How our circumstances shape us, and why a crowd management strategy is more important than ever
- By Jeff Spoerndle
- Aug 02, 2021
In the fall of 2020, sports fans began making their way back
to stands for the first time since COVID-19 forced mass shutdowns.
For many, this signaled a return to normalcy and a
promising outlook for a struggling industry. Teams and
venue owners had to act swiftly to determine how to safely
reopen once local officials gave the go-ahead—all the while balancing
public pressure and ever-changing guidance from states
Now, industry leaders are taking stock and asking themselves
what the future of sports security looks like—not only as it relates
to COVID, but as it relates to the fan experience and expectations,
other security threats, the role of technology and training staff.
REDEFINING PHYSICAL SECURITY IN THE COVID ERA
Sports complex security has traditionally focused on physical security.
However, over the last year and a half, we’ve seen sports
venues and crowd management partners evolve to guard against
more elusive public health threats.
In response to pandemic-related risks, crowd management
strategists have implemented additional protocols to prevent
overcrowding, keep attendees socially-distanced, and monitor
and COVID-19 symptoms. Many venues have adapted by adding
signage to remind fans to wear their masks and social distance,
tapping security staff to enforce mask-wearing and social distancing,
conducting temperature checks, creating section blocks
to keep strangers from co-mingling and expanding the number of
entry points to reduce crowding.
As more people get vaccinated, security experts anticipate that
temperature checks and strict social distancing guidelines will be
eased in deference to public health guidance. However, the comfort
level of fans and workers will also impact when and how
these protocols are relaxed. After more than a year of being told
to stay away from people, it will likely take fans some time to feel
comfortable sitting next to strangers again.
Some venues have designated vaccinated and non-vaccinated
seating. That way, there’s a level of risk awareness and vaccinated
individuals can feel more comfortable co-mingling or removing
their masks to enjoy concessions. Whether or not venues will
require proof of vaccination for attendees later down the line
remains to be seen, although it’s clear that vaccines will play a
major role as more venues increase capacity and see the return
of more fans.
A number of venues have also introduced mobile concessions
apps to limit long lines and crowding at concessions stands. The
flip side is that these apps can create confusion for fans who are
less tech-savvy. Most likely, as we continue to ‘return to normal,’
these apps will likely become optional.
CHANGING THE GAME FOR GOOD
While some of these pandemic-related measures will gradually be
phased out, others are here to stay.
Though fewer fans have been attending, most venues have still
required the same amount of staff to oversee ticketing and security,
keeping all access points open to spread attendees out as
much as possible. Because of this, speed of entry has stayed the
same or even picked up at some venues.
However, as more arenas and stadiums move back to full capacity,
there will be less space to accommodate everyone and security
personnel will need to find creative ways to keep people
moving through in a timely manner and maintain a more personalized
Public health as a subset of security is also here to stay. Fans
and workers have become more conscious of their own health
and the symptoms of those around them. As a result, enhanced
cleaning and sanitation protocols are likely to continue.
TO PRIORITIZE SPEED AND EFFICIENCY
How we approach security today is largely shaped by past security
crises. Just as the COVID-19 pandemic will impact venue security
and crowd management for years to come, other tragic events
continue to define the work we do and how we do it.
For example, the 9/11 terrorist attacks changed the way we
think about security in every area of life. Because sporting events
are mass gatherings, they are considered high-target spots. Security
significantly increased at games after 9/11 and, for a time,
people were tolerant – and even welcoming - of the extended wait
period and lines to get into stadiums and arenas.
However, as time goes on, public patience and understanding
wane. Now the challenge has become how to maintain highimpact
security strategies while optimizing the fan experience.
In just the last five years, sports security personnel and crowd
management experts have begun to evaluate technology and procedures
for greater speed and efficiency.
As a result, there continues to be increasing investment in
updated technologies to make routine procedures such as bag
checks and body scans move faster—and avoid
mistakes such as detection of car keys or cell
phones that require a second scan and personnel
attention, inevitably holding up the process
for other attendees.
This article originally appeared in the July / August 2021 issue of Security Today.