When Riskies Meet Swifties

RIMS RISKWORLD kicked off at the same time as Taylor Swift’s final night of her mega concert tour in Atlanta. Here’s how it went down.

Author: Michelle Russell       

singer in sequined gown performing in front of thousands of fans

Taylor Swift performs for fans June 2 at Soldier Field in Chicago. Swift’s popular concert tour is giving some event organizers one more challenge to navigate during their conferences. (Elizabeth Doll/PCMA)

There are quite a few Taylor Swift hit song titles that hint at what it can mean to find your citywide event is being held at the same time that her concert is in town — and a lot of them have to do with heartache.

Stuart Ruff-Lyon

Stuart Ruff-Lyon

To understand just how popular the singer/songwriter is, let’s review some history: Late last year, Ticketmaster canceled its planned public sale of tickets to the artist’s latest tour after a chaotic presales program locked out millions of fans — Swifties — leading to a Senate hearing. Lawmakers questioned whether the 2010 merger of two powerful events companies, Ticketmaster and Live Nation, which dominates the touring industry as a promoter and venue owner, created a monopoly that harms customers, according to a story in The New York Times. Live Nation Entertainment blamed the ticketing drama on Swift’s extreme popularity — 14 million people hit the presales site, instead of 1.5 million verified Swift fans.

Once that was cleared up and Swift’s Eras Tour was scheduled, it was the start of some “Bad Blood” (yup, that’s the title of one of her hit songs) between hotels and event organizers, who found that their events, booked years in advance, now ran smack into Swift’s concert in their host destination.

Swifties pay sky-high prices for rooms, with Tampa, Florida, hotels, for example, charging up to $2,000 a night during her concert there. Some event organizers have shared anecdotally that some of their attendees have been walked by hotels in those cities where she’s playing over the dates of their events.

RIMS, the risk management society®, is one organization that found its 9,000-person conference overlapping a Swift concert. RIMS had booked Atlanta for its 2023 annual meeting RISKWORLD in early May about eight years ago, said the organization’s chief events and sales officer, Stuart Ruff-Lyon, CMP. That was even before Mercedes-Benz Stadium was built. Last year, Ruff-Lyon inquired whether RIMS could book the stadium, which is part of the Georgia World Congress Center (GWCC) campus, for its opening party venue. “It’s a gorgeous stadium,” he told Convene. “I thought we could do something cool on the field, but I was told, ‘Sorry, someone’s holding it now, but we can’t say who.’”

It was months later that Ruff-Lyon learned from the GWCC Authority that Swift would perform her final Atlanta concert at the stadium the night RISKWORLD kicked off. The musician became the first act to sell out three consecutive nights at the 70,000-seat venue, which opened in 2017.

Jumbotron showing Swift performing with guitar

Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour sold out three shows at Chicago’s Soldier Field June 2-4. “It was really hard to get a room” in downtown Chicago hotels, Illinois Hotel & Lodging Association President and CEO Michael Jacobson told Fox-32 News. (Elizabeth Doll/PCMA)

“It didn’t seem that big of a deal to me at first,” he said. “I didn’t understand the magnitude of it — I’m like, ‘Oh, that’ll be fun to have a concert going on,’ or whatever. And then when I came in for our event, I was just amazed. They could do a whole study on the subculture of Swifties. They hung out the entire day — they got there at 6 in the morning. Some of them camped overnight. And you can throw a football from the GWCC to the Mercedes-Benz Stadium, so we shared a lot of the public outdoor areas.”

Ruff-Lyon said the shuttle routes weren’t really affected by the crowds but “the hotel impact was definitely real. They were oversold and at capacity,” he said. “I was very concerned leading up to it about the impacts of the concert, especially seeing on Friday and Saturday before our show opened, there were just people everywhere. But I have to say though that as far as crowds go, her crowd was incredibly polite and subdued. They were just there to have a good time.”

Despite the fact that the city was “very sold out,” Ruff-Lyon said that the partnership RIMS had with the GWCC and its dedicated police department made the concert a non-issue. “There was constant communication from the GWCC police about crowd control and issues and our bus lanes. And I have to say that everything I was really worried about, nothing really transpired. They were able to control the crowd. They were able to prevent them from coming into the convention center to use bathrooms and things like that. So, in the end, it was the least of my problems.” (Read a Convene story on what turned to be the bigger challenge: How RIMS had to contend with an active shooter situation on the final day of RISKWORLD.)

The concert “actually added a fun little vibe,” Ruff-Lyon said. “It really brought a lot of life to the campus and to downtown Atlanta,” which typically doesn’t draw a lot of local residents. Even attendees had fun rubbing elbows with fans. “Somebody on social media,” he said, posted “something like ‘70,000 #swifties mix with 10,000 #riskies.’”

Despite there being additional traffic for people to navigate coming to the opening party, “Sunday night was our largest opening party in years. In the end,” Ruff-Lyon said with a laugh, “we just had to ‘Shake It Off.’” (You guessed it — another Swift song title.)

Hat tip to Bill Reed, chief strategy officer for the American Society of Hematology, for sharing conversations he’s had with colleagues on their experience navigating the logistical challenges the Taylor Swift Eras Tour presents when it coincides with the timing and location of their citywides.

Michelle Russell is editor in chief of Convene.

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