In the world of sports, it’s all about reaching the next level: the World Cup in soccer, the Stanley Cup in hockey, the Masters in golf, the World Series in baseball, the Super Bowl in football and the U.S. Open in tennis, among others. Name the sport, there’s a championship to win.

But first, the facilities – the stadiums, arenas, golf courses and other facilities in which the sports are played – have to be secure.

Welcome to the world of sports security, where past tragic events and current elevated terrorist activity serve as constant reminders that sporting and entertainment venues are vulnerable to disasters that can result in significant damage to property, personal injury and loss of life.

The result of having a lax security program – whether it’s a professional sports team, a large multinational organization, a school district, major university, small community hospital, retail store or public utility – can also harm your company’s brand, as evidenced by Frank McCourt and the Los Angeles Dodgers and the beating of a fan, Bryan Stow, outside of Dodgers Stadium in April. The Dodgers’ ineffective security program not only led to a severely injured fan, but a brand image that will be forever tainted. And if the victim’s family has any say in the matter, McCourt will owe Stow’s family millions of dollars in the pending lawsuit.

How does security manage the delicate balance of a secure facility, fan behavior and  crowd control while not impeding upon the fan experience and key stakeholders who want to protect their very expensive investments? How does security balance it all and protect the brand? As one security leader says, “In the world of security, you have to be successful every day, whereas the bad guy only has to be successful once.”

We assembled a panel of “pros” in sports security from Major League Soccer, the NFL, NASCAR, professional tennis, the NBA and professional golf. Our “pros” include Evan Dabby, Senior Director, Operations for Major League Soccer, Mike Lentz, Director, Security, NASCAR; Mike Rodriguez, Director of Security for the U.S. Open and USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center; Jim Cawley, Senior Vice President, Security, NBA; Jeff Miller, Chief Security Officer, NFL; and Joe Funk, President, U.S. Safety & Security for the LPGA.


Security magazine: What is your biggest security challenge inside and outside of your facility?

Evan Dabby: Inside and outside the stadium, the supporter groups are our biggest opportunity. They add life to the entire event, inspire the players and create an unmatched atmosphere in domestic sports. The supporters are our most avid fans who are located in a designated section, who sing and cheer throughout the 90 minutes of action.

At the same time, the supporters are our biggest challenge. Their passion sometimes translates into misconduct, and approximately 90 percent of our violations come from these sections. We constantly work to elevate the enthusiasm while ensuring behavior does not conflict with our Fan Code of Conduct.

Mike Lentz: The size, scope and length of the events require an incredible amount of coordination with track and law enforcement agencies. At some venues, because of our strong fan following, we become the second or third largest city in the state and the competitors and fans are on site for multiple days. Coordination with tracks is the key to hosting a safe event and that’s an ongoing process. Each year, NASCAR hosts an annual summit, where hundreds of representatives from tracks and law enforcement agencies gather to discuss the latest technology, best practices and current trends. Information sharing is an important part of this conference as is the networking among the tracks.

Mike Rodriguez: The biggest challenge inside the stadiums is player security on-court and monitoring the crowd for issues. In this “YouTube” world we live in we have more individuals that just want their 15 minutes of fame. Outside the stadiums, crowd management is of concern. We need to constantly be aware of the crowd movements throughout the complex so that we do not get surprised by overcrowding issues at any of the field courts and grounds.

Additionally, because the event takes place in late August and the temperatures are high we need to pay attention to dehydration issues with our patrons. We use announcements through the PA system to remind patrons to drink water and hydrate themselves. We have numerous first aid facilities throughout the site, in addition to roving paramedics.

Jim Cawley: We strive, every game, to establish and maintain a unique atmosphere and dynamic between fans, media and our players. Basketball is an exceptional fan experience that features equally complex  security challenges that are carefully managed at each venue. We work diligently to establish the appropriate levels (and methods) of access screening, sweeps and other security related checks, while maintaining schedules that are critical for the business to run with minimal impact to the game and fan experience.

Joe Funk: The LPGA has events that are less attended than the PGA, yet have a much more dynamic footprint. The success of the LPGA is based on a fan friendly atmosphere, and that’s my biggest challenge. At a PGA event you rarely see the players interacting with the crowds. With us, the players walk through the crowds and interact them with all times throughout the course. So the challenge is managing the fan friendly and accessibility atmosphere.

