The Chicago Sky, Allstate Arena, and Some of the Risks they Face

Introduction

Basketball is not for the squeamish – players recklessly throw elbows, are whistled after hip-checking overly eager opponents on the way to the rim, and have been known to break each other’s faces (just ask the phantom of the Palace at Auburn Hills and Pistons star player Rip Hamilton).  Men and women who play the sport expose themselves to any number of serious injuries for the honor of ending a long season as league champions.  Actions on the court, though, are not the only risks players face nor are the heroes or heroines of sport the only ones subject to a sudden catastrophe.  As I walked into the All State Arena to watch the Chicago Sky’s game versus the talented ladies from the Pacific Coast, I noticed the first of a few major weaknesses in the venue’s security plan.  One risk involves egress, another places the soundness of the ceiling’s structure into question, and the last would send shudders up Monica Seles’ spine.

As we learn in William Crandall, John A. Parnell, and John E. Spillan’s Crisis Management in the New Strategy Landscape (heretofore simply called CMNSL), risks are not merely the result of internal factors; in fact, the external landscape plays as much a key role in determining an entity’s vulnerability (Crandall, Parnell, and Spillan 41-52).  Through this risk assessment of the WNBA’s Chicago Sky’s game at the All State Arena, we will understand how the lack of a well-lit fire escape route, an all-wood ceiling bearing massive weight, and inadequate number of security guards protecting the court and sidelines pose serious threats to all in attendance.

Fire!  Where in the World Do We Go?

As the previews begin and patrons eat popcorn with their mouths open, the lights are dimmed and the only light that remains projects the feature you paid to watch.  Or so it seems since we take the lit walkways in a movie theater for granted.  Darkness poses countless opportunities for folly and accident ranging from a laughable slip to a blazing fire that would create enough lawsuits to bring a company to its knees, so theaters install small LEDs along the aisles to guide moviegoers in the event of an emergency.  The All State Arena could learn from the foresight exhibited by proactive cinemas since the former shuts off all the lights for player introductions – like a vast majority of domed venues – and a crisis involving the loss of power or anything far worse could incite panic and guests could be injured or killed in a stampede in the penumbra.  Even though all exit signs were functional, hazards like tight seating areas and small concrete steps mix well with fright and darkness to create a crisis that the All State Arena ought to plan for lest it is forced to fold in disgrace.

In chapter 4 of CMNSL, Crandall (et. al.) emphasize the value of taking steps to prevent a crisis by stating that a SWOT analysis and study of environmental opportunities and threats should be part of a systematic and practical crisis management plan that could involve postponing other less important initiatives (66).  In the case of the All State Arena, it could mean that they would invest in routing auxiliary power to LED tracks along the aisles before they even think about replacing their scoreboard, for example.  Their SWOT analysis, however, would reveal an opportunity to minimize the cost of installation or even generate revenue.  For instance, the All State Arena could fund their efforts by having Underwriter’s Laboratories, Inc. or General Electric sponsor the lighting system that ensures the public’s safety in times of crisis.

I Can’t See the Scoreboard Clearly… Oh, Now I can since it is About to Fall Right on Top of Me (By the Way, this is HIGHLY Unlikely)

The All State Arena’s architects wanted an all-wood ceiling and the engineers made it mathematically andstructurally possible.  Though crises involving the fall of a gigantic scoreboard are rare, its low probability of incidence and incalculably catastrophic effects make up part of the definition of a crisis according to Professor Dave DeVries of Northwestern University’s Sports Administration program (lecture notes).  Technology – one of the four sources of crises discussed in CMNSL with political, economic, and social variables completing the list (43) – poses both opportunities and risks for the All State Arena since its ceiling suspends large screens that enhance the fan experience but depend on the integrity of the wooden dome to which the metal support beams are anchored.  One would not forego attending a sporting event because there is a remote possibility that the roof would cave-in, but the assumption is that the All State Arena’s wooden ceiling will not fatigue any time soon.  Furthermore, such a crisis could affect both players and fans alike.

Hamburg, Germany 30 April 1993 and Detroit, Michigan 19 November 2004

While the venue is responsible for keeping attendees safe, it must take significant steps to ensure the wellbeing of the athletes and entertainers it hosts.  At the height of her career, Monica Seles squared off with Magdalena Maleeva in a quarterfinal match held 30 April 1993 in Hamburg, Germany.  A lunatic took a short step over the wall that separates the stands from the court and lunged at the unsuspecting Seles with a knife.  Stabbed in the back by the unopposed assailant, Seles stood in shock as she put her hand on the wound and stadium security apprehended the attacker.  Although news of Seles’ frightening tragedy appeared on broadcasts all over the world and the incident left her with an inerasable trauma, sport venues still provide athletes with marginal and inadequate protection from the thousands of variables who patronize these establishments; after all, it takes only one unstable individual to cause such a preventable crisis.  In tables 4.1 through 4.4, Crandall, Parnell, and Spillan argue that while it is impossible to create a crisis management plan that covers every conceivable situation, a crisis management team ought to include risk categories in its strategy that enable the organization to classify a crisis and respond more effectively than if no plan was in place at all (74-77).

