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Volume 27 No. 57
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Technology stepping up with solutions for fan safety

With the global COVID-19 pandemic keeping people at home and indoors through most of spring and summer 2020 and pushing back starting dates for many leagues, fans everywhere are certainly missing the in-stadium game experience: There’s no way to replace the crack of the bat, the green expanse of the pitch, the communal experience of rooting for their favorite team, while eating a hot dog and drinking a beer.

Although returning to large events might initially be nerve-wracking for some people, many are eager to get back to the stadium, continue family traditions, and support long-honored connections with their favorite teams. 

This marks a truly unprecedented time in sports history, and points to an increased importance for teams to adopt technology solutions that can make the in-person fan experience not just safer, but more seamless, efficient, and ultimately enjoyable for fans. As with any new technology, these systems will require a combination of modified fan actions and behaviors to ensure the systems are being utilized to the full extent of their abilities. 

Here are three tech concepts that have the power to relieve fans’ stress about staying safe at games so they can focus on what they came for: cheering on their team and having a great experience with family and friends. 

Interactions go contactless 

New contactless technology will be used to transform the interactions fans are used to having with highly personal contact, like with box office representatives, ticket scanners, and food and beverage concessions. 

In the not-too-distant future, paper tickets will be gone, replaced entirely by the mobile variety. So will the standard box office, sparing concertgoers and sports fans from the tangled humanity lining up before an event. Contactless ticketing has become more popular within the last few years, with college teams like LSU football and Georgia Tech basketball already using this feature to save time at the gates. In a COVID era, contactless technology won’t just stop at the box office, it’ll extend to the entire stadium experience. 

With this adjustment to normal procedures, it’s important for fans to adapt their usual behaviors to make these new experiences work for them. For example, with mobile ticketing, they’ll need to make sure they pull up all tickets ahead of time to avoid delays at the gate, and with mobile ordering for concessions, they’ll need to plan out trips ahead of time to pick up orders, instead of simply getting up to get a snack when the craving hits.   

Avoid crowds with thermal mapping

Start with those long lines that once piled up outside the stadium just before game time. Via thermal mapping, an app can now schedule fans for staggered arrival times to hasten mask checks, temperature screening, and maintain six-foot distances at the gates. Now, instead of an entire arena showing up 30 minutes before kickoff, an app will instruct fans when to arrive and what gate to use when thermal screening is required to help avoid logjams.

Innovations in thermal heat mapping will make it easier for fans to avoid crowds while inside the stadium, making it easier to plan out arrival times and trips away from their seats more carefully to comply with the new system to keep themselves and others safe. Although stadiums will open to reduced capacity, crowd mapping can help fans keep a safe distance from others while navigating pickup at concession stands, and avoid restrooms that are gathering long lines. 

Tracking technology

Although the key word here — tracking — might be controversial, technology that understands where fans are in a physical space can be utilized to keep them safe when it’s needed the most. This innovation can make the fan experience smoother and less frustrating, by giving them the ability to avoid high-traffic areas and potentially stressful situations around the stadium. 

Think of this like Google Maps for your trip through the arena: Real-time crowd tracking will allow for the rerouting of foot traffic throughout the facility to avoid bottlenecks, and warn drivers which parking ramps are backed up with cars, or where to find an open parking spot. The idea of ordering concessions from your seat — or knowing that 200 other people aren’t picking the same time to make a restroom run — will likely have universal appeal. This capability is already being put to novel uses in Europe, where thermal mapping for large-scale events allows teams and cities to direct buses and shuttles to high traffic areas. 

Any data privacy concerns are also easily quelled, as leagues can control the level of data collected on-site. The data collected here can be anonymized so that it’s merely used for tracking crowd control, rather than storing each specific person’s movements. Teams can also choose to keep any personal data in-house, barring sale to outside parties. Fans can also take specific actions to control how they interact with this kind technology, like switching apps off when they leave the stadium. 

To make the return to live sporting events happen, fans must play a role in ensuring safety for themselves and others, working with the new technology solutions offered to ensure effectiveness. Think of it all as a way to not only resume the joy of live events, but to do it safely, while eliminating any anxiety that may come from the resumption of large gatherings.

Most excitingly? It’ll provide a solution to everyone’s least favorite part of the stadium experience: Waiting in line!

Brent Kocher is chief revenue officer at Realife Tech.