Crowd Behavior Assessment


Boston College vs. Princeton College

Hockey East Finals, Fleet Center Boston, MA

March 17 2001



Research Team


Kevin McAllister

Dr John Cheffers

John Brown.

Margaret Cheffers

Bryan Devenney

Lee Hughes

Kevin Morris

Greg Narleski

Juha Vouri


Executive Summary


The Hockey East final was an excellent display of a model crowd. There were plenty of opportunities for both sides to yell and cheer, and the game was enjoyable to watch. Spectators demonstrated normal activity in crowds and few, if any, problems were noticed. It was a quiet night, which helped the researchers determine how a normal crowd might behave. The administrators and officials can feel justifiably proud, because hockey was the main attraction


The Research


Our study of crowd behaviors examines the social/psychological factors of the crowd phenomena. The question guiding the research attempts to determine why crowds act in the manner that they do. From this, further questions have resulted, including:


What are normative crowd behaviors?

What are non-normative crowd behaviors?

How do normal crowds become violent, resulting in non-normative behaviors?


The research is based on Smelser's (1962) theory Collective Behavior. And focuses on the following components:


        Social conduciveness - examining rivalries, communication, accessibility to action

        Strain - Psychological/emotional factors, conflict

        Growth of Beliefs - Spreading emotions and beliefs

        Precipitating factors

a. On-field - examining competition and actions on the playing surface

b. Off-field - Interactions of the fans, activity in the stands

c. Ecology - Examining the physical conditions (noise, temperature, flow.


d. Alcohol


        Mobilization for action - Examining leadership potential (media influences)

        Social control - Authority personnel

        Expected behavior! social order


The first five components are examined for their combined influences that could result in flashpoints, or violent behavior. The final two are measures are controlling factors helping to prevent non-normative behavior; however, the breakdown of which could result in violence.




The Hockey East final between Boston College and Providence College was an excellent example of a normal, typical sport crowd. The roughly 75% capacity Fleet Center crowd witnessed a good game of hockey. The capacity and competition contributed to the controlled collective behavior, as did the excellent security measures of the Fleet Center. Unusual or illegal behavior was either not in evidence or quickly eliminated by the staff. From a research point-of-view, the event was a model of expected, normal spectator behavior.






The pre-game levels of emotion reflected moderately high levels of positive emotions (happiness, pride, compassion, love) and low levels of negative emotions (anger, fright, shame, sadness). Even levels of anxiety were in low, suggesting low levels of social-emotional strain that could result in problems.

The conduciveness portion of the study examines mainly social issues. There is little history of a significant rivalry between the competitors unlike if BC had been playing Boston University or Maine. This may have contributed to the empty seats mentioned earlier, but there was still a sizable crowd in the Fleet Center. Many of the spectators were children (mainly boys) and families, which contributes to normal behaviors. A quick check of identification scales showed that the crowd appeared to have moderate to high levels of identification. The identification surveys were not distributed to the BC student section, which probably would have raised the levels of identification. Instead the scales were distributed to the general public, and were probably reflective of the entire crowd. High levels of identification may have indicated significant cleavages, and a greater possibility for angry or negative outbursts at perceived injustices of the highly identified fan. Overall, the spectator ratio reflected about a 60-40 split favoring BC.


A behavioral assessment measuring the involvement of the crowd was conducted. The scale demonstrates levels of involvement, controlled or predictable behavior, and notes violent outbursts. Most data collected from the scale registered focused, controlled, and positive behaviors. Even celebrations were predictable and controlled. Very few excessive or violent behaviors were observed. The BC student section ritually gestured at the Providence goalie after a BC goal, and some youths were observed waving their shirts and dancing on occasion, but even these behaviors were controlled and expected. There was a couple of angry reactions after a perceived poor call, but the behavior did not spread to adjacent spectators. The behavioral assessment confirmed the initial assessment of the emotional scale and identification scale. Very little strain of the crowd was noted.


Growth of Beliefs


Because the crowd acted in a controlled, predictable manner throughout the game. there is little evidence that there was an opportunity for social-emotional strain to spread throughout the arena and produce violent or non-normative action.


