following four criteria detailed in ALAC's Intoxication Monitoring and Enforcement Guidelines21 to monitor for intoxicated patrons: speech (e.g. impaired speech); co-ordination (e.g. stability and movement); appearance (e.g. dishevelled); and behaviour (e.g. loud and/or aggressive).

Table 1.  Strategies and actions monitored during each event.
Strategy/action
Effective planning and collaboration
Education and information
Providing and promoting low and non alcoholic drinks
Providing and promoting food and water
Alcohol restrictions on entry
Alcohol sale hours
Alcohol sales outlets
Drinks containers and number of serves
Family/whānau or alcohol-free areas
Visible and active security providers
Monitoring and enforcing the law
Providing safe areas for intoxicated patrons
Post-event evaluation

Results

Table 2 details the percentage of events complying with each strategy we assessed.

Table 2.  Compliance with strategies monitored.
Strategy/actionEvents complying
Effective planning and collaboration92%
Education and information100%
Providing low and non alcoholic drinks85%
Actively promoting low and non alcoholic drinks23%
Providing and promoting food100%
Providing and promoting water100% available
31% free
Alcohol restrictions on entry100%
Alcohol sale hours85% ceased before end of event
Experienced bar staff61%
Drink limits38% two drinks
53% four drinks
Family/whānau or alcohol-free areas23% children's areas
15% alcohol-free areas
Visible and active security providers85%
Monitoring and enforcing the law85%
Providing safe areas for intoxicated patrons100%
Post-event evaluation100%

Effective planning and collaboration

At 12 of the 13 events good planning and collaboration were evident, and included the relevant and essential stakeholders, resulting in clear communication before, during and after the event. In general, stakeholders had a good understanding of aligned goals, and a collaborative approach to reducing risk, including the rationale for the strategies and their controls and responses. While the majority of events applied processes aimed at meeting regulatory approvals, one event in particular (the rowing event) went significantly beyond that, taking on board feedback and advice from the local public health protection advisor, creating a model event for alcohol management.

Education and information

All of the events provided some form of pre-event communication to the public. Most commonly this included information that the venue operates as a licensed premises, and therefore this entails restrictions on bringing alcohol into the venue, legal requirements to exclude or remove intoxicated patrons, restrictions or limitations on bringing food and non-alcoholic drink into the venue, and the venue's intolerance of unruly or aggressive behaviour. This was done by a variety of media including building messages into general event marketing and advertising (69% of events), stating the conditions of entry at booking points and on websites (38%), stating the conditions of entry on ticketing (85%), installing prominent signage on the conditions of entry at all venue entrance points (77%), playing audio messages or announcements at venue entrances and inside the venue (31%), and displaying visual messages on main screens when present (31%).

Providing and promoting low and non-alcoholic drinks

Only three events properly promoted low and non-alcoholic drinks although they were available at most events (85%). (In New Zealand, low alcohol drinks are classified as less than 2.5% alcohol content by volume.)

However, the range of low and non-alcoholic drinks was not attractive and at times was difficult to locate. It was noticeable that at food and wine festivals, low and non-alcoholic drinks were not seen to be available at all. Some events (particularly the sports stadiums) sold low-alcohol drinks at a discounted price (compared to standard-alcohol drinks), which encouraged their consumption over higher-strength standard drinks.

Providing and promoting food and water

At all events there was good access to high quality food, which was varied and substantial in nature. However, only four events provided free drinking water. It was freely available at the outdoor music festival and food and wine festivals. Free bottled water was given out to attendees at one horse-race meeting, and at the motor racing it was available for purchase at lower than standard prices. At all other events drinking water was available for purchase at standard prices (69%).

Alcohol restrictions on entry

At all events there was a ban on bringing alcohol into the venue. This was clearly signed for several events but not at the sports stadiums. Wholesale bag searches were undertaken at events and venues with the exception of sports stadiums, where they seemed focused on getting people in the gate expediently. However, for many events covert drinking of smuggled alcohol was observed, especially at the horse-race meetings.

Alcohol sale hours

For most events (85%) alcohol sales ceased before the end of the event, although this varied depending on the type of event. The sports stadiums generally sold alcohol until approximately 30 minutes before the end of the match, although at one rugby league match the bars were closed by the police and event managers immediately after half-time due to crowd problems and the potential for intoxication. The motor-racing event and rowing event ceased alcohol sales approximately one hour before the end of the event. At the outdoor music festival, alcohol sales ceased at 9.30pm although the event continued until midnight. Alcohol sales generally continued until the end of the event at both food and wine festivals and horse-race meetings. In most cases an earlier closing time could be negotiated in the case of disorder, by arrangement with the police, licensee and event manager.

