New Year’s Eve 2019 Times Square Crowd As Many As 2M? No Way Says ‘AP’

Andrew TheodorakisGetty Images

The exaggerated amount of revelers that will watch the ball drop in New York’s Times Square may just be one of those examples when an event is overestimated by its size.

It has been widely reported that 1 or 2 million people will gather in a small area sectioned off in the crossroads of the world to ring in 2019. Unfortunately, estimates for how many people will really wait for over 15 hours after being ushered in through the tightest security measures New York’s Police Department has in place are being widely exaggerated.

The Associated Press reported that crowd-size experts are scoffing at those mammoth figures — floated annually by city officials and event organizers — saying it’s impossible to squeeze that many revelers into such a relatively small space.

The real Times Square ball drop crowd likely has fewer than 100,000 people, crowd science professor G. Keith Still said to AP.

“Generally, people are overestimating crowd sizes by 10- to 100-fold,” said Still, who teaches crowd science at Manchester Metropolitan University in England and trains police departments on techniques to calculate crowd sizes.

The crowd estimates come from the New York City Police Department, according to the Times Square Alliance, which runs the ball drop.

Revelers ring in the new year in New York's Times Square.
Featured image credit: Dimitrios KambourisGetty Images

The alliance has boasted in recent years that an estimated 2 million people pack into Times Square.

The Associated Press noted that New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio used the same big number again Friday, saying the city expected “up to 2 million people in Times Square itself.”

The area where he noted that many people would congregate runs five blocks between Broadway and 7th Avenue.

Taking into account the stages set up for the annual end of year entertainment specials set up by several major outlets including ABC, CNN, MTV, and others, whose stages and surrounding areas for artists to be able to safely enter and exit the area, there is some serious real ground cover loss for the area.

New York University professor Charles Seife, a mathematician and journalist who explored statistical manipulation in his book Proofiness, said to AP that the city has an interest in promoting a bigger number because it “helps cement the image of New York City as the center of the universe at a certain date and time.”

“How do you count a participant in the Times Square ball drop?” Seife asked. “Is it everyone who can see the ball or anyone squeezed into a bar in Manhattan?”

To actually fit 1 million revelers, the city would have to jam more than the equivalent of a sold-out Yankee Stadium on every block of 7th Avenue between Times Square and Central Park — which starts about 15 blocks to the north, reported AP.

He said the numbers will be closer to 120,000 if the crowd packed in at seven people per square meter. This would allow for every person to be squished together front-to-back and shoulder-to-shoulder.

At big events such as the Times Square ball drop, the AP reported that an accurate crowd estimate is critical to public safety. The wrong number can leave cities devoting too many or too few resources to an event.

Those attending the festivities will face multiple screening points. Certain items are prohibited, including backpacks, large bags, umbrellas, and alcohol.