Precipitating factors


On-field (ice)


The game, itself, was well played featuring the speed and savvy of Boston College against Providence College's efficiency and goalie. The Eagles outshot PC by a final tally of 45 - 15, and only the outstanding play of the PC goalie managed to keep it close. PC scored first, but BC responded by scoring the next four. Through the second period. BC looked confident and the better team as PC could not generate many scoring opportunities. (see alcohol section) A conversation with a BC reporter discovered that the team had looked almost "giddy" in practice earlier that week. One can only assume that BC was ready to complete the year as Beanpot, Hockey East regular season, and Hockey East tournament champions. PC started to become more physical, but the score was 3 -1 at the end of the second period

BC threatened to run away with the game after scoring the fourth, but PC was not done. They scored the next two as the intensity and physical play increased tremendously, resulting in a BC power play. A minor shoving match took place, but quickly diffused. However, the final BC goal scored at this time seemed to deflate the Providence team. It was scored by the eventual tournament MVP, and got the BC fans to their feet. This resulted in the usual, ritualistic "sieve" chant, but was more emphatic as the fans sensed the win. The number of penalties called appeared about average, the most coming in the second period. One late (possibly unnecessary) call against Providence resulted in one of the few negative behaviors as a Providence fan was observed yelling at an official. The appearance of biased or poor officiating can increase the potential for violence by creating strain on the order of the game. If the strain spreads to many parts of the arena, violence and hostile outbursts will probably result. However. the officials called a good game over-all and there were never any significant problems. Good competition will maintain focus on the game, rather than on extra-cirricular activities.


Off-field (ice)


The factors measured here were the interactive behaviors of the crowd. At most events, spectators are focused on the game itself. Our research confirmed that. There will always be some interaction between fans themselves, as the nature of spectating at sporting events is social. At times this should be a concern is if the behavioral assessments show many not-involved spectators, or if there are many violent or negative behaviors observed by the researchers. There was very little evidence, and video confirmed the observations made that night.

Another means available to measure the crowd was the use of a heart rate monitor. One (17 years, BC fan) spectator was measured and observed on video as well as in person. His heart rate fluctuated between 82 and 100, spiking after BC goals, scoring opportunities, and the final whistle. A few scrimmages on the ice led to moderately raised levels, but nothing spectacular. Had his heart rate elevated above 100 for a significant length of time, or his emotions gotten more intense (based on his baseline) and observably negative, then he may have been a concern. Spikes are expected as emotions ebb and flow throughout the game, and it appears that he was a normal spectator, even when the BC player was injured after a questionable check.

One spectator was observed tossing a streamer after a BC goal. He was quickly removed from the arena, and no more streamers were thrown until the end of the game in celebration of the BC win. Flying objects can injure, particularly as the streamer fell on the fans below, rather than on the ice. Also, if nothing is done to prevent similar celebrations, that particular behavior my spread to other spectators becoming a problem. The Fleet center officials did not hesitate to remove the person, deterring subsequent action until the final whistle.




The ecology phase of the research examines physical factors associated with the arena. Temperature, noise, flow, and aesthetics are the four main factors examined. The temperature of the Fleet center maintains itself during a hockey game, due, of course, to the ice surface, and is not a concern unless something breaks down. Noise levels were recorded throughout the course of the game (see appendix A). Throughout the course of the evening the noise levels spiked, as had the heart rate levels during intense moments and celebrations. Penalties also resulted in spikes, as did the fight. Due to inconsistencies on our part, it is difficult to determine how often the noise levels dropped below 85. No abnormal behavior was observed as a direct result of fatigue from noise levels, and is usually expected in arenas, particularly at times of peak activity and emotion.




There are two areas to discuss with flow. The first is the mobility of people in the corridors behind the seating. Due to the number of concessions open, lines were not excessively long. The lines did tend to interfere with passage through the corridors, but people waiting in line were usually polite, allowing others to continue through without any problems. There are many activities and displays in the corridors of the Fleet Center. including the souvenir shops of the Bruins and Celtics. Most were filled with children looking for Bruins paraphernalia. No problems were observed.

The other type of flow that the research observes is that in the aisles between seating sections. Ushers and security were very effective in keeping the aisles and entrances clear although there was no assigned seating other than levels. The ushers were very friendly and often a few gentle reminders moved spectators along. If this were insufficient, Fleet Center security would be called in to try to remove miscreants. If the Fleet Center security could not move the problems along, Boston Police were available (about five per level). They kept a low profile. As one interviewed trooper on the 300 level mentioned, usually all it took was a visible presence and look by the trooper to settle or remove problems. Any removals were done as calmly and orderly as possible. and none were observed other than the streamer-tosser earlier. When asked, one of the ushers mentioned that no real trouble was expected. They expect a little at the Beanpot tournament, but this night was quiet. Rumors were heard of a few spectators being removed for drunkenness, but this was unconfirmed. The trooper on the 300 level had not heard either.




