Smart technology to get sports fans safely back in stadiums

Mark McCormack

The experience of being in a sports stadium – the noise, the anticipation, the connection with fellow and rival fans – can often be as important as the actual event itself (and sometimes more so). But like so many aspects of our lives which we took for granted, Covid-19 totally undermined the fan experience. With sports venues in lockdown, instead of cheering in the stands, fans were forced to cheer from their sofas.

However, there are signs of optimism. In a number of countries around the world, fans are being allowed back into stadiums – albeit often in limited numbers. Nine of the 12 venues in the delayed Euro 2020 football championships will see fans at games, some at full capacity, and while overseas visitors won’t be able to attend the Tokyo Olympics, the venues will see significant numbers of Japanese spectators.

While everyone’s eager to get back in their seats, stadiums will have to make some significant changes in order to ensure the health and safety of live sports audiences.

Creating a touchless fan experience

By now, we all understand the best practice: Wear a mask. Practice social distancing. Use hand sanitizer. That’s fine on an individual basis. But how do you ensure that with tens of thousands of fans at once? It would be an impossible task without the help of technology and the reimagining of key stadium operations like ticketing, gate control and concession sales.

Here are just some of the practices that sports stadiums are starting to implement or consider.

In the parking lot

A big part of the game day experience for many fans has been the pre-event activities in the parking lot. But left unmanaged, it could easily turn into a breach of social distancing guidelines. Network surveillance cameras can give security a comprehensive view of the car park. With the addition of video and audio analytics and speaker horns, security can be alerted when a party grows larger than guidelines allow. Staff would have the option of physically intervening or broadcasting a warning to revelers before events get out of hand.

At the gate

Even before the pandemic, many stadiums were moving to e-ticketing, saving themselves the cost of printing and mailing fans their tickets. While the loss of souvenir ticket stubs may disappoint some, scanning a fan’s smartphone is far more sanitary than exchanging bits of paper at the gate.

Stadiums are also looking to smartphones to help them stage entry times into the stadium. Instead of the traditional stampede when the gates open, stadiums can notify fans through a smartphone app when it’s their turn to queue at a specific gate.

Video cameras can play a role in maintaining social distancing at the entrance. With the addition of queue management analytics stadiums can address bottlenecks at the entrances in real-time and automatically alert staff when they need to move some fans to a less congested gate. Other analytics can check whether a fan is wearing a mask and trigger an audio reminder through an adjacent speaker.

Inside the stadium

Eager to keep their fans and staff protected, stadiums are shifting to touchless, cashless operations. To avoid crowded concourses, with fans lining up to purchase food and souvenirs, stadiums are adopting their own version of ‘click and collect’. Instead of congregating to eat on the concourse, fans place and pay for their orders through their smartphones and are notified when they’re ready for pickup. Once they pick up their order, the new norm will be to return to their seats to eat.

To further minimize the opportunity for virus transmission, stadiums are starting to retrofit bathrooms with touchless door controls, faucets, and towel dispensers. To ensure safe social distancing, they’re also using video analytics and network speakers to track and limit how many people can be in a bathroom at a time.

In the VIP lounges and bars, occupancy management analytics are being used to enforce assembly limits dictated by local guidelines. If a gathering crowd reaches a threshold, stadium personnel automatically receive an alert to disperse the group into smaller, socially distant parties.

Beyond health and safety, stadiums are using intelligent network video technology to improve situational awareness across their entire operation. For example:

  • Alerting security when motion analytics detect an unauthorized person attempts to enter a restricted area like the players’ dressing room, press boxes, VIP suites, catering kitchens, etc.
  • Monitoring the kitchens to assure the staff follows proper health and safety protocols when handling and preparing food
  • Oversee activity at merchandise kiosks and retail shops to detect pilfering and unsanctioned giveaways
  • Record loading dock deliveries and provide forensic evidence to reconcile discrepancies

Managing event exit

If the home team is losing or it’s such a one-sided match that the final result is inevitable, fans want to exit early to beat the traffic. Stadiums are exploring strategies that will allow them to maintain health and safety standards without feeling too restrictive to fans. It will probably take quite a bit of trial and error until a workable solution is reached but again, technology solutions can help manage the movement of a large crown to maintain health and safety, along with the all-important audio communications to keep everyone informed.

New norms, new challenges

While a lot of the conversation about getting fans back in the stands has centered on operations, stadiums haven’t lost focus on security. Any operational improvements meant to address the new norm of heightened health and safety need to be reviewed from the perspective of security to ensure they don’t create any unintended consequences.

As stadiums gradually return to partial and, hopefully, full attendance, they may face new challenges they hadn’t previously anticipated. But with help from intelligent network technology, stadiums will soon be able to restore the full fan experience in all its exciting glory.

More information about Axis solutions for stadiums can be found here.

Stadium solutions