The All State Arena ensured the safety of its athletes by posting two guards on each side of the court.  That amounts to about two security guards per 3500 fans at the stadium that day: clearly, that is subpar protection.  Inadequate or insufficient security guards between fans and players could affect the former as well.

On 19 November 2004, a brawl involving players and fans broke out at a game in Detroit between the Pistons and Indiana Pacers.  Indiana’s Ron Artest entered the fan section and attacked several patrons.  When he returned to the court, Artest walked up to a Pistons fan and punched him.  The fan punched back.  Though Artest clearly antagonized him, the fan was subdued and the enraged player was allowed to roam about the court unrestrained.  Apparently, neither the NBA nor the Pistons’ crisis management teams prepared a plan that considered the possibility of such an event.  The Palace at Auburn Hills’ security team did not have a handle on the situation and guards were unable to choke the crisis as it unfolded.  A public relations disaster unlike any the league had ever seen ensued and the sight of Ron Artest, or the mere mention of his name, recalls memories of that terrible day in the league’s history.  Yet, the All State Arena remains vulnerable to crises resembling the Seles stabbing and the Artest brawl due to its lack of security guards along the sidelines.

Conclusion

Risk assessments involve analyses of the entity’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT analysis) and a thorough knowledge of its external environment.  While it is not feasible to prepare for every specific crisis, such as a crazed fan carrying a kitchen knife or an irate professional basketball player bent on attacking fans in the stands or elsewhere, an entity can prepare for certain types of crises by forming categories (like “dysfunctional customers or other individuals” as seen on table 4.4 on page 77) that encompass peculiar incidents.  Crisis management plans cannot simply aim to resolve a crisis once it begins; rather, a standard must be set that helps the entity prevent a crisis in the first place.

The All State Arena faces three particular risks.  In this list, the first concerns egress in the event of a disaster that leaves the stadium in the dark.  The second and third involve the compromised integrity of load-bearing wooden beams in the ceiling (highly unlikely) and protecting athletes and fans from each other, respectively.  Essentially, each of these crises is preventable as long as the arena’s Crisis Management Team convinces management that it is both responsible and beneficial to the stadium’s longevity to install LED lights that run on auxiliary power along the aisles for egress in the dark (making the arena a pioneer in public safety), regularly inspect the ceiling for structural problems, and improve security along the sidelines for the sake of athletes and fans alike.

Lastly, when I entered the stadium, I discovered that the door I used was unmanned; in fact, I entered unchecked and unaccounted for.  Were I a lesser man, I could have entered for free if I intended to never buy a ticket.  Instead, I just walked up to a ticket staffer who scanned my ticket and welcomed me to the arena: it was my first WNBA game and an impressive outing for the Chicago Sky.

Cam Suarez-Bitar.

There is a future for women’s basketball in America.  Support your local team and go to a few games.  In fact, since they have a smaller draw, they conscientiously increase the value of the ticket you purchase (i.e. you get more for the price of your ticket).  Expect more interaction between players and fans – such as post-game autograph sessions – and fan-centric sponsorships and promotions.  Unlike larger and more famous properties, the Chicago Sky use their creativity to help guests feel welcome and appreciated.  In fact, the lady sitting next to me – who, like me attended her first WNBA game that day – left with a pennant a marketing executive handed her, two prizes she caught when the “McDonald’s Fly-Kids” threw souvenirs into the stands, and a sense of pride in watching women excel in the great sport of basketball.  Indeed, the players as well as the organization itself are excellent role models for young women today.

As of Friday evening, I am certainly a fan.

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  1. I’ve been surfing online more than 2 hours today, yet I never found any interesting article like yours. It is pretty worth enough for me. In my opinion, if all web owners and bloggers made good content as you did, the internet will be much more useful than ever before.

    • Thank you for your kind words, Monserrate. I have been way from blogging for a while – as I am in the process of developing a business full-time – and I miss it dearly! Nevertheless, I plan on writing again soon and incorporating the blog with my business.

      Again, thank you for your post – I appreciate your taking the time to write. Please feel free to contact me if I may be of assistance to you in any way, or If you have great ideas for a new article.

      With kind regards,

      Cam Suárez-Bitár

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