The Fleet Center is an enjoyable building to spend time in. The corridors have tile rather than plain concrete, and janitors police the areas quite effectively. Each is equipped with a mop and a walkie-talkie to locate and clean up spills and messes. The bathrooms were well maintained where checked. As mentioned, there are many activities and presentations (souvenir shops, the Compac section, etc) to occupy time between periods. Overall, spectators enjoy the arena and there is a significant effort to maintain its appearance. Spectators tend to treat a place the way it looks. If it is aesthetically pleasing, people will respect it.




Significant amounts of alcohol were consumed at the Fleet Center that night. This may have been a problem had the game become a blowout as BC threatened to do in the second and at the beginning of the third period. An example of alcohol problem happened at Foxboro (then Sullivan) Stadium. The game was 30- 3 at halftime and the game on the field became secondary to the games in the stands. Rioting and destruction of property occurred. Although alcohol is usually not allowed at college games, the Fleet Center has good controls. To protect itself even further, a beer vendor mentioned that he was only selling one beer per person. This policy had been enacted earlier in the day when they noticed the number of St. Patrick's Day revelers in the streets by noon. Beer sales ended after the second intermission. Alcohol is often a large component of hostile outbursts at sporting events, and should be watched. The combination of St. Patrick's Day and possible blow-out could have resulted in problems. However, the competition and alcohol policy kept things in control. If there were any problems, none were witnessed by the research team.


Social control


For social controls, there are a few things to examine. One is the presence of authority. As mentioned earlier, the Fleet Center has excellent controls in place. The ushers, security and Boston Police all work well together to ensure that the setting is friendly and safe. There were blue-jacketed ushers in every other entrance way, and brown-shirted security in the others. There was actually a group of security captains in brown tweed jackets supervising the corridors, and checking on the other two. It was not clear who would have called the police in the event of a problem, but the system worked effectively. Everyone was very friendly.

The other point to examine for social control is the makeup of the crowd. Many children accompanied by a father were present, particularly in the lower sections. Women, both college students and mothers, were also in attendance. Large populations of male crowds with access to alcohol can be a problem, but families present usually act as an inhibitor to outrageous behavior. There were many opportunities for children to "ham it up" for the cameras on the jumbo screens. They thoroughly enjoyed trying to get themselves noticed, taking off their shirts, and dancing and waving for a chance to be broadcast to the entire stadium. This is not a problem, and is considered normal behavior.


Noise levels Data


One of the important parameters measurable in any crowd setting is the noise level achieved. Excessive sound has been known to cause fatigue. Eighty-five decibels is considered to be the beginning of unsafe, particularly if the excessive levels are maintained for long periods of time. For the research, they are recorded as single point measures.


Decibel Level Comparisons


80 Loud orchestra

85 Audience clapping indoors

95 Riveter

100 Commercial hammer

105 Thunder

110 Amplified rock music








21: 18


Zamboni with band



Zamboni no band


92 - 94




Crowd clapping



Trumpets & mascot enters



drum and trumpet in crowd



crowd clapping for BC entrance



crowd clapping for PC



team announcement


92 - 98

National Anthem

2nd Period





Announcing of start



PC goal

17: 16


PC goal announced



puck near PC goal



puck near PC goal



Changing players, band



PC save



puck against the boards, checking



PC save, BC basketball doing well



BC save



PC save



BC band playing



BC save



BC save



BC goal



Announcement of goal



BC goal (2nd)



Puck near BC goal



BC goal Oed)



Announcement of goal



End of period






Replays of first period




Second Period





BC goal (4th)



PC goal (2nd

11 :30


PC shot on goal

11: 11


BC shot on goal



Announcement of penalty BC



BC "shot on goal



BC "shot on goal



PC goal (3rd)



Announcement of penalty/BC band

End of second period




80 - 90

Advertising announcements

Third period





BC shot



Chanting in the crowd



Checking into the boards



BC goal (5th)






fight on the ice



Interference penalty



PC band playing

1 :55


BC band and chanting



End of game countdown



Crowd and trumpets

Post game


BC - PC shaking hands on the ice






Boos and cheers for both rivals and BC fans



Announcement of MVP



Championship announcement and toting of trophy