Jeff Miller: Inside the stadium we’re really engaged with fan conduct. The Fan Code of Conduct that we instituted in 2008 has been successful in helping us raise the level of quality behavior inside of the stadium and create more value for the fans. From a security perspective it keeps our fans safe and creates an environment where you can bring your children to NFL games. We don’t want to see people act out in ways that offend others. Outside the stadiums our concerns are related to not only securing our facilities, but also with parking. Our fans like to tailgate, so we not only have camera technology outside of the stadiums, but also have roving alcohol management teams, in addition to security in the tailgate areas. 

Security magazine: How do you balance the fan experience with security and safety and keep key stakeholders happy within your organization?

Evan Dabby: Maintaining the balance is a continuous process that focuses on communication. Not much different from a friendship or even a marriage, the relationship between the club and its supporter group requires constant attention to be successful. The most successful clubs host regular meetings to learn about mutual interests, evaluate new initiatives and discuss issues and fan conduct.

Mike Lentz: NASCAR is unique from other sports in that we encourage more fan interaction with our competitors. That interaction creates a whole new set of dynamics as it relates to security. The tracks are keenly aware of the common sense approach that needs to be taken in order to maintain a proper balance between security and the fan experience.        

The garage areas are controlled by NASCAR and are restricted to teams, officials and their guests. But as our sport evolves, so does our need to improve upon the fan experience, and that sometimes leads to more access and therefore, more planning and preparation. This season, for example, we implemented times where fans with certain credentials can bring their children into the garage area to see how some teams prepare for race day. 

Mike Rodriguez: We post a Prohibited Items List and security directives on our website year round so that patrons are well aware of what is expected when they arrive for the U.S. Open. We feel that in this way they are not upset about procedures as they know what not to bring with them. We are also fortunate in New York that most fans understand that we have strong security practices for their benefit.

Jim Cawley: Carefully and thoughtfully, and by making good, well-informed decisions on a daily basis. We strive to remain consistent, yet flexible, with a security plan that can be scaled up or down quickly based on threat and risk factors specific to a given city, site or event.

Joe Funk: By being a bit inconspicuous. I work with each local tournament, and each one is different in terms of their volunteers and affiliation with local law enforcement. I have a set of policies that I want to see followed regarding security of the locker rooms and player escorts, for example, and I address those policies with the tournament directors. We do provide security to the players who generate the most fan interest. Sometimes we have players who, because they are playing in their own backyard or who have won the week before, will generate a lot of interest, so we take all that into consideration and increase the security. Golf tournaments are made up of non-security focused people – they are business people – so it’s a work in progress on my part to educate them.


Security magazine: What best practices have you instituted for crowd control?

Evan Dabby: The growth of the supporter groups challenges us to evolve and raise our level of preparedness. We also have a challenge with public perception insofar as people tend to equate any misconduct with the hooliganism that was prevalent in the UK before extensive measures curbed those issues. Given that soccer is a global sport, there is a tendency to connect worldwide events to our league. The number of ejections and arrests may be fewer than those from the other major leagues, and MLS must make sure its image is not unfairly tarnished by generalizations more accurately relating to international soccer.

Mike Lentz: NASCAR works with the tracks around the calendar to maintain a proactive approach to crowd control. All tracks develop and provide NASCAR with an Emergency Action Plan (EAP) outlining responsibilities in the event of an emergency. The EAPs include, among other things, relocation procedures in the event of severe weather or other occurrences. 

Mike Rodriguez: The challenge with crowd control is that you cannot wait until you have a problem to solve it. By that time the potential damage and injury is too great. We monitor trouble areas and are proactive by implementing plans to lessen the issues that arise out of poor crowd management.

Jim Cawley: I believe that the best tool for addressing the crowd control challenges is communication...before, during and after an event. Also, controlling the dynamics of crowds can only be achieved through careful advance work, anticipation of movement and many times, good old-fashioned barriers. A multi-tiered approach to screening, bag checks and other types of checks has also proven to be a critical part of this effort.


Security magazine: How do you train your security staff? What tools and methods work best?

