Sports venue managers, along with the engineers and staff that maintain these facilities, are aware that spectators are concerned about their safety and security when watching a live sports event. However, a recent study suggests this may be more of a concern than realized.
Case in point: The Spectator Sports Safety & Security Survey report, released in 2021 by the University of Southern Mississippi, focuses entirely on the safety and security concerns of spectators. While the study does discuss COVID-19 and how the pandemic impacts the safety of sports venues around the country, the bulk of the study centers on pre-pandemic safety and security issues along with measures and policies many sports venues have in place to help prevent security-related problems.
According to the researchers, sports venues are susceptible to a unique assortment of risks and threats just by their very nature. Where else do hundreds – if not thousands – of people gather in one setting to cheer on their favorite team (and perhaps boo the opposing team) than at a sporting event.
Spectators want the freedom to attend these high-energy events knowing they are safe to enjoy the event and have fun. However, the researchers point out, “spectators’ willingness to attend live sporting events is based on several factors [including] their overall experience and sense of personal safety, which will determine whether they return.”
This statement is crucial for managers, engineers and staff tasked to maintain the venue.
No matter the competition level of the teams that play on the field, sports is big business. For professional leagues, billions of dollars could potentially be lost if spectators stay home because they fear for their safety. This is true for colleges and universities as well, which make millions of dollars on their teams, and also use the events as a marketing tool, helping them attract new students and educators.
With this in mind, let’s take a closer look at this study. It was conducted in July 2021, when COVID had made itself known, but the full ramifications of the pandemic were still unfolding. The study ensured anonymity to all 609 participants, 18 years of age or older (most were 25 to 44), from 528 ZIP codes across the United States. Close to 60 percent were female, more than 70 percent were white, and annual income levels ranged from about $25K to more than $200K. Approximately 40 percent had attained at least a bachelor’s degree, and more than 50 percent of the participants attended two to five sporting events per year.
Overall, these characteristics tell us that the survey group was a reasonably good representation of the people who typically attend U.S. sporting events.
One more point to note is that the most popular sporting events attended during the past three years, according to the participants, were Major League Baseball (MLB), followed by National Football League (NFL), college football, and National Basketball Association (NBA).
So, what did the study uncover regarding safety and security? Among their findings were the following:
About 65 percent of the participants agreed or strongly agreed with the statement: “I am aware of the [sport] venue’s security measures in place before attending an event.” Usually, this information is found on the venue’s website, on the facility’s signage, and signage at entry points.
More than 70 percent agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, “I consider safety and security precautions when choosing to attend a sporting event.”
Not only is it a high priority, but spectators also want to see it. Nearly 77 percent agree or strongly agree that they “prefer safety and security measures be visible.” By visible, overwhelmingly, they wanted to see law enforcement officers at the venue and the sports venue’s own security personnel.
The majority of participants indicated they wanted sports venues to have, in this order, walk-through screening detection systems in place (including metal detectors), facial recognition systems, social media monitoring, bag searches or no-bag policies, security cameras, and K-9 units walking the venue.
What’s clear is that safety and security are significant considerations for spectators. They want to know it’s in place, and they want to see it.
Because of this, and with all the billions of dollars at stake along with reputations and stature, how can sports venue managers ensure the safety and security of their spectators?
The first step in accomplishing this is by conducting a risk assessment. Risk assessments are always necessary for new sports facilities. But, with so much at stake, they are recommended for existing venues every three to five years.
What is a risk assessment?
Risk assessments analyze a facility such as a sports venue looking for potential vulnerabilities, weaknesses, and potential hazards. A professionally conducted risk assessment then goes a step further to identify ways to eliminate these points of concern.
While the risk assessment may recommend the hiring of more security personnel, typically that is not at the top of the list. What the assessment is trying to accomplish is preventing safety and security threats from occurring in the first place.
Furthermore, we should point out, a professionally conducted risk assessment also looks into a broad range of hazards, including fires, floods, and extreme weather conditions that might negatively impact not only spectators, but the venue itself.
The risk assessment process
As mentioned earlier, safety and security issues for sports venues are unique. For example, a risk assessment of an office building would be significantly different than the risk assessment of a baseball stadium.
Furthermore, no two sports venues are the same. Each has its own distinctive safety and security concerns due to location, design, how the facility is used, age, and many other factors.
With this in mind, the following are some of the key components of a professional risk assessment:
Goals and objectives
Does the assessment involve just the sports facility alone, or does it include the outer perimeter, including parking lots, walkways to the facility, even nearby public transportation? It is necessary to have a secure inner and outer perimeter to the venue for all those working and using it.
An effective risk assessment is designed to uncover unknown risks to people or property. However, in some cases, sport venue managers are already aware of potential risks or hazards. When there are known risks, the risk assessment goals are to determine the seriousness of these risks and what can be done to minimize or eliminate them.
The likelihood of certain types of risks or hazards developing is ever evolving. One of the biggest obstacles risk assessment professionals encounter is when building owners and managers believe they are immune to the dangers and security breaches that other facilities have experienced. Always remember: If it can happen anywhere, it can happen in your facility.
The survey mentioned earlier indicated that spectators are concerned with carry-on bags carried through entry points. The risk assessment may determine that all such items, including coolers and backpacks, should be prohibited in the venue. Or it may suggest they go through an inspection process.
In some cases, those who maintain sports fields and facilities must turn to outside vendors and contractors to assist them. Are background checks currently required of these vendors? The recommendation may be made that the backgrounds of not only vendors, but all contractors, students, and volunteers working at the venue should be checked.
The assessment will likely suggest that all people working for and in a sports venue must wear credentials/badges indicating who they are. In addition, this information must be recorded and retained.
A professional risk assessment will often bring in drones to photograph the sports venue looking for safety and security vulnerabilities. These eyes in the sky can see things that may go unnoticed by those walking the facility and its surroundings.
There are many more components to a professional risk assessment. The final step in the process is what to do with the recommendations the assessment generates it once it has been completed. So, the next steps are to heed those suggestions. Determine what steps can be implemented immediately or at minimal cost to protect the facility and all those using and working in it, which require more time and money to implement and may take a few months to complete, and which risks and hazards will need to be addressed in a year or more. Be sure to formalize these steps by putting them in writing. This way, they are less likely to be forgotten, and it’s more likely that your sports venue will be safe and secure for all those using and enjoying it.
Johnathan Tal is president and chief executive officer of TAL Global Corporation, an international investigative, risk assessment, and security-consulting firm. His firm has conducted numerous sports venue risk assessments including the new Sofi Stadium in Inglewood, Calif. He can be reached through his company website at www.talglobal.com