For the western third of New York State, the largest outside concert venue with regularly scheduled and prominent acts is the Darien Lake Performing Arts Center. That it has instituted a new parking policy after a fatal accident nearby earlier this summer is not the issue here.
The issue is that this resulted in a crisis and it demands proactive action immediately.
Jeff Miers’ review in The Buffalo News Sunday sums up the multiple problems and challenges park management faces. One fan at the Saturday night concert commented after the review that it took him longer to get in and out of the parking lots than the duration of the concert, featuring Jason Aldean and Luke Bryan. That’s not part of an enduring business plan.
Drawing as it does from Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and Elmira-Corning, Darien Lake is not likely to see a big drop off in attendance for major acts simply because the new parking policy inconveniences fans. They’ll likely adapt — arrive earlier, sleep over, car pool — to keep seeing major acts.
This summer those included the Beach Boys, Rascal Flatts, Dave Matthews Band, the Allman Brothers, Toby Keith and Def Leppard, among others Three more major concerts, including KISS on Sept. 15, remain this season.
Handling a crisis first requires admitting you’re in one. This is too often the case as executives move in to denial. Here, in addition to fan anger, Darien Lake needs to consider concert series sponsors, most of whom presumably do not want to be associated with so much negative publicity. Sponsors like Alfred State, Verizon, Coca-Cola, Bud Light, Ford Dealers of WNY (an EMA client), Bud Light, Labatt (also a client), and Citibank won’t like reading many more reviews like the News published Sunday.
Beyond that, some people commenting on Miers’ review suggested that concert promoters have their major acts forego Darien Lake because the overall experience is so terrible. We’re not here to judge, only to point out some active remedies.
The new parking system needs to be better explained, with suggestions for ways to avoid long delays. More toilets are obviously needed, as well as more and better security. Sheriff’s deputies or private security should be spread out through the traffic jams to explain the situation better and limit frustration. Signage should be improved. Many people will accept delays if management explains why and how they’re working to improve the situation.
Underage drinking is always going to be a problem at open-venue events like NFL games and major concerts. But more and better trained security might at least manage that more effectively.
In addition, especially since concert goers tend to be younger, social media should be used extensively to reach ticket holders waiting in long lines. Twitter — on which I could find no helpful management tweets from Saturday — Facebook and email could provide useful information in the days leading up to an event, complete with maps and clearer parking suggestions.
They could also be used the day of the concert and especially when park officials realize massive traffic jams, fights and public intoxication are hurting the park’s reputation. Look at the Buffalo Bills’ proactive decisions in this regard. Fans can text security about obnoxious neighbors; no-drinking seating areas are available; security is evident, well-trained and prepared; beer isn’t sold in the second half.
But the key for Darien Lake now is to recognize the mess and move to fix it before the next concert Wednesday. Getting top officials on area radio stations, in newspapers and on television is key. Communicate remorse for the parking mess; outline improved information and security efforts; and try to provide a far better customer experience.
It’s very tempting to look at “only” three more concerts this year and stick with the status quo. People will keep coming no matter what, right? Maybe not. Or maybe sponsors won’t. Or maybe next year’s acts won’t be as strong if the promoters decide Darien Lake is more trouble than it’s worth.
Much is at stake here, even beyond improving the individual concert goer’s experience. This is a crisis, and fast action is required.
The content of this blog is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It originates with Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and in four top editor positions at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agencies, with seven offices in the Northeast and Southeast. Learn more about EMA at www.mower.com. Steve’s blog is based on his own opinions and does not represent the views or positions of Eric Mower + Associates.