Alcohol sales outlets

For all events, alcohol sales outlets were either close to food outlets or integrated with them and generally did not outnumber the food outlets. However, there appeared to be more emphasis placed upon alcohol sales outlets than food outlets at both food and wine festivals. Relevant signage was displayed at all alcohol outlets and included the maximum number of serves per purchase, age identification requirements, and the law with regard to intoxication and minors. However, not all events (five) used well-trained and experienced bar staff for alcohol sales, and this was particularly evident at the sport stadiums.

Drinks containers and number of serves

All events limited the sale of alcohol to either two or four drinks per purchase at any one time. The sports stadiums limited the purchase of four drinks for rugby and rugby league matches, but only two for cricket. Other events limiting sales to two drinks included the motor-racing event, rowing event, and horse-race meeting (although the previous horse-race meeting had permitted the purchase of four drinks). Alcohol sales at the outdoor music festival were staggered and started at two drinks per purchase, increased to four drinks during the afternoon and reverted back to two in the evening. One food and wine festival limited sales to four drinks per purchase although this was reduced to two drinks during the event. The other food and wine festival did not place any limits on alcohol sales. Drinks were served in plastic bottles at the sports stadiums and outdoor music festival; plastic cups at the food and wine festivals and rowing event; cans at the motor-racing event; and cans, plastic bottles and plastic cups at the horse-race meetings. Where beer was served in plastic bottles, incidents of their use as missiles were observed at one rugby match and one rugby league match.

Family/whānau or alcohol-free areas

The only events which had family areas providing children's entertainment such as bouncy castles were the food and wine festivals, and the rowing event. Only two events (rowing event and outdoor music festival) had alcohol-free areas; in both cases this was because there were ‘wet’ or ‘drinking only’ areas and the rest of the venue was alcohol-free.

Visible and active security providers

All events had security staff policing the event but with differences in their numbers and responsibilities. At most events (85%) security staff appeared to understand their roles and responsibilities, and performed them diligently, particularly at the sports stadiums. However, at one rugby league match and one of the horse-race meetings, security staff did not appear aware of their duties and relied upon police officers to control crowd problems. Security staff at the horse-race meeting did not appear to monitor patrons for intoxication nor intervene when there were alcohol-related problems (e.g. fights). There appeared to be very few security staff at the motor-racing event although no crowd issues were observed.

Monitoring and enforcing the law on intoxication and supply to minors

At 11 of the 13 events monitoring for intoxicated patrons by security staff was evident. The exceptions were one horse-race meeting and one rugby league match. However, bar staff were often observed not enforcing the law on intoxication and supply to minors. (In New Zealand, the minimum legal age for alcohol purchase is 18 years. A minor is a person under 18 years of age.) Large numbers of intoxicated patrons were observed at both horse-race meetings, one rugby league match and one food and wine festival. Alcohol sales to minors were observed at the outdoor music festival although age identification checks were in place.

Providing safe areas for intoxicated patrons

The sports stadiums including the horse-race stadium relied upon the use of dedicated first-aid rooms which were staffed by qualified ambulance officers. Others such as the food and wine festivals and outdoor music festival used mobile first-aid rooms and/or ambulance vehicles. None had specific areas for intoxicated patrons only.

Post-event evaluation

All events held some sort of post-event evaluation. For some events (mostly the sports stadiums) these were immediately at the end of the event and were attended and monitored by the observers. They consisted mostly of a debrief involving police officers and event organisers. For other events, a meeting of all relevant stakeholders was held within the week following the event. In this case, the police still held a debrief immediately after the event.

Discussion

In general, the majority of large events which we monitored appeared to pass with few or no alcohol-related problems, e.g. intoxicated patrons and/or violence. The exceptions were: one of the horse-race meetings, a rugby league match and one food and wine festival. Common observed contexts at these three events included: a poor standard of alcohol control and management carried out by security staff; the ability to purchase four alcoholic drinks (rather than two) at any one time; bar staff inexperienced and untrained in responsible alcohol service; no or little promotion of low and non-alcoholic drinks; and a lack of monitoring and enforcement of the law on intoxication.

