On Sept. 21, five related outdoor festivals took place across the U.S. The events, Red Bull’s Flugtag, translated as “Flight Day” in German, occurred in Chicago; Washington, D.C.; Miami; Dallas/Ft Worth; and Long Beach, CA. For those not familiar with the event, Red Bull Flugtag is perhaps best described as the Wright Brothers meet the Marx Brothers.
Flugtag participants gather teams of five people to conceive outrageous self-constructed gliders with a maximum wingspan of 28 feet and a maximum weight of 400 pounds (including a pilot). These flying machines are judged for creativity; then the pilot boards the craft and is pushed by his teammates off the top of a 30-foot high ramp in an effort to see which contraption will fly farthest (or in many cases fall fastest) into the water below. The light-hearted event is a perfect mix of family fun and youthful hipster exuberance mixed with the energy produced from drinking numerous Red Bulls.
In what might be considered one of the most ambitious and brilliant non-traditional branding campaigns ever, Red Bull has chosen to create one-of-a-kind community participation festivals such as a soapbox derby and flugtag flying event. As well, Red Bull has aligned itself with some of the world’s most spectacular professional sporting events featuring Red Bull products along the way. With Red Bull’s slogan “Red Bull Gives You Wings” it makes sense that many of their events involve flying or high-speed, high-energy, extreme activities including: auto racing, skiing, cliff diving, mountain biking, snowboarding, skateboarding and surfing—all geared towards GenX and GenY adrenaline junkies known for pushing their limits.
Being a spectator for this year’s Flugtag event in Irving/Las Colinas, TX, I was immediately taken with the massive amount of people at the event (an estimated 92,000 visitors gathered around Lake Caroline in Las Colinas). As the crowds swirled in front of my eyes, thoughts of crowd management raced through my head. With IAVM’s International Crowd Management Conference (ICMC) just weeks away, I realized that this event is the perfect example of why we encourage our venue professionals and outdoor festival operators to send their staff to attend ICMC.
With the sheer amount of coordination and planning necessary to keep both the crowds and the daredevil participants safe during this very successful day, I thought it might be interesting to learn more about how the event came together here in Texas. So I reached out to IAVM member venue, the Irving Convention & Visitors Bureau to get some answers. I was lucky enough to speak with Maura Gast, the Irving CVB’s Executive Director who took a personal interest and a lead role in bringing Red Bull Flugtag to Irving/Las Colinas.
What about the event made you interested in bringing it to Irving?
Red Bull appeals to a very desirable demographic—young, active, upwardly mobile and actively so, discretionary time on their hands, a desire to “do” and to “experience”—they are the workforce coming in to being today, and they will be the workforce of the future.
It (Flugtag) is the kind of event that lends itself incredibly well to the viral nature that is a successful promotional effort these days. Attendees were posting pictures and video everywhere—and all of those images are of Irving. Red Bull produces events in markets (and cities) considered “places to be.” We want Irving to be on that list. We were in great company that day—the four other cities that simultaneously hosted Flugtag events were Chicago; Washington, D.C.; Miami; and Long Beach, CA. And Irving was there in that mix.
How many city departments were involved to help coordinate, and what role did the CVB take in the overall event planning?
The CVB’s role became to “connect the dots” for whatever Red Bull needed, whether that was from our peer City departments, from other agencies in the community, with the Mayor’s office, calling in favors from anyone who might have had a personal “in” with landowners when a critical piece of land was sold and closing the week before the event was scheduled to begin set up, opening whatever doors needed to be open, working with local media that we work with day in, day out.
The primary City departments that were involved were Police, Fire/EMS, Streets/Traffic and ICTN, the city’s cable television channel; the City’s Corporate Communications department helped extend our releases through the various citizen-oriented communication vehicles the city has, including its resident newsletters, water bill statements and websites. Then there was them (Red Bull) wanting the Mayor to sky dive to promote the event. Truly, the role we took with this event was exactly the role we take with any meeting or event that the Irving CVB works with when something comes to town—what do you need to be successful, and how to we make that happen for you?
What weather/safety contingency plans did you have in place?
Weather is always a factor for any event, and in Irving, we have had our share of weather adventures with large events. We all watched the weather channels all week long, checked almanacs for historical data to attempt to predict what might happen. Had day-of conditions been such that it was unsafe for the vehicles to launch, or patrons to be outside in the elements, we know Red Bull was prepared to make the difficult call to shut things down temporarily, adjust schedules accordingly, or do whatever was necessary to keep all safe and we would have been right there with them.
You can’t take any weather concern lightly, and we definitely know that in North Texas. Irving Police and Fire Departments had multiple discussions with their counterparts in other cities that had hosted Red Bull events before to gauge what would be needed in a good weather scenario, as well as to develop contingency plans for our own conditions.
We also needed plenty of Fire/EMS officials near the platform for the protection of the pilots and crews. Lifeguards were on the lake, our fireboat was near. Red Bull’s event experience—and that of their logistics contractor—made sure that safety truly was a planning priority throughout.
The area is high-density residential. How did you plan/manage the residents’ needs to be able to move in and out of the area in vehicles with the large influx of on-foot attendees?
This took a LOT of planning with Red Bull, Irving Police and Irving Traffic, and with the homeowner/property owner association in the area. Red Bull did a lot of communicating with property managers, and about a month prior to the meeting, at every apartment complex where they were granted access, they delivered a four-pack of Red Bull to each door, with a flyer/note explaining the event was coming up, apologies in advance for any inconveniences, and an invitation to come out and enjoy the day.
What was your biggest challenge during the actual event?
The biggest challenge was the unknown of a first time event, that didn’t require reservations! Red Bull was conservative in their attendance estimates, as it turns out. With this event, the reality that until this event, most events in the area had typically been more community-oriented and seldom saw crowds in excess of 5,000. The daytime population of that immediate lakefront is 23,000 in the Urban Center core. Nearly four times that arrived, most of whom had never been there before. The other challenges just came out of the first-time stuff—new people working with new people, a social media savvy product needing to work within some “old school” environments for communications and traditional media, just everything being new to everyone. It was new to our City to host, new to our CVB to support, and new for Red Bull to do it here.
Did Red Bull provide their own trained crowd managers/event staff or was this part of each host city’s responsibility?
Red Bull hired Mountain Sports International as their event production staff, so the majority of those roles (other than those provided by Police) were handled by them.
What will you do differently if you host again?
We’ve all made lists of things we’d do differently, now that we’ve been there and done it this first time. For the most part, most things went very, very well from a logistics standpoint. Police will bring in far more officers for traffic control and will probably structure road closures differently. LED signage for road closures, routing info. Communications about the same will be known in advance and communicated frequently. More porta-potties in more places, more food trucks in more places, more beverage outlets in more places, sunscreen stations throughout, more water stations for refills in more places, COWs to boost wireless service on site (folks routinely couldn’t post due to the cellular jams), make people aware via signage of what recycling would actually be done offsite (which was why there weren’t separate bins on site, and candidly in a crowd like this, it wouldn’t have mattered). We’d communicate more of the FAQ stuff on our own sites, instead of assuming/hoping attendees would click thru to Red Bull’s info.
Any other tidbits of wisdom you’d care to share with other venue managers?
Stock up on the Red Bull—you’ll need it—but you’ll have a great time!
Register for IAVM’s International Crowd Management Conference to learn more about how to plan and execute a safe outdoor festival or public event. Visit www.IAVM.org/ICMC to register today.
Photo: © Red Bull Media House