While great emphasis is placed on fan engagement, is fan safety being overlooked?
(The Stadium Tech Report provides research and analysis of Wi-Fi and DAS deployments at NBA arenas, with team-by-team research for all 30 NBA franchises as well as detailed case studies on deployments at Barclays Center, Staples Center and Amway Center – it’s free to download!)
When it comes to the debate on whether fans prefer the home theater or the stadium experience, I wonder if we are asking the right question. What used to be an unspoken concern about whether sporting events are best enjoyed at home or live has become a huge, often talked-about worry for the sports industry. But even as more technology is brought into stadiums to enhance the fan experience, I wonder if technology should be used first to answer a more basic question: Do fans feel safe at the game?
Venue owners and content providers alike are pulling out all the stops toward the goal of keeping fans entertained and engaged. In-stadium investment and innovations to enhance fan engagement abound; from massive LED video boards, live twitter feeds, half-time live entertainment, and kitschy games of picking the right car or mascot to win the derby, venue operators feel the pressure to meet rising fan entertainment expectations.
But what about just keeping fans safe? Following several well-publicized incidents of stadium violence California recently passed Assembly Bill 2464, the Improving Personal Safety at Stadiums Act, authored by Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D-Los Angeles), requiring major-league sports stadiums in California to clearly post the numbers fans can use to call or text-message stadium security.
“Many parents have told me that they are afraid to take their kids to a ballgame,” said Gatto. “This law will allow fans to report incidents to stadium security before they escalate out of control.” Indeed, several of the more high-profile beatings lasted over a span of several minutes, during which frantic fans dialed 911. In those instances, it is stadium security (from within the stadium) and not the police (coming from outside the stadium) who is best equipped to quickly respond and prevent an injury from becoming more serious. Not surprisingly, mobile phones play a critical role in complying with the new law – a law designed to make people feel safe, and perhaps more eager to come to the live event instead of just staying home to watch it on TV.
Fortunately, many professional and major-university stadiums and arenas have taken steps to improve cellular service by installing Distributed Antenna Systems (DAS) to serve wireless operators. But even with that recent progress, there are still many stadiums where users cannot make cellular calls or text, either due to insufficient network capacity or because their particular cellular provider is not operating on the DAS.
On a recent trip to CenturyLink Field, home of the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks, one could see a well-coordinated effort toward using technology to make fans feel safer. The stadium is fully equipped with a DAS providing reliable cell coverage and throughout the stadium there are prominent signs reminding fans to “Support Your Team With Class” followed by an invitation to text ‘Hawk12’ for assistance. During pre-game the massive end zone video boards are used to show emergency exit routing by sections.
These tactics serve as practical examples of how progressive venues use technology to address often-unspoken safety concerns fans feel in the midst of large crowds. When people cannot use their smartphones to communicate they feel less safe. If a phone doesn’t work in a hotel, hospital or shopping mall people may just feel disconnected.
When a phone doesn’t work in a raucous crowd of 50,000 people, personal and family safety become legitimate concerns. Add a drunk fan or two with deafening crowd noise, and being able to connect with local stadium security can potentially become a big deal. Even simple matters of making plans to meet someone within the stadium become difficult or impossible with no cellular coverage.
In every day life, people have grown accustomed to accessing their needs instantly via their mobile devices. Therefore stadiums with reliable cellular service are safer for fans – and most importantly to the Television vs. Stadium debate, people feel it. If fans don’t get a hot dog or can’t find the beverage they prefer, their game-day experience may suffer a small bit. But if they go to a game and find they can’t connect at all, the question of whether or not they and their family feel safe in the stadium may have an outsized influence on whether they return or not. Stadiums using technology to keep fans connected to the outside world and local security will earn the trust of their fans. Entertainment is good, but feeling safe is paramount.