Proper monitoring and enforcement requires visible and active security providers, clearly and easily identified by their clothing.3,22,23 The security providers (not only police officers) are responsible for policing the event.24 The role of police officers is to support the security providers and although they need to be available if necessary, the security providers employed by the event organiser must be made aware of their duties and take responsibility. It is also vital to establish clear lines of communication between security and bar staff during an event.11 There should be a suitable and sufficient number of security staff depending on the size of the event and number of risk factors.25

Placing general public/casual staff in key security roles should be avoided unless they are being led by, or have received adequate training from, a recognised professional security provider.26 Bar and security staff should be selected and properly trained to reduce the risk of irresponsible alcohol service and potential violence.27,28 They should all be fully aware of the agreed number of serves per person, the signs of intoxication, the need for age identification checks, and the law on intoxication and minors. There should be a strong relationship between bar staff and security providers and security staff should be multi-skilled and suited to their role, familiar with the venue and able to react to any instruction.29 They must have the confidence to interact with patrons one on one and be able to intervene and communicate with patrons affected by alcohol who may also be aggressive. Event organisers must take responsibility for the security provider they have chosen.

Controlling the maximum number of drinks that can be purchased at any one time is a key alcohol-control tool and should be limited to two standard drinks (or lower) per person per purchase.13,30 For some events this may need to be reduced to one standard drink during the event, if considered necessary (i.e. if early signs of intoxication are observed) and the maximum purchase limit should be regularly reviewed during the event. What may have been an appropriate limit at the beginning of the event could become inappropriate later on. It is recognised that interventions directed at reducing heavy drinking should result in decreased alcohol-related harms.31 It is also important to reduce the likelihood of drink containers causing unintended or deliberate injury.11 Ideally, drinks should be served in plastic cups and no glass should be available except in members’ lounges and corporate areas.

All liquor licensed (except off-licensed) premises are required by law to provide and promote low and non-alcohol drinks and since large events which are licensed to supply alcohol are deemed in this sense to be licensed premises, this must occur for compliance with the law. There should be an attractive range of non-alcoholic drinks, properly promoted so as to support patrons’ choice not to drink alcohol (e.g. menus, displays, etc.). Low alcohol drinks can also be promoted by having a clear price difference between low-alcohol and high-alcohol drinks. When low alcohol drinks are sold at a discounted price (compared to high alcohol drinks), their consumption is encouraged over higher-strength alcohol drinks.1

Visibly monitoring and enforcing responsible alcohol service increases compliance with alcohol licensing laws.22,23 Overt (and at times covert) monitoring supported by clear, swift and meaningful consequences for breaches will ensure compliance and reduce risks.3 It should be made clear before the event that intoxicated persons will not be permitted to enter or remain on the premises and this should be reiterated at the venue.5 Gate staff (ticket takers) should be trained and briefed to look for patrons showing signs of intoxication and be able to easily call on security staff to intervene if required.30 Security staff should monitor for intoxicated patrons throughout the event and remove them from the venue where necessary.

It was disappointing that few events provided family/whānau or alcohol-free areas. These increase the probability of the event being perceived as a family day out and thereby reduce the potential for alcohol-related problems, particularly violence.11,25 They also provide areas for people and children to be separated from rowdy fans and any intoxicated persons.

Conclusion

This study assessed the implementation and effectiveness of strategies and actions to eliminate and/or reduce alcohol-related problems at a variety of large events in New Zealand. We found that in general, the majority of large events which we assessed appeared to pass with few or no alcohol-related problems. However, where we observed alcohol-related problems at events, common observed contexts included inadequate alcohol control and management carried out by security staff; the ability to purchase four alcoholic drinks (rather than two) at any one time; bar staff inexperienced and untrained in responsible alcohol service; no or little promotion of low and non-alcoholic drinks; and a lack of monitoring and enforcement of the law on intoxication.

Implications

Alcohol is readily available at most large events in New Zealand and if strategies and actions are not properly implemented to manage the sale and supply of alcohol, there is significant risk of alcohol-related problems and harm resulting from them. Preventing and responding to such events is in the interest of all stakeholders involved in alcohol management including the organiser, licensee, police, District Licensing Agency, public health service, security and hospitality providers as well as the broader community.

Limitations

One limitation of this study should be noted. The effectiveness of strategies and actions to eliminate and/or reduce alcohol-related problems could only be measured by our subjective observations and investigations. It was also not possible to accurately observe every aspect of the event. No easily accessible data is collected or available from the New Zealand Police to assess the numbers of alcohol-related problems specific to each event and its venue. It is recommended that the police in future collect such data for any further studies. However, despite this limitation, our study is the first in New Zealand to review the management of alcohol at a variety of large events across the country and identifies common observed contexts which may increase the risk of alcohol-related problems at these events. Although this study may be seen as a preliminary study, further and more exacting work can be planned.

Ancillary