Access Control, Emergency Preparedness, Safety, Security

How Do Sports Fans Perceive Safety and Security at Games?

In late September, the National Center for Spectator Sports Safety and Security (NCS4) at the University of Southern Mississippi released a new report. The primary purpose of this research was to gauge sport spectators’ perceptions of safety and security at live events; awareness and support of policies and procedures; and willingness to embrace new measures and technological solutions to enhance their safety and game-day experience.

The Institutional Review Board (IRB)-approved spectator survey consisted of 47 questions divided into three parts:

  • Part I – participant demographics and attendance habits;
  • Part II – perceptions of safety and security practices, technologies, and industry threats; and
  • Part III – perceptions of fan behavior and the spectator experience.

An online data collection and analysis organization distributed the survey in June 2023. The sample population included individuals 18 or older who attended a live professional or intercollegiate sporting event within the last year. Four hundred participants (n=400) across the continental U.S. completed the survey.

Participants supported various security measures, including the presence of law enforcement and venue security staff, entry screening technologies, and security personnel body cameras. Facility hygiene remains important in the COVID era, as participants indicated venue cleanliness and high sanitation standards made them feel safe.

When attending an event, participants were most familiar with the prohibited items policy, fan code of conduct, alcohol policy, emergency medical procedures, drug policy, and ejection policy. Participants prefer to receive event safety and security information before an event via the website, venue apps, and entry signage.

Participants highlighted parking, traffic, locating seats and restrooms, and security screening as points of difficulty when attending an event. Most participants preferred an entry screening method that requires people to pass through individually, and they favored facial authentication as part of event entry.

Threats or safety issues that concerned participants most included theft, use of weapons, unsafe parking, alcohol abuse, fan violence, and inadequate security personnel. Common incidents witnessed or experienced by participants at a sporting event included alcohol abuse, fan violence inside and outside the venue, severe weather, and tailgating incidents. Most participants who were a victim of disruptive fan behavior chose to report the incident, and for some, it affected their decision to attend future live events.

Approximately 70% of respondents would be willing to pay a nominal security ticket fee to help offset event safety and security costs. Security threats and vulnerabilities are addressed through policies, procedures, training, and technologies (as budgets permit). In conclusion, facility and event managers may consider the following recommendations:

  • Encourage early entry to the event, monitor tailgating areas, and adequately train staff on ticketing and screening procedures.
  • Adhere to Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards and be mindful of access and functional needs—train staff to comply with access and functional needs of spectators.
  • Visible security measures increase spectators’ sense of safety, reinforcing the need for the presence of law enforcement and security staff, entry screening technologies, CCTV, and security personnel body cameras.
  • Venues should obtain GBAC-STAR Facility Accreditation from the Global Biorisk Advisory Council.
  • Event-specific risk assessments should be conducted to guide planning and preparedness efforts.
  • Develop plans, policies, and procedures, and ensure third-party staff are adequately trained.
  • Communicate safety and security policies and important messaging to spectators before, during, and post-event via the website, venue apps, signage, and announcements (PA and video boards). Consider spectator demographics for target marketing and communications.
  • Establish a fan code of conduct and alcohol policy with substantial violation penalties—train staff on pre-incident behaviors, crowd management, and de-escalation techniques.
  • Review traffic control procedures, ensure adequate lighting of parking lots and pathways, and increase signage. Ensure staff understand the importance of consistent screening procedures to overcome points of difficulty for spectators attending an event.
  • Consider utilizing facial authentication for spectator entry. A trial period may be helpful to educate spectators on purpose and benefits.
  • Management may consider a nominal ticket security surcharge ($0.50 – $5.00) to fund security budgets.

The full 2023 Spectator Sports Safety and Security Survey report is available here.

Dr. Stacey A. Hall is the Executive Director and Professor of Sport Management at the National Center for Spectator Sports Safety and Security. NCS4 is an academic center housed at the University of Southern Mississippi and partially underwritten by grants from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

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