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LONDON, ENGLAND - 15 JULY 2023: Catherine, Princess of Wales, attends day 13 of the Wimbledon Tennis Championships at All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club. (Photo by Karwai Tang/WireImage)

AI and the Future of Venue Security

Masked gunmen opened fire and detonated incendiary devices inside Crocus City Hall, a music venue on the outskirts of Moscow, in March, killing more than 140 and injuring more than 500 people. The attack not only showed the threat that terrorism still poses in a post-COVID world, but also how bad actors continue to view stadiums and arenas as prime targets.

It should come as little surprise that terrorists can—and will—look to exploit vulnerabilities where there are large gatherings of people. But while large-scale attacks against stadiums and arenas are still a somewhat rare occurrence, bombings and other acts of violence have been carried out with devastating effect during the past 50 years at venues around the world.

In a study published in 2023 in the health and medical journal Prehospital and Disaster Medicine, researchers identified 74 terrorist attacks targeting sports venues that were carried out between 1970 and 2019. These attacks resulted in the deaths of more than 200 people and injuries of nearly 700 people.

The most frequent attack methodology was bombings or explosions, which accounted for nearly 88 percent of all incidents.

The most frequent attack methodology was bombings or explosions, which accounted for nearly 88 percent of all incidents. The highest number of attacks occurred in the Middle East and North Africa, with 44.6 percent of attacks involving soccer stadiums or venues.

Of course, if that wasn’t bad enough, addressing unruly fan behavior has increasingly become a bigger part of the risk mitigation equation for stadium operators. Sixty-five percent of respondents in a recent study conducted by the National Center for Spectator Sports Safety and Security (NCS4) reported that fan behavior is worse today than it was 10 years ago.

The most common types of inappropriate acts committed by fans, according to the study, were alcohol abuse, fighting with other fans, violence against staff members, and property damage.

The AI Revolution

This confluence of threats has subsequently led stadium and league security executives to lean more into security technology, looking to tools like advanced video surveillance software and other solutions that can improve gameday experiences for fans and provide the highest level of safety possible.

Despite the old school “guns, guards, and gates” mentality that has been prevalent among end-users in this and other industries for years, the fact is that organizations today are much more comfortable relying on technology to serve as a force multiplier, enabling security personnel to prioritize more urgent matters and allocate resources more effectively.       

Perhaps the greatest example of this can be found in the development of artificial intelligence (AI) software, which is intended to augment security operators by providing them with relevant alerts on different behaviors or events that may occur within a stadium environment. Unlike the rules-based analytics of old that were limited in the types of data and alarms they could provide; newer machine learning and neural network training algorithms have that can now be relied upon to provide the same accurate and timely information a human would.

For example, license plate recognition solutions have historically been among the most prevalent analytics deployed in stadium environments, but applications for the technology beyond providing license plate reads has always been limited. Today, however, analytics have evolved to now be leveraged to provide end users with not only a high-resolution license plate capture, as well as information on the vehicle’s color, class, make, and model. This enables security personnel to track down people and vehicles of interest much faster than was previously possible.

Additionally, applications for technologies like facial recognition are also starting to become more popular at entertainment venues for the benefits they offer beyond identifying people of interest. Some facilities in the market are even exploring the possibility of replacing physical or mobile credentials with facial biometrics.

Even with new tools at their disposal, stadiums must combine innovative technology with policies that will ensure success.   

Comprehensive Screening Required

Having all the AI security technology in the world still means relatively little if thorough screening of everyone at a given facility is not conducted.

People often assume that athletes, entertainers, coaches, and other dignitaries are given special treatment at different events and play by a different set of rules, but the fact is that they, along with their luggage and equipment, must be screened just like everyone else to create the most secure environment possible.

Having worked as a security executive at the highest level of sports for more than 20 years, I can tell you that even the athletes and entertainers who make a living inside of these venues also support having thorough screening policies to keep them and everyone else safe.

…the athletes and entertainers who make a living inside of these venues also support having thorough screening policies to keep them and everyone else safe.

The same applies to VIPs who may have field-level access and can come and go throughout the duration of a game or concert. Regardless of the event-type, the screening process must not change and indeed should become you get to the field of play, stage, or performance area.

For instance, people entering suites or luxury boxes are subject to the same screening as all other ticket-carrying fans. Those given access to the field of play—or the athletes or entertainers themselves—must also be properly credentialed and subject to enhanced screening protocols. These enhanced screenings could include measures like secondary bag searches or even screenings of individuals themselves via a handheld metal detector or similar technology.

One important, but often overlooked, aspect of the screening process at live entertainment venues is scanning vehicles to mitigate some of the risks they pose. Vehicle-borne threats—be it in the form of hidden explosives and weapons or some other type of illicit contraband—are an enormous potential threat for stadium operators.

Historically, security personnel have had to rely on specially trained bomb-sniffing dogs or even mirrors attached to the end of a metal rod to screen vehicles as they enter a stadium. However, that too is now being changed by AI. With the help of purpose-built hardware and software, venues can now scan the undercarriage of vehicles remotely and alert personnel to act if anything out of the ordinary is detected.

Analytics for Proactive Security

Video intelligence also plays a crucial role in stadium security by detecting specific actions—such as fighting or someone falling —and immediately notifying the appropriate personnel. This prompt detection facilitates quicker intervention and enhances the venue’s overall security posture.

Aalso assist in preemptively identifying internal threats, such as unauthorized access to restricted areas, which could potentially prevent acts of theft or vandalism. This proactive approach not only acts as a deterrent but also enables security managers to achieve more with fewer resources.

Workforce Assistance Through Technology

Given the ongoing challenges of staffing security roles at stadiums and event venues, technology investments are also strategically used to automate tasks and extend the capabilities of existing teams. With AI and analytics, security leaders can effectively compensate for limited personnel, ensuring operational efficiency and organizational success.

These technological aids are essential, especially in environments where rapid response and vigilant surveillance are paramount to maintaining safety and security.

The Road Ahead

Analytics may have been overhyped when they originally hit the market more than a decade ago, but the days of this technology overpromising and underdelivering are long gone. Today’s AI-enabled software solutions are providing end users across industries with valuable data and insights that were at one time only seen in the realm of science fiction.

Even in a market as mature as stadium security where ingress and egress are tightly controlled and there is typically enough manpower to ensure a thoroughly screened populace, AI and new video surveillance offerings are making a significant impact and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. 


Charles Burns, director, Commercial Facilities, ISS, has more than a quarter-century of experience as a security executive, having served in senior leadership positions at organizations like Uber and ASM Global throughout his career. Burns also has more than a decade of hands-on experience in protecting the people and assets of professional sports leagues, having previously served as the vice president of security for the NFL’s Miami Dolphins and Hard Rock Stadium, as well as vice president of security and risk management for the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers and Rocket Mortgage Field House. He also formerly served as corporate security director for Indianapolis Motor Speedway and director of security for the Indy Racing League. He can be reached at [email protected].


© Charles Burns