“No one can say that venue security wasn’t sufficient,” says Randy Phillips, former AEG Live CEO and current president/CEO of the festival company LiveStyle. “[The bomber] didn’t get inside.”
To security experts, the fact that the attack happened outside the gate underscores the challenge of protecting not only venues themselves, but also entrances and exits, both before and after events. Security measures have gotten demonstrably better in recent years, say several experts, but there is a limit to their effectiveness. “The expansion of security measures pushes softer target areas further away from the secured location, but they cannot entirely eliminate vulnerabilities,” warned a U.S. State Department memo released the night of May 23, a copy of which was obtained by Billboard.
“The bomb was in a public area; the correct analogy for Manchester is not Le Bataclan, it’s not a nightclub, it’s the [April 2013] Boston Marathon bombing,” says Adelman. “People are following this because it’s horrific to see bleeding young people. [But] it could have been a sporting event or a political rally — it could have been a chili cook-off for all the difference it makes.”
Although experts maintain that terrorist attacks remain exceedingly rare, the prominence of the news coverage could lead to an exaggerated sense of insecurity among concertgoers, and especially their parents, says Phillips. “Where this affects us isn’t adults — adults aren’t not going to go to a concert. It’s the younger generation, kids who are 8 to 12 and like to do things that their older siblings do but need their parents’ permission. When I did the last Katy Perry concert [at AEG], there were young kids. So the concert promoters, in a situation like that, have to make those parents feel secure.”
So far AEG, which still oversees tours by Perry, as well as Ed Sheeran and Justin Bieber, hasn’t seen ticket sales soften for concerts that appeal to young female fans like Grande’s. But the prospect “makes me very nervous,” says a senior executive at the company. “We haven’t been flooded with refund requests, but everyone is paying special attention right now.”
Several major arenas are heightening their security measures. The Madison Square Garden Company committed to “greater on-site police presence” and “increased diligence in screening” in an internal memo sent on May 23, and other U.S. arena executives emphasized that they maintain close contacts with local, state and federal law enforcement agencies to assess potential threats. “We all know we’re soft targets, just like shopping malls, movie theaters and restaurants,” says Lee Zeidman, president of the Staples Center in Los Angeles. “We learn from every event we put on and we make sure our security team is well-trained and highly visible.”
Any additional security is likely to create additional costs, a fact that seems insignificant in the wake of this tragedy but could weigh on the minds of venue owners, particularly independent ones, as months pass. “You’re going to have to spend more and do more in terms of security, and that’s going to be passed on to the consumer,” Adelman says. Phillips expects that the security costs for at least some festivals, including insurance, could double to about 20 percent of the overall budget.
And even the most thorough precautions have limits, especially when it comes to the areas outside venues. “There is no level of security that will always prevent every attack; if I have an outdoor stadium, I secure it as best I can, but I can’t control the airspace,” says one security consultant, who requested anonymity. “But if I can control 99 percent of what happens, I can focus on what else it is I can’t control.”