Reporting Unruly Football Fans via Text Message

This system is available in most NFL stadiums:

Fans still are urged to complain to an usher or call a security hotline in the stadium to report unruly behavior. But text-messaging lines -- typically advertised on stadium scoreboards and on signs where fans gather -- are aimed at allowing tipsters to surreptitiously alert security personnel via cellphone without getting involved with rowdies or missing part of a game.

As of this week, 29 of the NFL's 32 teams had installed a text-message line or telephone hotline. Three clubs have neither: the New Orleans Saints, St. Louis Rams and Tennessee Titans. Ahlerich says he will "strongly urge" all clubs to have text lines in place for the 2009 season. A text line will be available at the Super Bowl for the first time when this season's championship game is played at Tampa's Raymond James Stadium on Feb. 1.

"If there's someone around you that's just really ruining your day, now you don't have to sit there in silence," says Jeffrey Miller, the NFL's director of strategic security. "You can do this. It's very easy. It's quick. And you get an immediate response."

The article talks a lot about false alarms and prank calls, but -- in general -- this seems like a good use of technology.

Posted on January 8, 2009 at 6:44 AM • 23 Comments

Comments

Ian EiloartJanuary 8, 2009 7:52 AM

Yup. Nice idea. Arsenal Football Club in London have it, too. (That's a proper football club, where you use your foot to play the ball, btw!)

The problem is that even though the clubs shirt sponsor O2 - my mobile phone network provider, sending a text message during a match is really hard. It usually takes several attempts to send the message.

EponymousJanuary 8, 2009 7:53 AM

Can we get this at Verizon Center? Specifically, for when the Philadelphia Flyers visit?

Agent ZeroJanuary 8, 2009 8:13 AM

@Eponymous

Maybe next year:
There were going to include the Verizon Center for Bullets, eh, Wizards games but then they realized how few people were even in attendance.

EponymousJanuary 8, 2009 8:45 AM

Yeah people would be texting security at Wizards games merely because they were feeling lonely.

MSG FROM: 777-777-7777
SUBJ: ASSISTANCE
BODY: TUMBLWEED IN 426

Clive RobinsonJanuary 8, 2009 9:01 AM

One minor problem, Jeffrey Miller, the NFL's director of strategic security is ill informed about SMS when he says,

"You can do this. It's very easy. It's quick. And you get an immediate response."

SMS is a secondary service, the operators make no gaurenty about delivery let alone the timelyness.

The more people SMSing from any given point the less likley it is to work...

Steve CordonJanuary 8, 2009 10:29 AM

I am a big Nottingham Forest Football Club supporter and we have had this feature for 2 seasons now. Been really effective and I have personally seen it used where strong racial abuse was sent through the text and 2 matches later the offfenders were no longer there. Good Stuf

beadsJanuary 8, 2009 11:30 AM

I can see where this would be initially abused but the novelty should wear off in short order, shouldn't it?

Question is after people become more familiar with the use of the technology do the "false alarms" or misuse problem decrease over time? It would be interesting to see some reported results from stadiums that have been using this for a while.

Nick LancasterJanuary 8, 2009 11:37 AM

@ beads:

False alarms don't have to be an act of malice - there's no reason to expect football fans who come to watch the game in a venue where there's always going to be someone drinking too many beers - are going to have a high rate of accuracy.

ArclightJanuary 8, 2009 11:40 AM

Actually, this seems like it would have better protection from false alarms than a phone hotline. A person reporting rowdy behavior via SMS message is already logged by their mobile number. It would be easy to track the complaint history of the number in question, versus trying to get the caller's info from a phone call or an in-person contact.

matJanuary 8, 2009 12:27 PM

I get the impression that the security at Football Stadiums has access to a whole array of movable, zoomable CCTVs. If a person sends a text message regarding a certain area, row or seat, a camera can easily zoom in on the offending area and help the security team know when to move on an area.

Mark RJanuary 8, 2009 1:32 PM

I would guess the cost of false alarms is pretty low. You have security guards milling around anyway - if they get an alert, they just mill in a specific direction and if there's nothing going down, they mill on. No harm done.

Except in the movies, where the terrorists plant spurious texts to control the movements of the guards and allow the real threat to slip through the cracks. Hopefully there's a Jack Bauer type at the game when that happens.

Nick LancasterJanuary 8, 2009 2:22 PM

So, I'm puzzled - the argument seems to be developing that false alarms won't matter because there are security guards and cameras ... but we need the text messaging line because we don't have enough security guards/cameras ...

And do we really want to become a society where we don't give a damn about behavior because there are snitch lines in the stadium/theater/park?

crackJanuary 8, 2009 3:50 PM

Nick, I'm confused what level of surveillance you think is going on at a stadium. There are 65k+ people packed into a tight space. If there is a big fight going on Security will see it. If there is a drunk spilling stuff and cussing it's unlikely they will. A text would get an usher into the area and they could decide what the correct remedy for the situation is.

This isn't a war zone, what is it your expecting?

Eric NormanJanuary 8, 2009 11:37 PM

Where do you draw the line between this and spying on your neighbors? And since you can't draw such a line, how close do you want to get?

RyJanuary 9, 2009 3:22 AM

In Belgium, some theatre complex got that system too, allowing to report unappropriate bahaviour, and, indeed cam recording of the movie for piracy.

Matt from CTJanuary 9, 2009 11:20 AM

What the problem?

Seriously folks, equating it with spying on neighbors?

There's already plenty of friovolous complaints that go to 911 about neighbors today, and I've had to deal with a few of them myself (as a responder).

If someone's actions are interfering with your ability to enjoy the game, call security. That's why they are there. If you don't like the standards security allows people to get away with, leave and don't come back. It's a free market and you can chose to spend your dollars elsewhere.

DaveJanuary 9, 2009 12:05 PM

Granted, sometimes it's impossible to reason with people, especially when they're excited (and perhaps drunk) at sporting events. However, this seems to me nothing more than an excuse to "call mommy and daddy and tell on you" rather than even try. I rarely disagree with Schneier, but a good use for technology? I see it as a good way to further reduce our overall ability to deal with adverse situations head on.

I don't know... I'm torn. It's probably naive to think it's ever possible to reason with someone at an NFL game, and I'm sure it could be dangerous on occasion to try, but if you're so timid that you have to report them anonymously, and can't take responsibility for your own irritation, why bother going?

Why does calling security have to be the first resort? I would think it should be the last.

I'm not convinced, but I'm open to being convinced...

ScottJanuary 23, 2009 7:20 PM

Our system is the one being used at the upcoming Super Bowl. We have implemented the platform in several stadiums throughout the NFL. That being said... the number of prank messages is less than 5% and we have built in methods to block numbers that call in that security personnel deem as "pranksters". The system also captures the cell number and carrier of the person texting so it is very easy to call them back or turn them over to the authorities should that be necessary. Overall the feedback we have received from Stadiums currently using the system is overwhelmingly positive and has decreased behavior related issues significantly. For more information on how we will be using the system for the upcoming Super Bowl feel free to read the following article at:
http://www.prweb.com/releases/XLIII/SuperBowl/...

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