The Touchless Fan Experience

The Touchless Fan Experience

Using smart technology to get fans back in stadiums safely

Remember back in the day when fans crowded at the gate, tickets in hand, eager to rush en masse to their seats? When vendors climbed the tiers hawking merchandise and food? When passing beer and hotdogs and money from hand to hand was as much a part of the fan experience as watching the game?

Was that only a year ago?

In the past 12 months, the persistence of COVID-19 has totally hi-jacked the fan experience. With sports venues in virtual lockdown, instead of cheering in the stands, fans were forced to cheer from their sofas. Despite the gloom of hunkering down for a year, the coming of spring and the massive vaccine rollout are creating new optimism. Everyone’s eager to get fans back in their seats. But to protect people’s health and safety, it’s clear that stadiums will have to make some signi ficant changes.

Creating at Touchless Fan Experience

We have all heard the mantra: Wear a mask. Practice social distancing. Use hand sanitizer. That’s fine on an individual basis. But how do you reinforce those practices 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 stadiums are starting to implement or consider.

In the parking lot. Tailgating has always been a big part of the fan experience. But left unchecked, it can easily turn into super spreaders. With high-mounting network cameras, security staff can get a comprehensive view of the parking lot. With the addition of video and audio analytics and speaker horns, security can be alerted when a party grows larger than local ordinances allow or when sounds of aggression are detected. Then staff would have to option of physically intervening or broadcast 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 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 park. Instead of the 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.

Stadiums are also starting to vet a number of video and audio analytics to help fans adhere to health guidelines – everything from sneeze and cough detectors to self-administered temperature checks.

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 curbside pickup. 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.

Communal condiment stations will become a thing of the past. In accordance with touchless protocols, concessioners will bundle packets of toppings and utensils in each fan’s order. It’s likely we’ll no longer see vendors selling their wares in the stands. Before you mourn the loss of an iconic experience, just think about all those viruses deprived of the opportunity to jump from hand to hand with the passing of food, souvenirs, and cash up and down the row.

To further minimize the exposure of virus transmission, stadiums are starting to retrofit bathrooms with touchless doors, 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 staff 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’ locker 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. This is a tough one. If their favorite team is losing or there’s a blowout so the final score is inevitable, fans want to exit early to beat the traffic. Stadiums are still exploring egress 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.

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 the security end of things. Any operational improvements meant to address the new norm of heighten 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 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.

This article originally appeared in the July / August 2021 issue of Campus Security & Life Safety.

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