The VenueConnect panel included (L-R) Dennis Reinhard, Bob Pollicino and Ray DiNunzio and was moderated by Russ Simons.

REPORTING FROM BALTIMORE—It couldn’t be a complete VenueConnect 2015 in Baltimore without addressing the topic of civil unrest and specifically the public protests that took over the city and caused the first-ever closed MLB game at Camden Yards. In a session moderated by Venue Solutions Group’s Russ Simons, panelists discussed how the NFL, NHL and Baltimore worked through their own experiences.

Ray DiNunzio, director of strategic security for the NFL, described one strategy to handling a potentially volatile situation by facilitating the protest themselves.

“In preparing a plan of action for responding to civil unrest and public protests at large venues like a sporting event, the key is communication and working together, particularly with law enforcement,” said DiNunzio.

The setting was a Minnesota Vikings and Washington Redskins game last November at TFC Bank Stadium, Minneapolis. The protest was over one team's own name, the “Redskins,” and attracted around 5,000 participants. Almost 30 speakers led the protest, including Native American leaders, local politicians and former sports stars.

In addition to tracking intelligence through law enforcement, DiNunzio said they hired a professional firm to do social media monitoring for them. From that monitoring they found out about the march and learned who these people were and created a plan of action.

“We designed our response plan around what we know the crowd was planning on doing and what we, in cooperation with police, permit them to do within their rights,” said DiNunzio.

A staging area was set up outside, providing a controllable area for them to protest. They had a right to the public space but weren’t allowed to interfere with the event and the rights of those who were there to enjoy it. The area included adequate signage, the police had blocked off roads and charted a path for the crowd to get to the stadium, as well as bus routes.

“We were facilitating their protest basically,” said DiNunzio. “It takes a lot of cooperation with the groups, the city, the local governments and the police department. What was key was rather than letting the crowd decide where to go, we closed streets and created an avenue for the crowd to get to the site of the protest, and we were able to work with the police and the city to reroute traffic.”

Also last November, the Ferguson protests in Missouri affected the Scottrade Center during a St. Louis Blues game, challenging the security planners there to handle the “pop-up protest” organized through social media. Protestors were looking to get inside the arena to buy tickets to the game, but, as Bob Pollicino, senior director of NHL security put it, they were thankfully sold out, so any problems that would have erupted inside the arena never did.

“All our protests for the most part were discovered through social media or law enforcement,” said Pollicino. “It’s good to know when you’re going to have a protest. In this case it was more of a flash, social media pop-up protest.”

Pollicino said the two nights of protests at the hockey games lasted only about 30 minutes, with protestors remaining relatively peaceful. Law enforcement had no reason to come out in full force, so they laid back and let demonstrators demonstrate.

“They had game-day conferences every afternoon between all the major players: venue managers, security, the police, FBI, state police and the league itself,” said Pollicino. “They would bring each other up to speed every afternoon. Generally, they didn’t have too much trouble responding, because they had policies in place to respond to pop-up protests. Everybody knows their role. It’s always a series of handoffs.”

Before the curfews, closed games and violence broke out with the riots that erupted throughout the city of Baltimore in April, Dennis Reinhard, head of Game Day Security for the Baltimore City Police Department at Camden Yards, employed creative means to keep out protestors last November with limited manpower.

At 3 p.m., while a Ravens game was underway, Reinhard got a call that the protestors were coming his way, marching in solidarity with those in Ferguson. Most fans were already inside M&T Stadium, with a small crowd outside tailgating in the lots.

“This is where you need to work with your stadium partners,” said Reinhard. “Think quick on your feet, how can you protect your venue? It was real simple. I took all the bicycle racks that line the entryways and brought them out about 150 ft., almost to the curb, turned them parallel to the stadium and left avenues for latecomers to arrive. I asked our security to bring all the ticket takers out there and brought the officers from the upper deck down. If we had a rush, we would close the archways that we weren’t using.”

In this case, the marchers remained peaceful and stayed on the north side of the stadium. Because of where the protestors were, Reinhard was able to close all the exits on that side, not lock them, and only leave two aisles in.

“They made their point and stopped traffic for quite some time,” said Reinhard, “but lucky for me the game had already started, so of the 72,000 people in the stadium that day, very few of them knew what happened besides the ones in the upper deck. In my opinion, this was a success. No one was arrested and no one was hurt.”

Reinhard called this a good practice run for the protests that would come in April that caused them to close Camden Yards for an Orioles games that was played with no crowd.

Interviewed for this story: Dennis Reinhard, (888) 848-2473; Bob Pollicino, (212) 413-5042; Ray DiNunzio, (407) 936-0867