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Can Wireless Technology Keep Fans Safe in Stadiums?

By Mike Collado
October 15th, 2014

When I was growing up, my dad took me to a Redskins game at RFK Stadium.

After the game and in a remote, dark area of the parking lot, we were approached by two men who demanded that my dad give them his wallet. My dad was a big man who stood over six-feet-two and calmly replied, “Mike, let’s go find a policeman.” And with that, the two men vanished – presumably to try to boost someone else.

Several years ago, I attended a Monday Night Football game at FedEx Field.

As we waited among the sea of fans waiting for the gates to open, I was at-once impressed with and intimidated by the power of the group: one had to “move” with the crowd or risk being knocked down.

Recently, a fan was severely injured in a fight that occurred in a bathroom at Levi’s Stadium. (Read Kai Savaree-Ruess’ article here in SportTechie)

Earlier this year, SOLiD president Seth Buechley observed in an article published in the Q1 Stadium Tech Report from Mobile Sports Report that:

Venue owners and content providers alike are pulling out all the stops toward the goal of keeping fans entertained and engaged. In-stadium investment and innovations to enhance fan engagement abound; from massive LED video boards, live twitter feeds, half-time live entertainment, and kitschy games of picking the right car or mascot to win the derby, venue operators feel the pressure to meet rising fan entertainment expectations. But what about just keeping fans safe?

Keeping fans safe in and around stadiums and arenas

According to ​Savaree-Ruess the responsibility of fan safety belongs to the venue.

“…the 49ers can’t control what their players do outside of team facilities. ​But the 49ers actually can control what goes on inside its facilities. The team has an obligation – moral, if not legal – to ensure that its patrons are in a safe environment. That is why I cannot understand the chorus of demands that land on Jed York’s desk for clarity on the Harbaugh situation, a solution to the logistical issues with the new stadium and action on McDonald, but barely a peep about addressing fan violence.”

This view is being advanced throughout the country via legislation. For example, California has responded to several well-publicized incidents of stadium violence in Assembly Bill 2464 (Improving Personal Safety at Stadiums Act) authored by Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D-Los Angeles). The bill requires major-league sports stadiums in California to clearly post the numbers fans can use to call or text-message stadium security.

Savaree-Ruess suggests the solution is rooted in security personnel.

“Put uniformed security everywhere. Put them at every gate; position them at every tunnel; make them visible from everywhere in the concourse; and, yes, put them at the entrance of every bathroom.”

In practice, Buechley notes that it’s “stadium security (from within the stadium) and not the police (coming from outside the stadium) who is best equipped to quickly respond and prevent an injury from becoming more serious.”

But is a show of force pragmatic?

The role of wireless technology in fan safety

Fans Against Violence which is a fan-based organization that “aims to improve and enhance game day experiences at professional sports venues across the United States and around the world” is an advocate of – among other things – using smartphones to keep fans safe.

The #1 item on their list of Game Day Safety Tips is “Be sure your cell phone is fully charged.” The organization also curates a list of Game Day Hotlines and Security Text codes for NFL, MLB and MLS teams and stadiums.

Buechley concurs that smartphones and in-building distributed antenna system (DAS) networks capable of supporting wireless capacity and coverage for tens of thousands of fans is a key strategy for keeping fans safe:

“When people cannot use their smartphones to communicate they feel less safe. If a phone doesn’t work in a hotel, hospital or shopping mall people may just feel disconnected. When a phone doesn’t work in a raucous crowd of 50,000 people, personal and family safety become legitimate concerns. Add a drunk fan or two with deafening crowd noise, and being able to connect with local stadium security can potentially become a big deal. Even simple matters of making plans to meet someone within the stadium become difficult or impossible with no cellular coverage.”

A call to action

For Savaree-Ruess, teams need to take action now.

“Fan violence is becoming a problem; and the team needs to make the financial and logistical commitment to stop it. We, fans, should be able to keep ourselves in-line, but it is becoming increasingly apparent that a small minority simply cannot.”

Clearly, it’s unrealistic to believe that dangerous incidents such as the potential one my dad and I avoided years ago can be completely stopped.

Similarly, it’s clear that when you pack many people into a concentrated space, accidents and incidents are going to occur.

But fan safety needs to be a primary consideration within the overall fan experience.

Venues can afford to retain security and police personnel. As fans, we possess smartphones. Many stadiums have deployed DAS networks. CCTV security cameras are installed throughout venues. Heck, there are even have apps to inform us of which bathroom has the shortest lines.

Fan safety is achievable.

Or as the Buechley article concludes: “Entertainment is good, but feeling safe is paramount.”

Organizations such as SEAT which brings together technologists among sports and entertainment venues have the unique ability to advance the discussion and solution.

MSR and SportTechie also have the platform and opportunity to keep safety as top-of-mind as player stats and whiz-bang technologies.

Your turn

What is or isn’t being done to keep fans safe in stadiums and arenas?

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