As millions of loyal fans continue packing into minor league baseball stadiums every year, security teams are investing in a new generation of technology to keep them safe.
Stadium security is a big deal, and not just in the major leagues. Faithful fans of minor league teams are filling millions of seats every year — and rising, making stadium security more important than ever. As the threat of violent attacks continues to loom over public spaces, enhancing security at venues both large and small is a top priority.
Despite substantial security demands, the budgets of Minor League Baseball (MiLB) and independent leagues are often stretched thin. Every dollar of their (often) limited funding has to count; Rather than expensive, seasonal hiring and training, minor league security teams are turning to scalable tech solutions to help keep their patrons safe.
Baseball stadiums are large, complex spaces, with numerous entrances and exits, delivery areas, and restricted access zones. Security curveballs can occur anywhere — in parking, concessions, locker rooms, bathrooms, or the stands. That’s why it’s essential for security teams to maintain constant situational awareness and be prepared for a variety of threats.
Typical challenges include lost children, health emergencies, suspicious items, and unauthorized access to the venue. Violence may also arise from rowdy fans, such as the brutal attack outside Dodgers Stadium in 2015. Security officials are concerned about crowd control in non-threatening situations as well — a panicked audience is often its own greatest danger.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) includes stadium attacks on its list of the most potentially devastating terrorist acts. The U.S. has avoided a major stadium attack since the 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympics, but the Oklahoma Memorial Stadium incident in 2005 came too close for comfort. In 2015, suicide bombers struck outside the Stade de France in Paris. The FBI announced in 2002 that suspected terrorists were downloading images of American stadiums. American sports events remain a much-acknowledged target.
Due to their size and volume of visitors, protecting a stadium during a sporting event represents a major security operation. Tactics include securing perimeters around the arena, establishing no-fly zones, and installing strict checkpoints. Biometrics and RFID tags may be used to inspect and track attendees throughout games. Emergency call boxes are deployed through stadiums to give attendees easy access to security. In addition to these measures, officials are always working to develop new crowd control techniques — like Oracle Arena, which used networked thermal cameras during a concert to monitor for injured fans.
Major League Baseball (MLB) security has made metal detectors and a list of restricted items standard since 2015, and is now working to incorporate more high-tech security and crowd management measures. In addition to surveillance cameras, MLB is implementing optional biometric ticketing. This process uses fingerprints and facial recognition to offer fans priority access and ease line congestion.
Still, experts envision even more robust security measures for Major League Baseball games. Blockchain, facial scanning, and rapid body scans could be implemented for ticketing and security in the future. Sensor networks throughout the stadium could monitor attendees and supplies, providing useful data to security professionals while offering opportunities for monetization as well.
MLB crowds require top-notch management and control — in 2018 they averaged 28,000 per game, with a total of just under 70 million attendees for the year. Minor league audiences are somewhat smaller on the whole: MiLB totaled almost 41 million for the year, with independent leagues adding another several million. However, these numbers are still large enough that crowd management remains a challenge — and a crucial consideration.
Compared to the Major Leagues, MiLB crowd control techniques are much more fragmented and haven’t quite kept pace with yearly visitor rolls. Most do have policies on allowed objects, including limited bag size. But many of these stadiums are just beginning to implement metal detectors.
Given their lower average ticket prices and television contracts that pale in comparison to those of their major league counterparts, MiLB budgets are relatively limited. MLB relies on advertising and high ticket pricing to rake in profits, while minor league funding comes only partially from MLB partnerships. MiLB operations are often city-supported, which comes with pressure for taxpayer dollars to be used carefully.
Even so, MiLB represents a half-billion dollar industry, with a strong fan base and increasing business savvy. In a time when enhanced security is a must-have for any crowd, the minor leagues will have to step up to the plate to keep their thousands of patrons safe.
Some teams have already begun to use security technology in innovative ways — teams in Akron, OH and Jacksonville, FL for instance, have begun using data analytics to improve the attendee experience. The next step will be investing in more advanced security solutions.
Stadium safety may sometimes seem like an inconvenience for fans, but attendees who feel unsafe at a ballpark — due to lackluster security or poor handling of violent incidents — are naturally less likely to return. As more and more stadiums implement advanced security technologies, audiences will increasingly expect robust security.
Stadium officials can cover their bases with tools that offer total situational awareness. At a minimum, crowd management calls for video surveillance and instant facial recognition to identify threats. These tools can serve as force multipliers, allowing decision-makers to provide greater security while saving money with fewer on-the-ground staff.
This technology offers a cost-effective way to enforce bans on rowdy fans, and protect stadiums in the event of a lawsuit. Smart surveillance throughout the stadium can pick up on behavioral anomalies and help officers prevent dangerous incidents. Plus, faster body scan technology can actually ease line congestion at entry gates.
Minor league stadium operators can more effectively manage security operations with platforms that give their security teams the ability to communicate effectively, share information, and gain real-time situational awareness. Stadiums of all sizes need to be positioned to enact rapid responses in the event of a worst-case scenario. And situational awareness technologies can enable them to identify and eliminate threats before they occur — allowing their fans to do exactly what they came to do: enjoy a safe afternoon at the ballpark.