Sports stadiums need to get much smarter
How the internet of things could make the spectating experience safer, less stressful and more rewarding
As the UEFA Euro 2016 soccer tournament kicks off in France this week, European governments and security forces are on high alert. As well as the usual risks associated with gatherings of large numbers of people in stadiums, there is a heightened risk of a terrorist attack linked to the ongoing wars in Syria and Iraq.
Technology should be able to mitigate these risks. As the internet of things evolves, there is the potential to use connectivity to create smart stadia. A stadium is basically an extreme building, so the technologies that are being applied to improve safety and security in office blocks and shopping malls could and should also be applied in a sports arena or a concert venue.
There are, of course, already a number of measures in place to guard against terrorism or random acts of violence. But they need to be improved and enhanced. Although some stadia are now deploying walk-through metal detectors, these machines are not that sensitive. The fact that most fans are carrying mobile phones, coins and keys further complicates the effectiveness and efficiency of metal detectors. Many stadia also carry out bag searches and sometimes body searches. But doing these manual procedures properly takes time and they can be rushed as fans get impatient.
Sophisticated sensors and algorithms
Perhaps the most effective way to bolster security would be to apply data analytics. Stadia need to get really smart. They could use connected cameras and sensors, together with edge computing and sophisticated algorithms, to help figure out in real-time which spectators need to be thoroughly searched and which don’t. For example, sensors could detect an individual’s weight and height, while a smart camera could assess their body mass index and what they are wearing. Any anomalies may suggest they are carrying something heavy and need to be searched.
Stadia could also deploy contactless ticket gates that require the spectator to present an NFC-enabled ticket and another form of contactless ID, such as a payment card or a mobile phone. Again, any anomalies may suggest a manual search is required. However, such a system would require sophisticated edge computing and integration with bank or telecoms records.
Once the game has started, connected cameras with image recognition technology could be used to monitor spectator behavior and help evict people throwing objects on to the pitch or trying to incite violence or hatred. If the system were sophisticated enough, stewards could be deployed to diffuse potential trouble before it actually begins.
In the vicinity of the stadium, connected sensors could be used to monitor garbage bins, parking places and other locations where a bomb could be concealed. The same sensors could, of course, also be used to signal when bins are full and when parking spaces are occupied.
Understanding spectator behavior
Beyond the security dimension, there are many mundane ways in which internet of things technologies could make stadia work better. Congestion monitors could track when queues are building at catering kiosks, toilets or ticket gates and direct people to alternative facilities or gates. In the same vein, connected sensors could signal when toilets need cleaning and when vending machines and kiosks need restocking. Sensors could monitor light and temperature levels both to guide pitch maintenance and to determine when floodlights need to come on and how bright they need to be.
Sensors in seats could detect which are occupied and which aren’t, enabling the stadia management to check how many spectators are watching the game and how may are on the move in different phases of the event. The same sensors could also monitor noise and atmosphere levels and map them against events in the game to help sports teams understand which players are popular and which sequences of play should be in the highlights reel. As a reward for their loyalty, season ticket holders could be sent a personalized video after each game capturing the highlights that generated the most excitement in their section of the crowd. Fans that create the right kind of atmosphere could even be rewarded with free tickets for cup-ties and festivals.
In summary, the falling cost of connectivity and sensors, together with advances in machine learning and data analytics, mean that most of the applications described above should be viable, particularly for top sports franchises. Major international events, such as UEFA Euro 2016, should even impose smart stadia standards, paving the way for a much safer and less stressful spectating experience.