The metal detectors that every sports fan is used to at the gate may soon be joined by thermal body scanners as part of the gigantic task of preventing the spread of the new coronavirus and other airborne diseases.
And that’s perhaps just one thing the public should be comfortable with bringing games back for personal viewing.
Tickets have transitioned widely from paper souvenirs to smartphone screens, but what about using your face as proof of purchase? Budding forms of crowd monitoring – such as laser-guided density detection and camera-based line-length calculations – are likely to grow faster in a post-pandemic era of live sports that must emphasize hygiene.
“The pandemic really increases the need for greater assurance of stadium safety,” said Bob Boland, an athletics officer who teaches at Penn State and has more than two decades of experience in sports and law as an instructor, advisor, and agent. “Vaccination treatments, inclusion, they can all be game changers, but people will need to feel comfortable with mass testing of body temperature and other technology that may be involved.”
No different from the aftermath of the 2001 terrorist attacks, when long waits to go through magnetometers and have a guard swing a stick over trouser pockets became the norm.
“After September 11, we exaggerated, which means that we were so keen to make every building safe and everyone safe, that we made it very difficult to go to games and events. But we said it would get better over time, and it did, ”said Marc Ganis, co-founder of Chicago-based consultancy SportsCorp. ‘How do you do that?’
Technology will be an essential part of the puzzle. It will also test a fan’s willingness to potentially sacrifice a little more privacy in exchange for the option of being back on the track or behind the record.
“Can I say both?” said Jim Mueller, a Milwaukee Bucks subscriber who also buys partial packs for Milwaukee Brewers and Green Bay Packers games. “I understand it from the perspective of Bucks and NBA, but as an American I don’t want to be tracked down.”
Dave Karls also has Bucks season tickets, eager enough for his next visit to Fiserv Forum, that tracing his location in the arena wouldn’t interfere with the fun.
“I prefer that to not being able to attend the game at all,” said Karls.
Some concerns depend on the definition of surveillance of an individual, a word that has nefarious connotations in some corners. In some countries, this year’s effort to address the outbreak of contact tracking COVID-19 included citizen consent to location registration.
Activity during a sporting event in the United States would likely only be collected in its entirety, such as an elevated skin temperature that is marked while walking through a thermal scanner. Those are not data related to a person’s real identity that may violate federal privacy laws. Perhaps QR codes will be used for customers to report current health conditions themselves.
Wearing a smartphone and using it for shopping already opens up a user for some form of location tracking and direct marketing. Team-sponsored apps that allow fans to order burgers and beers straight to their seats and receive push notifications for merchandise already provide a framework for what could come.
The algorithms sparked some controversy in Alabama, where the frustration of football coach Nick Saban about the early exit of away matches from students and a nationwide decrease in visitor numbers prompted the creation of the “Tide Loyalty Points” program, which rewarded fans for their presence in the fourth quarter with prizes and priority purchases for high demand events. In that case, Bluetooth technology is used for tracking; it is only functional in Bryant-Denny Stadium.
“The more information you can give someone, the more likely they are to agree to the issue of this type of data,” said Nan Sato, a Philadelphia lawyer with a focus on the intersection of technology and sports. “Who gets the data? How is it stored and used, how long is the data kept and how is the privacy of the fans protected?”
Screening technology that scans a user’s eyes, face or fingerprint has multiplied in recent years, especially at airports to accelerate security lines. Two years ago, Major League Baseball made a deal with a biometric identification system, Clear, to accelerate the entry of baseball by body part – fingerprints – for now, but maybe one day the face of a fan will be his or her ticket.
“If you pull back the layers, people aren’t afraid of the face recognition technology itself. They’re afraid of what happens to that data next. It’s more a matter of transparency at the front of our customers:” Hey, we’re not going to use this data sell to third parties. It is coded maintained, “said Shaun Moore, a former SMU footballer and co-founder of Trueface, a software startup with customers in a variety of industries, including sports.” We don’t see any of the data. We know not who is in the database, so that’s one way we keep privacy in mind when developing these tools, there should be transparency in how the data flows and who has access to it, how long it stays in the system. “Is it 30 days? Is it two days? Where is it used?”
AP Sports Writers Larry Lage, Steve Megargee and Dave Skretta contributed to this report.
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