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Why We'll Never Really Know How Many People Were At The Royals Parade

Jason Wickersheim
Two West Advertising, twowest.com

There’s no doubt about it.

Tons of people went to the Royals World Series victory parade and rally. The city is estimating 800,000 people.

But 800,000? That's more than the entire population of Kansas City, Missouri, which by comparison is only 470,000. Even taking into account all suburbs, the entire metropolitan area comes in at 2 million people. 

So, how did city officials get to 800,000 people? 

Getting to the parade and rally was a free-for-all. People filtered in from all directions by car, bus, foot, and bike. There were no tickets, no gates, and no firm way to count every person there.

The city used something called the Jacobs method to do a reasonable guess on the number of people there, said city spokesman Chris Hernandez. 

In the 1960s, Herbert Jacobs, a journalism professor at the University of California, Berkeley, looked out his office window at protesters. The concrete plaza outside was conveniently poured in a grid, so he divided the crowd up and started counting.

Jacobs came up with some basic rules. A light crowd has one person for every 10 square feet, and a crowd that even serious researchers call “mosh pit density”  has one person per 2.5 square feet.

With these numbers in hand, estimating just how many people celebrated with the Royals on Tuesday becomes simple math: area times density.

How big was the area?

Pretty big. Looking at crowd pictures and talking with reporters, I used Google maps to outline the approximate borders of the crowd between Union Station and Liberty Memorial.

Credit Made with Google Maps
Made with Google Maps
The outlined area shows where the bulk of the crowd was on Tuesday.

Google says the outlined area is about 1.1 million square feet. Of course, that doesn't take into account the space taken up by the state, VIP seating, or port-a-potties, but let's use it for simplicity.

As for the parade route, organizers say it's 2.3 miles long. The sidewalks for most of the route are about 15 feet wide and on both sides of the street.  That gives us about another 364,000 square feet along the parade route.  

2.3 miles x 5,280 (feet/mile)  x (15 feet x 2)=364,320 square feet

This assumes that no one went from the parade also went to the rally, which many people did. But since we don't how many people went to both, we'll keep it simple and add the two numbers together, making the total area about 1.47 million square feet.

Did we achieve 'mosh pit density?'

Credit Alyson Raletz / KCUR
KCUR staff demonstrating mosh pit density.

By all accounts, it was a tight squeeze in many places on Tuesday. Let's say the entire area was really packed and use the "mosh pit density" of 2.5 square feet per person.

Here's the math for Jacobs' method: 

(1,474,420 square feet) x (1 person/2.5 square feet) = 589,768 people

We're getting close.

But what about the people in trees?

People weren't just watching from the ground. A few climbed trees to get a view of their hometown heroes. Others took in the view from the top of Union Station and other buildings.  But thousands of others were watching from the windows and balconies of the nearby buildings. Hernandez says the city is estimating 80,000 people were watching this way.  Since we don't have a way to check it, we'll use this number.  

That brings us to a grand total of 669,768 people.  Throw in people who were scattered around the periphery and packed into green areas downtown,  and 700,000 doesn't seem too far off, but that's still shy of the city's estimate.

But is 700,000 really reasonable?

Probably not. On most crowd shots, you could see some green space, especially toward the edges. While there are reports of it being crowded enough some people started to panic near the stage, most people reported being able to make room, even if it was a squeeze, for others to get by.  

Steve Doig is a journalism professor at Arizona State University, and one of his specialties is crowd estimates.  He says the crowd count is often seen as a measure of an event's success.

"There's always a temptation to inflate the importance of it by the people who organized it," says Doing.

"You should be happy that the team won, and good for the city for so many people showing up. But 40 percent of people coming into the metro area is probably not what happened." 

Hernandez emphasizes that "estimate" is the key word in the city's 800,000 figure.

“When you hear it stated that it’s a crowd estimate, you have to remember that estimates are exactly that — estimates," he said.

So, what is a reasonable estimate?

We'll probably never have a perfect count, but let's take as stab at our own estimate.

The real way to do this is to break the entire area down into grids and figure out how many people were in each grid. But since KCUR doesn't have a helicopter or a drone, let's say in 30 percent of the area, people were packed in like sardines, 60 percent was heavily crowded (4 square feet per person), and 10 percent had a light crowd.

(1,474,420 square feet x 30%) x (1 person/2.5 square feet) = 176,930 people

(1,474,420 square feet x 60%) x (1 person/4 square feet) = 221,163 people

(1,474,420 square feet x 10%) x (1 person/10 square feet) = 14,744 people

Adding those up, gives us 412,837 people. That doesn't take into account the people at both the rally and the parade, so let's keep it simple and say 400,000 people were on the ground and 80,000 were watching from buildings.

This brings us close to the early media estimates of half a million people, but far under the 800,000 mark.

Doig is even less optimistic in his prediction. He says based on his experience, he'd use a density of 6 square feet per person, putting the crowd on the ground at around a quarter million.  

We will probably never know how many people were cheering for the Royals, but that doesn't change the fact that the Royals brought Kansas City together — not just for one day at Union Station — but for weeks in the 2015 baseball post-season.

Maria Carter is the news director at KCUR. Follow her on twitter @mariacarter or send story ideas to maria@kcur.org.

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