Getting to “Better than Normal” in Sports and Entertainment Venues

A little over a year ago when COVID-19 was at its peak in some places, 72% of respondents in a Seton Hall survey said they would not attend sports games until the development of a vaccine. Well, the COVID-19 vaccines are here and easily accessible for most people across the U.S. That means – the return to a “new normal” has begun for sports stadiums, concert venues and countless other entertainment locales. We’ve already seen the excitement of the return to “normal” at sporting events with thousands of fans packing stadiums for the Stanley Cup/NBA playoffs and beginning of the Major League Baseball season. 


But, even though patrons are excited to get back to cheering for the home team, they are not as excited about the extra measures that are required to get into stadiums – security screenings and COVID-19 vaccination requirements deter from the “normal” fan experience, and nobody is happy about it – not stadium operators, and certainly not fans. 


While fans have generally accepted enhanced security screenings in the post-9/11 era, that still doesn’t stop them from becoming frustrated and angry about long lines and delays that stand in the way of fun. And for stadium security personnel, these screenings and programs like “vaccinated sections” in bleachers place more and more burdens on their shoulders. Prior to 9/11, they could focus almost entirely on unruly fan behavior. Today, they have to layer weapons detection and enforcing pandemic policies on top of their traditional job responsibilities. The good news is, modern threat detection technology has given venue operators new ways to ease this burden on security personnel while also giving fans an experience that not only closely resembles the “pre-9/11” days, but in many cases actually makes it better. 


How can venue owners use technology to make the fan experience “better than normal”? Here are five examples:

  • Retire the metal detectors. Walk-through metal detectors have served us well (OK, reasonably well) for 100 years, but it’s time to bid them a fond farewell. Nobody likes taking the time to empty their pockets to divest of metal. Modern threat detection technology can get things closer to normal by providing an unobtrusive and effective means for detecting weapons, while still allowing people to keep their cell phones, keys and other possessions on them as they enter a venue. 


  • Reserve pat-downs for actual risks. When technology is detecting weapons – rather than just metal – it will not generate as many alerts and will not require as many pat-downs and secondary screenings. This, too, keeps things flowing, resulting in happier fans and less-fatigued security guards. 


  • Eliminate long security lines. The longer someone stands in line, the less time they have to buy concessions and enjoy their time at the event. Also – crowds of people in long lines create a soft-target outside of stadiums, further increasing the urgency to get them inside as quickly as possible. 


  • Add intelligence to security cameras. Layering artificial intelligence (AI) on top of existing security cameras can not only help guards detect potential threats both inside and outside of the venue, but can also provide operational insight to facilities. For example, AI can alert when a line at a concession stand is getting long, so workers can direct people to other stands that aren’t as crowded – a definite “better than normal” moment!


  • Alert authorities to attacks before they happen. The best way to prevent an attack is to disrupt it long before the perpetrator sets foot on venue property. AI can help extend a venue’s “security fabric” to the online world, by scouring social media and elsewhere for emerging threats. This enables authorities to take action before the threat can materialize, while also enabling venue operators to adjust their security staffing and strategy to map to elevated threat conditions. 


Everyone is experiencing “moments of normalcy” today – whether it’s dining indoors for the first time, or simply going to a grocery store where masks are no longer required. The same dynamic is occurring in sports and entertainment venues. The question is, are we happy with back to normal, where “normal” is defined by the long lines and fan frustration caused by post-9/11 security concerns? Or should we take this moment, when organizations of all types are reviewing their operations for the post-pandemic world, to strive for something better? Better than Normal sounds pretty good.