This Day in History

On Dec. 3, 1979, 11 people died in a stampede at a Who concert in Cincinnati, Ohio. The ticketing policy at the Riverfront Coliseum was known as "festival seating" for rock concerts at the time. The dangerous ticketing policy meant that people were permitted to sit wherever they wished because seating was unreserved. On Dec. 3, a large crowd of concert goers surged into the Riverfront Coliseum to try and get the best seats in the house.

Two years before the Who stampede, another stampede happened at the Riverfront Coliseum just before a Led Zeppelin concert. Dozens of people were injured in that incident and 60 people were arrested after concert-goers pushed against the venue's locked doors. However, even though many venues around the country had eliminated the practice of "festival seating," the Riverfront Coliseum did not revise its policy after the Led Zeppelin concert.

Stampeding Crowd Was 8,000 Strong

On Dec. 3, Who ticket holders began queuing up in front of the Coliseum a little after 12 p.m. By 3 p.m., police had arrived to work the crowd, which included thousands of people. At 7 p.m., approximately 8,000 people were jockeying for a prime spot in front of the locked front doors of the venue. Police tried to get the concert promoters to relieve the pressure by opening the glass doors, but they refused, saying that they did not have enough employees to take the tickets.

At around 7:20, the festival goers pushed against the glass doors, shattering them. The other doors flew open and the stampede ensued. Police were unable to stop the influx of people, which continued for about 15 minutes. At about 7:45 p.m., police made their way through the crowd and found the deceased victims on the ground.

The Band Was Not Informed of the Deaths and the Concert Continued

The Cincinnati fire department instructed the concert promoters to go on with the show because they were afraid that the crowd might react violently if it were canceled. The Who band members were not informed of the deaths until they finished their last song.

The City of Cincinnati banned the use of unreserved seating at all concert venues following the tragedy. However, the city later revoked the ban in the early 2000s, after improved crowed control techniques made it possible to prevent stampedes like the one in 1979. If a stampede like this happened today, it would likely result in premises liability lawsuits against the property managers, concert promoters and/or property owners of the concert venue.