ISJ Exclusive: Keeping your AI on the ball


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Chris Bishop, Sales Director APAC and Marketing Director, Ipsotek, an Atos company, asks how stadium owners can deliver a winning experience whilst futureproofing venues?

The sports industry – it’s worth US $354 bn in revenue, is responsible for creating almost one million jobs in the UK and is a vital part of the global economy. However, in 2020, the industry had to grapple with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, where every aspect of the sports industry was impacted – from the halting of games and empty stadiums to the furlough of many staff.

Not only does this type of disruption impact the fan experience, but it also has a knock-on effect in  other related industries such as travel, retail tourism, infrastructure, transportation and F&B. Therefore, being able to futureproof stadiums against similar obstacles while creating the ultimate fan experience is vital to the industry’s continued success.

A true sports fan will tell you that there’s nothing quite as exciting as watching a live match unfold before your eyes in a stadium filled with other sports fans. With pandemic restrictions disappearing and fan interest growing, it appears that most sports leagues are returning to packed stadiums. But, how can club owners prepare for the challenges that may come in the future?

Challenges faced by stadium management teams

While fans and spectators have a ball of a time in the stands, stadium managers and club owners have a very different task at hand. Stadium management and venue security are beset with risks, challenges and compliance issues. Even on the best days, it can be a tall order to manage players and coaches, maintain secure premises, comply with league protocols, ensure attendee safety, handle reporters and broadcasters and provide a unique matchday experience.

Now imagine doing all these tasks simultaneously. Thankfully, the digital age has ushered in cutting-edge technology to help prioritise your tasks, streamline your activities and provide you with insights and control over every aspect of stadium operations.

Beyond the playing field

Today, spacious stadiums with premium seating arrangements, first class amenities and quality designs function as multi-purpose arenas, complete with merchandise stores, gaming studios, lounges, feature bars and photo booths. This doesn’t just level the playing field but transforms the game by bridging the gap between sports and entertainment for that unparalleled digital fan experience.

However, there are many elements that can disrupt these plans. Crowded stadiums are not just for the fans, but may be hotspots for criminal activities, or even worse, professional hackers or terrorists looking to make headlines and cause mass panic on live television. In view of such threats, stadium owners and staff need to adhere to strict safety protocols and failproof security measures to ensure nothing affects or dampens the fan experience.

Six ways AI and video analytics are changing the game

AI is the game-changing digital enabler that you are looking for. Here’s how. It equips stadiums with video analytics for a safer and enhanced end user experience, both for fans and stadium managers. AI-enabled video analytics ensures security across various access areas like entrances, parking lots, dressing rooms, staff rooms and queues.

It also works in real time, enabling rapid incident response and crowd management to improve visitor experiences and optimise your staff’s time and efforts. If a threat is detected or a potential risk is identified, your staff members are immediately alerted to tackle the situation. However, crowded the venue may be, whatever the conditions are, computer vision detects and helps you and your security operators make the right decisions quickly.

While video feeds and analytics can obviously help you with queue monitoring, ticketing and accessibility to stands, they can also be used for more advanced capabilities. We have outlined six of these potential use cases below:

  1. Facial recognition helps fast-track VIP queues and expedite smoother entry and vehicle parking for distinguished guests
  • The same solution’s video analytics can help you manage opposing fans by comparing individual faces against a watchlist to identify any known trouble makers who are banned from the stadium. Similarly, it can identify known scalpers from a watchlist or even pinpoint new scalpers trying to resell their tickets to enthusiastic unsuspecting fans
  • Stadium staff can be quickly alerted in case of intrusions, overcrowding or slow moving queues, so that they can deploy the necessary measures to mitigate potential incidents
  • Crowded places pose a public safety risk since they are hotspots for abandoned objects or luggage — the contents of which may be harmless or a real threat. With today’s advanced computer vision solutions, stadium managers can quickly detect these abandoned objects and initiate their SOPs to mitigate potential risks
  • On an equally serious note, children and even adults often get lost in crowded spaces like stadium stands. Computer vision has the capability to rapidly compare a picture of the missing person with metadata, which does not contain personal details about individuals, to determine where that person has gone in seconds
  • The safety of players and coaches is of paramount importance, so using computer vision to create virtual zones allows automatic alerts to be generated for unauthorised intrusion into restricted areas such as locker rooms, practice facilities, weight rooms, cafeterias, sports medicine and recovery rooms and executive areas. You can also review and analyse incidents after a match, such as tracing an individual based on metadata and the proximity of individuals to one another in case of sicknesses and outbreaks

The above-mentioned points reiterate how AI and computer vision can be leveraged to help your team achieve their goal of providing a better, more secure matchday experience.

Recommended next steps

While physical security at the venue is important, it is equally critical to have a bird’s eye view of what is happening on the ground in real time, at all times. This requires significant people power, time and effort, with hundreds of staff members deployed to view video footage and manually scan for incidents. Collaborating with a technology partner allows you to enhance your security protocols and a robust AI solution can substantially compliment your people power to do more with less.

However, innovative AI-based solutions such as A.I.V.A (Artificial Intelligent Video Analytics) can offer a more enhanced fan experience whilst addressing venues’ security concerns. The technology can significantly enhance security across various areas such as entrances, parking lots, dressing rooms, staff rooms, food and beverage outlets and queues – areas that are often hard to control manually.

Real time insights and information

Monitoring areas outside a stadium or venue is equally important. Using a combination of computer vision and other technologies such as IoT sensors, 5G and edge-based processing allows risks to be identified and managed dynamically. Security should not be a concern for those investing in the latest technology. Its reliability, versatility and scalability can help the industry succeed by ensuring venues are safe and secure and, at the same time, provide a better fan experience.

Computer vision uses pre-trained AI models and scenario-based algorithms and leverages GPU-enabled hardware to provide you with real time information, alerts and dynamic insights. It can be  integrated with your existing cameras, video management and command and control systems at your venue to provide a holistic view of the event.

It extracts metadata from live video streams to improve response time, boost your operational efficiency, alert you to specific behaviour and events and even allows operators to perform forensic searches with dynamic dashboards, creating a seamless, secure experience for your teams and fans.

It works hand-in-hand with the Atos Computer Vision Platform, a highly scalable end-to-end solution powered by the industry leading BullSequana server range and backed up with years of expertise. If you are looking for an optimisable, scalable security solution for your stadium without compromising on the ultimate fan experience, Atos experts are ready to help. Don’t get blindsided by the challenges that come your way. Keep your eye on the ball and leverage the power of AI to enhance security and experience at your events. It’s truly a winning combination.

This article was originally published in the January 2023 edition of International Security Journal. To read your FREE digital edition, click here.

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