Evan Dabby: MLS venues contract game day security, and we educate these individuals about our sport. Domestically, soccer does not yet have the history that professional football or baseball possesses. We are just beginning to see a generation in the workforce that grew up with soccer. Therefore, we still need to teach our contract security the nuances of our game and how our fans differ from those in other sports.

Mike Lentz: The tracks provide a trained security staff for the events, and several methods of training are used, including face to face training, web-based training and supervisor training. Regular briefings are given, and information cards are issued to gate personnel that include, among other things, important phone numbers and evacuation routes for the area they are working. Tracks also hold tabletop exercises to simulate situations they may encounter during an event.

Mike Rodriguez: Training for our security personnel fall into a few categories. First in New York, security personnel must be certified by the state and therefore, they must have a certain level of training in basic security. After that is the Site-Specific Training aspect, where security personnel get a feel for the site and get acclimated to how things work at the U.S. Open. Last as we always say, you can be a very effective security guard and still be friendly and informative to our patrons.

Jim Cawley: Regular tabletop exercises, security conferences and calls, on-line classes and mock drills are some of the methods we use. We emphasize constant drilling and testing of systems and protocols, and all of our teams and arenas are focused on these same things.

Joe Funk: I educate them on golf etiquette, including the proper distance to stand next to a player, cell phone usage and radio usage. I tell that first and foremost it’s a golf event, a business event, and security cannot adversely affect it. I show them how to maneuver around the course and where to be at appropriate times. I explain my security concerns, what I want them to do and when it’s time to step up their game, especially if there is special interest in a player.

Jeff Miller: We have a consistent approach across the league. Some stadiums are owned by a municipal entity, some are privately owned and operated, but all utilize a consistent set of best practices to train their security staff. In addition, every stadium is different in terms of how it was built and the aesthetics, but again, all meet a consistent standard across the board.


Security magazine: What’s your future prediction for security’s role in your organization?

Evan Dabby: Traveling supporters are an international tradition, and statistics show that there numbers here will continue to grow. The future of MLS security is focused on ensuring their safety and creating a positive and unique game day experience.

Mike Lentz: Safety is at the forefront of everything we do, and that includes on the track and off the track activities. Security at NASCAR events will continue to evolve and, collectively, we will continue to rely on all available resources and technology to ensure that our fans and competitors have a safe and enjoyable experience.  None of this could be accomplished without the cooperation and vigilance of the tracks, law enforcement agencies and the team of security personnel at NASCAR. It is truly is a team operation.

Mike Rodriguez: The future of security for the U.S. Open will be much like that of any facility. There is no one device or technology that can scan for every potential threat we could face. For patron involvement, the “See Something, Say Something” message is important, because we want our patrons to report anything suspicious while they are on their way to our site. We feel we provide a very secure environment within our fence line, but nothing can beat having all of our credentialed staff and our patrons being vigilant and working with us if they see something that is not right. The point in today’s world is to have everyone being “eyes and ears” out there to protect our way of life. And sporting events are a fabric in our way of life.

Jim Cawley: We are developing and experiencing the future each time we set up for a game. We have to continue to share best practices across all venues while exploring new technology, protocols and schemes. The critical component will always be the partnership between the private sector and the law enforcement apparatus in each city. We share ideas and focus on prevention, and continually prepare to react, if necessary, to a range of security challenges.

Jeff Miller: I think that camera technology will continue to improve, to help us be more effective from a distance, which is what we’re always looking for. Also, technology with vehicle screening will eventually allow us to move traffic more effectively. 

Joe Funk: I think that the future is very bright for the LPGA. It survived through the recession. We lost some tournaments, but we are on the upswing. The players are getting younger; the media is attracted to our players who are great promoters of our product. The more notoriety that an event gets, the more of a security concern there is. Yet, we are well positioned to address them. In the world of security you have to be successful every day where the bad guy only has to be successful once.

Crowd Management and Security

By Stacey A. Hall, Ph.D., MBA, Associate Director, The National Center for Spectator Sports Safety & Security (NCS4)

Crowd management is a significant element in the planning process for any type of major event, whether it’s an office building, school, sporting event, concert, or retail store opening.

Crowd management involves implementing proactive measures to prevent problems at a venue, whereas crowd control involves taking measures after an incident to prevent further damage.  

