This week’s conversation on Event Brew is particularly interesting. It all started with an article that informed readers of the NFL’s project to fill up a stadium with vaccinated healthcare workers. And while at first, this might sound like a topic that shouldn’t spring up too much heat, you might want to think again.

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Because this specific article propelled Dustin, Nick, Will, and Thuy to have one of the most candid and interesting conversations featured on the podcast yet surrounding several important things. The COVID-19 vaccine, how it will affect our industry, what will be expected of event professionals once it becomes widely available, and whether or not it signals a new beginning for the industry in 2021. So, without further ado, press that play button and join in on this incredible episode of the Event Brew!

An NFL Stadium With Vaccinated Health Workers

“I actually thought this was really cool”, Will begins. “Because one, they can have a live audience, and two, it helps healthcare workers out. And it’s safe because in theory they should be all vaccinated. So they can’t get anybody sick. So it just seems like a quadruple win across the board for the NFL”.

Dustin, on the other hand, thinks it’s scary. “I think it teaches people that large-scale events can only happen with vaccinated people. And there’s a lot of people out there that are not going to get vaccinated. And then we’re going to have to undo that mess later”, he explains. “What’s going to happen? What are we going to do with people that choose not to get vaccinated? It’s their right not to get vaccinated. Are we going to put a tag in their ear and say, you can’t come to our events?”.

“Is that the precedent that we’re going to start setting? I’m not taking away from what I think is a really great thing to do for frontline workers. But I worry about the precedent that now we’re saying we can only have big scale events with fully vaccinated audiences and that is scary”, he adds.

Is This A New Precedent?

This precedent isn’t exactly new. In order to get entry to certain countries or places, it’s not unheard of that we must prove we are vaccinated against certain things. “And that’s why I say private businesses are going to be the ones that decide how we move forward”, says Dustin. “And it’s going to be up to all of these private businesses, whether it’s sporting events or convention centers. They are going to be the ones that make the decision and the government is going to provide the guidance. But at the end of the day, it’s going to be those”.

Away From The Superbowl & NFL

In order to get a broader analysis of what this might mean, Dustin takes us into a smaller context. “Let’s talk about theaters because I think this is easier to digest. So if the theater says, I will only accept patrons that have had their vaccination and they need to show their paperwork. What will happen is ultimately another theater down the street will say, well, I’m going to be a theater for people that aren’t vaccinated. And then the people will decide. And whichever one of those ends up the most money, will be the ones to drive this”, he says.

But Nick disagrees. “Sometimes that’s not the case. For years and years, there were smoking restaurants. And then there were restaurants that you could not smoke in at all on. They let the free market make that decision until people decided to take that away from the free market and restrict the idea for the sake of the health of the people who work there”.

“So if you think about it like that, that was a health choice that people had to make. They were either willing to risk it, to be in a restaurant that had allowed some smoking or smoking in general. And then there were restaurants that had no smoking as the rule. And the free market was the arbiter of that for quite some time until it got to the legislation level. Ultimately, public sentiment pushed things to go in the direction of legislation as opposed to a free market”, he adds.

However…

But Dustin poses yet another counterargument. “I think the smoking analogy is really good, but here’s the only loophole. So the ones that are vaccinated are the non-smokers and the ones that have not taken the vaccine are the smokers. So the non-smokers are protected. They have the vaccine. So why do they care? They have the vaccine. So the only people that should be worried are the non-vaccinated people who have made the choice to mingle around each other”.

A Long Road Ahead

“I can see the fallout of the vaccine being more costly and dangerous to our industry in the long run”, he adds. “We have to start to figure out when we go back to work, what level of vaccination is acceptable once all of our different governments make their different decisions about what non-vaccinated and vaccinated people can do and what they can attend and who can be in a crowd. Think this is going to take a lot longer than it needs to. Because we don’t even understand what the numbers are yet. So we have to get through the vaccination rollout and then start to understand how many people actually got vaccinated. How many of those people do we need? What is the percentage of vaccinated people we need in order to host events safely? I think it’s really complicated”.

“This doesn’t just go away”, Thuy retorts. “We still will probably need a lot of the safety procedures that we’ve been learning in the last nine months. And being able to keep everyone safe, regardless if there’s vaccination or not, you’re not going to just have an event. And people aren’t just going to stop wearing masks and not be sick”.

Will A Vaccine Save Events?

“As I’m thinking about our industry, I think the hard days are not here yet. The hard days are still to come “, says Dustin. “And these conversations about the vaccine are really important because the vaccine is arriving which is going to take a very long time to get this vaccine rolled out”.

“But that’s not what our industry needs. Our industry needs the world to be vaccinated. Our industry needs international travel to start happening again. It needs a lot more than just the community that we live in, in order for us to get back to being truly successful. And that’s not going to happen in 2021. We’re going to get communities vaccinated, really organized States and provinces are going to get there together. We’re going to get those residents done, but is that going to bring back what our industry needs to meaningfully go back to work? I think there’s still a long, long, hard road. And the decisions that are made about vaccines are going to be really, really important”.

The Future

As Nick puts it, we’re at a point of “disruption, adaptation at gunpoint. I think that technology is going to jump off the other members of the events industry and take the front row seat for a while. Be the innovators, because there just needs to be new tools in order to navigate this. And I think that once that’s done, the implementers will probably come in and find their place in it. But right now, everyone’s following the platforms”.

“I think that 2021 is going to bring a lot of opportunities to do good. And I think that our industry is going to be in a really great position to facilitate some of that. This NFL thing is one example of how we can take the problem of ok, we don’t want to fill our stands with the unwashed masses, and there’s going to be people out there that have the vaccine that need to be thanked. And, and that is great. I think that that is a big scale, but even thinking about that in my own world and the events that we’ll do in 2021, it makes me think about how we can transform some of what we’re doing into a little bit more good and a little less, a little less greed”, Dustin concludes.

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Dustin Westling

Author Dustin Westling

Managing Partner at Calgary-based OneWest Event Design & Logistics. A self-described ‘Senior Millennial,’ Dustin brings his tongue-in-cheek humour and engaged energy to his role as commander-in-chief where he leads a team of talented and talked-about event profs.

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