The Touchless Fan Experience
Using smart technology to get fans back in stadiums safely
- By Mark McCormack
- August 01, 2021
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
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
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
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
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 Today.