Spectator Violence

Every event has its own unique set of circumstances, differing in fan demographics, number of spectators and unanticipated outcomes. The U.S. Department of Justice Spectator Violence in Stadiums Guide has identified six event characteristics associated with spectator violence, including crowd demographics, event significance, performance quality, alcohol availability, crowding, performer behavior and event duration. The guide indicates that males are more likely to engage in violent behavior; therefore, events that attract males are more likely to experience violence. In addition, events that attract a lot of visiting supporters and have highly dedicated fans can experience acts of violence. Event significance also plays a role in spectator aggression. Events of known significance, i.e. a championship match, can provoke celebratory rioting. Poor performance quality by a team may provoke crowds to engage in verbal abuse and throw objects at each other or onto the playing/event area. Some of these incidents may occur (or escalate) because of alcohol consumption.

Crowding plays a factor in aggressive behavior and the likelihood for violence. Crowding limits a spectator’s mobility, increases likelihood of unwanted physical contact among spectators, and increases wait times for entry/exit and purchases. Pre- and post-event activities, such as tailgating, can also contribute to opportunities for spectator violence. Different sports/events pose different problems and it is dependent on the assessment of risks and lessons learned from previous incidents that prompts security personnel what to expect. This forces security personnel to be prepared to handle crowd management problems including field invasion, rioting and assault on players.

Spectator violence in and around stadiums has been a longstanding problem for authorities. Acts of fan violence are less frequent in the U.S. compared to European countries such as England and Italy. Fan violence in Europe is most commonly referred to as hooliganism. Hooliganism has been an ongoing problem for policing authorities at major soccer stadiums in Europe for decades. Hooliganism involves disorderly fans and criminal activity occurring before and after games. Incidents may be organized (pre-planned) or spontaneous. Organized hooliganism is the more serious form that involves gangs who attend events specifically to cause a disturbance. Hooligan activities include fighting with rival supporters, police officials and causing disruption at the event and/or destroying property. U.S. events tend to experience spontaneous forms of violence resulting from an intoxicated or overzealous crowd, i.e. rushing the field. Failure to prevent acts of violence at events can produce negative consequences, including injury to spectators, participants, or staff, decreased public confidence and future attendance and property destruction. 

Integrating Training, Technology and Best Practices

Risk management strategies are critical to reduce the likelihood of crowd incidents. Assessing risks before an event can help security in planning for potential scenarios and ensuring necessary capabilities and resources are available. Normally multiple parties are involved in planning for an event, such as facility management, law enforcement, emergency management, emergency medical services and fire/HAZMAT. These key stakeholders are commonly referred to as the command group responsible for the safety and security environment. This group usually have pre-event briefings to discuss threats/risks, vulnerabilities and possible countermeasure improvements. Alcohol consumption is one of the key concerns for security managers, as intoxicated fans may cause disturbances or impede the safe evacuation of spectators. Therefore, venue concessionaires/vendors must be trained in alcohol management through programs such as TIPs (Training for Intervention Procedures) or TEAM (Techniques for Effective Alcohol Management). Front line staff (i.e. ushers, ticket takers) should monitor the crowd for inappropriate conduct and all incidents should be reported and documented according to the venue’s established policies and protocols.

The Role of First Responders

One of the advancements made in sports security is the embracement of spectators as first responders. Through new technology, spectators can now instantly and discreetly alert sport venue security personnel to any problem whether it is a health emergency or dealing with an unruly fan by sending a brief text message to the command center. Within seconds, venue personnel can quickly respond to the issue. All National Football League (NFL) teams and many college teams are utilizing this technology. SportEvac is another useful tool for command groups to conduct tabletop exercises and test potential scenarios involving crowd management incidents.

The monitoring of spectators is critical as they represent the most costly potential liability. Addressing unlawful activity, such as unruly or violent fan behavior, can lead to accusations and allegations of manhandling upon rejection from a facility. These types of liabilities represent potentially significant dollars lost to litigation activities. Facility management can significantly reduce liability exposure by successfully managing risks and foreseeable actions that lead to injuries by implementing industry standards and best practices. Furthermore, an effective safety and security management system requires the involvement and commitment of many agencies and individuals, such as professionals, volunteers, public agencies and outsourced contractors.