Game changer: Securing sports venues of the future
DELRAY BEACH, Fla.—Imagine going to Fenway Park and being able to, for a small subscription fee, use your smartphone to watch a video feed from the Red Sox's dugout, or the bullpen, or a replay of a questionable call at home plate whenever you want. That will be a reality at sports venues in the future, made possible by a robust network infrastructure that not only generates revenue and enhances the fan experience, but also provides a foundation for an integrated security system, according to a panel of experts at last month's TechSec conference.
The challenges for security professionals tasked with securing sports stadiums are numerous, according to Steve Miller, the panel's moderator and director of systems integration at the National Center for Spectator Sports Safety and Security (NCS4), which is located at the University of Southern Mississippi. They include rapidly advancing technology, evolving expectations of spectators, balancing security with the fan experience, and, perhaps most critical, limited resources to secure venues, Miller said.
Like security professionals in any industry, pitching those who hold the purse strings on a costly new security system is easier if the case can be made that the new system would provide a return on the investment. In the sports world, at least at the college level, the added barrier is that management often points out that the sports venues are only used for a limited portion of the year, said Bob Hopkins, chief of police at the University of Southern Mississippi, which is a Division 1 school with three major sports venues.
Demonstrating the ROI of security technology has been one of the goals of NCS4, which is a "living laboratory" of sorts thanks to its home at the university, Miller said. "We have a sandbox so to speak that we can plug and play, test and develop technology in the context of a natural sporting environment."
Cisco has partnered with NCS4 to demonstrate how the dual use of technology can create a "connected stadium," according to Ted Hayduk, a solutions architect for Cisco's Emerging Solutions Ecosystems. Cisco is working on the idea of a connected stadium, which has a network backbone that supports the security mission, but also offers connectivity to everyone in the stadium to utilize smartphones. When a fan watches a sporting event at home, the television network decides what angles you watch, what replays you will see, Hayduk said. In the future, "the stadium can now program and enhance the fan experience within the venue and give you something you can't get at home," he said. "It’s a reason to go to the venue. It potentially helps sell more tickets. And it allows you to program your own experience on your own device. … That's repurposing technology for dual use."
So while the end user can get the surveillance capabilities he or she needs to secure the stadium, including the dugout, it also offers other business units a tool to drive more revenue, Hayduk said. "So it's about operational efficiency," he said. "It's about breaking down barriers so security is sitting at the table with finance and with marketing."
Some of these systems are already in place at venues around the country. Cisco was involved in the new Cowboy stadium from the design phase, Hayduk said. That stadium has 3,300 digital monitors that are controlled from one console, "so that the entire venue can change from the Cowboys to a U2 concert like that," he said as he snapped his fingers.
Another challenge with limited resources is that when an end user is able to expand the security system and add certain capabilities, such as a text messaging system that allows fans to report problems or emergencies to the security center, it is often done piecemeal, said Tim Morton, lead technical investigator at Raytheon Corp., another NCS4 partner.
Raytheon's command-and-control solutions would provide an end user like Hopkins with the ability to tie in those disparate systems, such as digital signage, access control, video surveillance, and text messaging capability, into an integrated system that offers a better situational awareness. "I didn’t even know what integration meant until I met these two gentlemen to my right," Hopkins said, referring to Morton and Hayduk.
And these solutions don't have to be sport specific. Sports stadiums are incubators for security solutions that could be deployed in other spaces some day, Morton said. "I'm not going to promise that I'm going to make your life easier by going through TSA checkpoints quicker," he said. "But we might, based on some of the things we're doing in sports."