An Entertainment District

An Entertainment District

The expanding role of sports arenas’ security

Remember classic stadiums like Wrigley Field, Chicago’s old baseball park, or Forbes Field, the old baseball and football park in Pittsburgh? On game day, fans were throwing tailgate parties in the parking lot, then heading into the stadium to cheer on their teams. Once the game was over and fans left the park, security locked up and the venue went dark until the next home game.

Those venues represent a bygone era. Today’s arenas have become an entertainment district designed to not only capitalize on game day crowds but draw traffic seven days a week to adjacent bars, restaurants, concerts and other attractions both in and around the stadium.

This transformation has dramatically changed the role of venue security teams. Before, staff was only responsible for the safety and protection of the stadium, the fans and the players during the sporting event. Now the job is 24/7 and their sphere of responsibility often encompasses the entire surrounding entertainment district.


In recognition of this new reality, stadiums have been making a concerted effort to upgrade and streamline security operations to better ensure the safety of the thousands of people on and around their properties on any given day or night. They’re not only keeping a watchful eye on what’s happening in the arena and in the stands, but they’re also monitoring the concession concourse and retail kiosks, private boxes and VIP suites as well as areas like player/performer/employee entrances, ticket gates, loading docks, parking lots and activity in the surrounding plaza. As an example:

The United Center, replaced the old Chicago Stadium built in 1929, creating a safe environment has meant building an in-house command center to monitor hundreds of high-resolution network cameras in and around the stadium. The fully integrated, enterprise-level system is built on open standards and designed to grow with them, an important feature since they recently added a large entertainment addition to their site.

The solution allows operators to observe early warning signs of incidents in real time and quickly dispatch security staff to the location to mitigate problems before they escalate. It also allows operators to broadcast messages over the PA system to spectators, athletes, performers and employees as needed. Management is also using the sophisticated surveillance system to confirm employee time and attendance and verify vendor deliveries at the loading docks in case of any discrepancies.

The Fiserv Forum, replaced the aging Bradley Center in Milwaukee, being in the heart of Deer District has meant not only handling security for the new arena but also overseeing security for the 30-acre entertainment district that surrounds it. Like the United Center, Fiserv Forum built an in-house operations center for viewing the hundreds of high-resolution network cameras blanketing the stadium and the plaza.

They have grouped the cameras into quadrants to enable security staff, department managers and local response agencies to see multiple viewpoints of an area simultaneously. The additional situational awareness has given security the tools it needs to detect problems and respond in real-time to fluid conditions like bottlenecks at the entrance gates, sudden medical emergencies on the plaza and hit-andrun accidents outside the arena.

The high-traffic American Airlines Center, replaced the aging Reunion Arena in Dallas, is run like a small city. Security staff is on call 24/7 whether the venue is hosting professional basketball and hockey games, major concerts, conferences or other events. A sophisticated array of high-resolution network cameras covers the entire complex from the sports arena to the retail shops, restaurants and concession stands to the VIP suites, multi-tiered concourses, elevators, escalators, garage and parking lots.

Using cameras with advanced technologies like wide angle views, wide dynamic range and built-in IR illumination, security can monitor more area with greater image clarity – whether the area under observation is in bright sunlight, dark shadow or only lit by emergency lights. The increased situational awareness gives security visual evidence they need to quickly resolve issues like stolen property and customer service disputes.

Because of the preponderance of surveillance cameras facing both inwards and out at these venues, there’s a lot of reciprocity with local law enforcement who often requests venue share footage to help in criminal investigations and prosecutions. In return, law enforcement often alert security about persons of interest in the area such as celebrity stalkers, individuals on a most-wanted list or other known troublemakers.


Many venues have begun integrating other tools with their surveillance cameras to help their security force improve their situational awareness and response time even as their entertainment district continues to expand.

For instance, they’re adding video analytics like license plate recognition to identify vehicles in parking facilities or traveling on surrounding roads. They’re integrating their cameras with panic buttons throughout the stadium and parking lots to enable security to quickly locate the emergency, assess its nature and dispatch assistance to the exact location. They are tying cameras equipped with motion detection to audio systems that can automatically broadcast a warning to anyone attempting to enter the stadium after hours.

They’re augmenting their cameras with facial recognition software and tying them to the stadium’s access control system to verify the person using the keycard or badge matches the face in the database. They’re adding sophisticated search algorithms to the video management systems to spot suspicious packages and expedite searches for lost objects and people. They’re incorporating audio analytics like gunshot detection to trigger active shooter protocols like automatically placing a call to local law enforcement. They are even tying their cameras into their mass communication systems and electronic signage to maintain safety during emergency evacuations.

This is just a sampling of ways venues are integrating their technologies to enhance the overall safety and security of their entertainment districts.


While technology is certainly an important part of the security equation, so is staff training. Given the growing complexity of threats to entertainment districts, security staff are being challenged to know a lot more than simply how to monitor cameras and search and review video.

To that end, many sports venues are turning to the National Center for Spectator Sports and Safety (NCS4) for guidance. The national research center provides the U.S. sports industry with a wealth of resources and learning opportunities about the latest advances in stadium security solutions and industry best practices.

NCS4 not only conducts thought leadership summits and networking opportunities for venue security managers, it also offers professional certification programs, hands-on workshops and evacuation training exercises for stadium personnel. Stadiums can contract with NCS4 to conduct venue security and safety assessments to help them target improvements to their security programs. As an added service to the sports venue community, NCS4 operates a National Sports Security Laboratory where they test, evaluate and validate technology solutions.

What makes NCS4 so invaluable is its ability to provide a way for professional sports and event venue managers, professional associations, security products manufacturers, first responders and government agencies to connect and share experiences and recommendations that can improve the safety and security of every spectator venue across the country.


While entertainment districts hold great appeal for investors, they raise complex challenges for security staff. Security has gone from a game day task to a 24/7 operation, making increased situational awareness of paramount importance. We’re seeing technology systems burgeoning into sophisticated, enterprisewide solutions able to monitor both the sports complex and the surrounding entertainment district as it continues to grow. With larger areas to protect and a wider array of surveillance tools to master, ongoing training in current industry best practices will be the key to effectively confronting today’s dynamic threat landscape.

This article originally appeared in the July / August 2020 issue of Security Today.


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