Super Bowl XLVIII Security and the Artificially Generated Stampede

Superbowl 48Super Bowl 48 is quickly approaching.  The big event is set for February 2, 2014 at Met Life Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ.  However, this year is a little different.  Not only is it the first “cold weather” outdoor Super Bowl, but it’s also guaranteed to surpass all prior championship games in the realms of security, media coverage, profit and technological connectivity.

Even though planning for the Super Bowl begins well over a year in advance, it’s difficult to get an estimate on the total cost of security.  Due to its “Level I” security designation by the DHS, federal officials seem reluctant to divulge even a rough estimate.

When you factor in the influx of additional FBI agents, security consultants, outside specialty contractors, mobile command and control, crowd management personnel, military assistance, surveillance equipment, SWAT teams, radiological, biological, chemical and nuclear detection teams and equipment — the costs begin to escalate.  Now factor in a few other federal and state agencies and residual concerns regarding 9/11.  It’s safe to say that overall security expenditures are spiraling in one direction… upward.

One could credibly argue that this will be the “Security Bowl.”

The last three Super Bowls ranked as the most heavily watched programs in U.S. history.  Each game had a total viewership of roughly 110 million individuals.  Unless you live under a rock, you’re likely aware of what’s going on the evening of February 2, 2014.

The Super Bowl is always the center of the media universe.  And by virtue of neighboring New York City being the number one media market in the United States, this means even greater visibility.

I think you can easily make the claim that Superbowl 48 will be the “Coverage Bowl.”

It’s generally assumed that wagering (legal and illegal) on the NFL title game exceeds 10 billion worldwide.  Last year, a 30 second ad sold for an average of 3.8 million.  Official merchandise, consultant salaries, the regional economic impact, etc. — the Super Bowl is always big bucks.

If you renamed it the “Money Bowl,” you’d be on safe ground.

I could comment on the level of technological connectivity at Met Life Stadium, but I’ll just let these testimonials speak for themselves.  They speak volumes.

Mark Lamping, New Meadowlands Stadium Co. President and CEO

“Through the use of technology, we have set the bar for sporting venues in terms of fan interaction, stadium management and our ability to adapt to changing consumer demands.  In working with premier technology brands, such as Cisco and Verizon, we bring to our fans one of the most tailored and unforgettable experiences in sports today.”

John Mara, President and CEO, New York Giants

“Never before has any sports venue integrated so many cutting-edge technological developments.  When fans enter New Meadowlands, they are going to feel like they’re stepping into the future.”

Woody Johnson, Chairman and CEO, New York Jets

“When you’re watching a game at home, comforts don’t stop at the screen and we don’t believe the enjoyment of a live sports event should stop at the field.  We’ve made the New Meadowlands Stadium more information-rich than any sporting venue has ever been — and we’ve made it as comfortable and well-stocked as your dream kitchen and living room.”

Steve Tisch, Chairman and Executive Vice President, New York Giants

“We’re proud to be leading the charge in creating the premiere sports stadium and setting the gold standard for technology use in the new stadium.  Our $100 million investment will allow the stadium to stand the test of time, and our sound technological infrastructure will serve us well today and far into the foreseeable future.”

Ivan Seidenberg, Verizon Communications Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

“As a cornerstone partner of New Meadowlands Stadium, Verizon is helping create a home team advantage for New York Jets and New York Giants fans.  This exciting destination is changing the game for how we engage with sports and entertainment, and is a model for future interactive arenas.”

John T. Chambers, Cisco Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

“Cisco is committed to delivering world-class solutions for sports and entertainment, and we are delighted to help New Meadowlands create this state-of-the-art facility, one of the finest multipurpose venues in the world.  This new venue will feature the latest technologies in video and interactive solutions, providing fans with a truly memorable experience.”

I’ll assume these executives know what they’re talking about.  This goes well beyond technological interconnectivity.  It sounds more like technological hyper-connectivity.

Perhaps we should call it the “Connectivity Bowl.”

Now with all these security measures, with all the media coverage, with all the big money interests, with all this hyper-connectivty… has anyone bothered to ask one simple question?

What if large numbers of people in the stadium suddenly receive panic-inducing information or an evacuation order via their cell phones while the game is in progress?

Has anyone warned spectators that it would almost certainly be a hoax designed to create an artificially generated stampede?  Don’t human beings have a fundamental right to this miniscule chunk of knowledge?

In the aftermath of an artificially generated stampede, I could envision Commissioner Roger Goodell and the NFL front office going into damage control mode.  They would claim that even though the tragedy was unforeseeable, they still did everything possible.  After all, the 2008 NFL Fan Code of Conduct specifically states how when attending a game, fans are required to refrain from the following behaviors:

  • Behavior that is unruly, disruptive or illegal in nature.  I believe a human stampede would apply.
  • Failing to follow instructions of stadium personnel.  Yet again, a human stampede would apply.

Elsewhere in the guidelines, the NFL puts the onus on team staff to enforce the rules and lays out repercussions for what can happen when fans don’t follow the rules. When asked about whether or not the NFL feels it can do more to create a safe atmosphere, NFL Public Relations Executive, Rich Aiello said, “We can always do more.

Mr. Aiello, as an NFL PR exec, I’m glad you’re concerned about fan safety.  And since you’d like to do more, here’s a thought — how about warning fans that evacuation orders don’t come from cell phones?  Since I doubt this will happen, just promise me one thing.  That in the aftermath of an artificially generated stampede, the NFL doesn’t plead total ignorance.  Trust me on this.  It would be an uphill public relations battle since Commissioner Roger Goodell and every NFL owner was informed of the possibility in 2012.

So exactly what are the contingency plans if fans receive evacuation orders and/or panic-inducing information from their cell phones while the Super Bowl is in progress?  Well let me give you a hint.  They don’t exist.

Truth be told, even after having written this article, I’m not terribly concerned about an artificially generated stampede at Super Bowl 48.  Why?  Well, not because it couldn’t happen.  I just think that any person or organization willing to perpetrate an attack of this nature would likely possess an extreme degree of “malicious intent.”  And this would obviously lead them in the direction of inflicting the greatest amount of collateral damage (multiple, simultaneous stampedes).  And that would likely steer them toward the 1 o’clock slate of games.