Campus Voices: Debbie Hoffman

From TAMUtimes

Published: October 1, 2013

Understanding best practices for big events can help guarantee success.

What is the key to successfully managing large events on a college campus? Planning, planning, and planning.

Texas A&M University was rated in the 2011 preseason edition of Sports Illustrated as the top college football game day environment, with Fox Sports chiming in by listing the school’s Kyle Field as one of the nation’s 10 best college football stadiums.

College parking operators truly have the ability to affect the mark left on event attendees. Texas A&M hosted a home football game day with more than 22,000 cars and 10,000 bus passengers and created a rule book anyone can follow to help avoid pitfalls and the consequences and fallout that follow them.

Critical components for successful event management include:

  • Planning and cooperation.
  • Communication.
  • Maximizing available resources.
  • Employing pricing strategies to manage demand and offset costs.
  • Ensuring a safe venue by coordinating traffic flow, enforcement, and pedestrian and vehicular movement.

Let’s talk events. Parking operations on campus own varying degrees of event management. Often there are other departments that are the true hosts, such as athletics on game days. Working with the staff from the host department to ensure a coordinated effort, comprehensive plan, open communication, and cooperation is essential to success. On event days, we share the same customer and the same goals as the host: a safe and fun event where pitfalls are avoided.

Planning and Cooperation

There is always more than one customer group whose needs should be considered when planning an event.  Certainly there are the people coming to participate in the event, but even within this group, there are diverse needs such as VIPs, disabled guests, and those arriving by a means other than a personal vehicle, such as by bus, bike, taxi, or on foot. Another group includes the employees working the event who have a variety of duties that likely will require them to arrive early and leave late. This group includes those managing the event, custodians maintaining the facilities and grounds, food service workers providing catering or other dining services, traffic directors, parking lot attendants, security, and the stars of the show, including athletes, performers, speakers, or dignitaries. The best way to ensure that each group’s needs are met is to ask for cooperation from them.

Finally, there are other people with no affiliation to the event who will need access to campus (some people may be studying or conducting research) and those who may be displaced to make room for those coming to the event. Remember to communicate street and parking lot closures to the campus community and explain alternate routes and parking locations available to them.


Communication about an event should be multifaceted and targeted to help ensure that the correct messages reach the appropriate groups. Emails, websites, maps, signage, radio, paid advertisements, public service announcements, and social media are all tools to help get the word out about multiple aspects of the event plan.

The communication should include options for getting to campus on the day of the event, and we must not forget to tell customers what to expect during and after the event. It is our role to help get them away from campus safely and efficiently by creating, managing, and communicating traffic, transit, and pedestrian plans.

Once the plans are set, consider developing an operations manual that can be given to each member of your team who will be working the event and to appropriate administrators who will quizzed about the event or whose buy-in you need for the event plan.

There are other groups who should not be forgotten during the communication phase, including the marketing team, the customer service unit(s) who will be answering questions from customers, and local radio and television stations. All workers who needed the internal operation plan also need to be coached about how to communicate to guests coming to the event.

Maximizing Available Resources

It is not unusual for the components of event management to quickly become overwhelming. We must work together with other appropriate units on campus and in the community to maximize resources and call in reinforcements when necessary.

Equipment does the talking without the need for continuous staff oversight. Barricades, signs, ropes, and cones direct customers without using staff resources during the peak time of the event. If needed, rent additional equipment or consider contracting a traffic maintenance company to supply and install traffic management devices, which serve several purposes:

  • Get people to desired or authorized locations.
  • Help guests recognize the route back to their bus stop or space where they parked.
  • Keep customers away from unauthorized areas.
  • Get traffic flowing in the desired direction and to desired destinations.
  • Convey rules or regulations.
  • Communicate when an area is sold out and provide the location of the next available area.

When planning transit service, consider getting people both to and from the event. Anticipate pre- and post-event traffic congestion, and plan routes away from those areas. The hours of operation and park-and-ride options should be tailored to manage both parking and traffic demand. Extending bus service hours to transport employees to and from the venue may be a worthwhile trade-off if getting their vehicles offsite will help ensure adequate parking for those attending the event. Rarely do facilities have enough accessible parking to meet the demand of large-scale events. Consider creating a disabled parking area away from the event, complete with shuttle service. This will aid guests with mobility impairments by shortening the distances they must walk.

Using Pricing Strategies

Pricing strategies can be used to manage traffic and parking demand while offsetting costs. Season passes for sporting or theater events can be presold to limit the amount of money being handled on the day of the event. Providing reserved VIP and donor parking areas may be desirable to the event host and can be done for a premium price.

Parking for tailgating, vehicles with trailers, RVs, and party buses is particularly popular during sporting events. Planning for, establishing, and marketing specialty areas can help meet the expectations of guests coming to the event, keep these unique vehicles out of other parking areas, and command a higher price-per-space to add to your revenue.

Prepaid and pay-on-arrival parking facilities should be priced by proximity to the event venue; pricing and rules can help push customers to the desired choice to manage traffic and parking demand. Online, prepaid season parking can be offered for a small discount and requires your staff to handle only one payment. Prepaid parking for an


The safety of all customers outranks convenience as a goal and is integral to a great experience for everyone. During the planning process, always defer to the expertise and experience of law enforcement, fire and rescue, and emergency medical staff to plan for routine events and contingencies.

Actively engage traffic direction and event staff so each accepts their responsibility for their role in making the event as safe as possible.

Even after event plans have been made and executed, it is still not yet time to rest on our laurels. Quickly after the event, bring the planning team back together for an after-action meeting to review what worked well and where there is room for improvement. Even if the event is not recurring, there is value in learning and recording successes and failures so they can be used to shape planning for the future. It is easy and important to focus on the operational rules and policies that helped the event go well, however, the ultimate goal in event management is a positive customer experience.

Remember to gather feedback from participants about the friendliness of staff, a welcoming environment, services and amenities provided, and whether their expectations were met or exceeded. Try to find a balance that allows guests to have fun within the boundaries of the rules necessary for safety and maintaining crowd control. Don’t lose sight of providing great service and limiting restrictions to what is necessary so the first and lasting impression makes them want to return again and again.