Banc of California Stadium will use Armored Things’ system to monitor movement within the facility. (Courtesy LAFC)

Crowd intelligence software system will help with safe opening

When Major League Soccer eventually returns to home venues after play resumes with a tournament July 8-Aug. 11 at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida, Los Angeles Football Club will be using Boston-based Armored Things’ crowd intelligence software system at its 22,000-seat Banc of California Stadium to help maximize the safety of fans and operations personnel.

Armored Things had already been in talks with LAFC prior to the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, with an eye toward maximizing utilization efficiencies, but the system, which uses existing cameras, Wi-Fi and other data inputs, took on new significance once the season was suspended in March after the team had played just two matches, according LAFC/Banc of California Stadium Chief Technology Officer Christian Lau.

“We were talking to them about helping with security and operational efficiencies and then COVID hit and you could imagine that really changes the conversation when you’re a crowd company, right? Pretty soon after the crisis began, we realized that our data can actually help with safe reopening,” Armored Things CEO Julie Johnson Roberts said. “Jaclyn (Smith, the company’s director of sales) and Christian continued to work together as partners to say, you know, how can (we) help LAFC open safely, communicate to their fans what they are doing so that fans can go back to the venue with confidence, feeling good about their initiative.”

Lau said LAFC wanted to enhance the guest experience as much as possible regarding things like waiting in concessions or restroom lines as well as throughput through the stadium concourse, which includes “a couple of fairly narrow areas.”

“It’s just one component of our ultimate strategy around this type of system,” Lau said. “When you think about crowd intelligence there are other elements that you need to focus on as well, so we are starting to pull that together now. We are looking at WaitTime, for example, that is more of a front-end experience. When you think about Armored Things, it’s really a back-end solution for us to use.

“We were doing it anyway, but with the pandemic it really aligns with our whole touch-free customer journey.”

The stadium is partnered with Ticketmaster and Clear handles a facial recognition admissions pilot program that was implemented this year and well-received by fans, Lau said. He expects to see facial recognition technology, which LAFC is working with Clear to deploy at points of sale to become widespread at venues as a result of the pandemic.

Armored Things’ system has been deployed in some form at a number of pro sports venues, including Fenway Park, but the LAFC deal is its first in soccer, Roberts said. 

Using existing infrastructure, as opposed to requiring installations that can run to $1,000 per device, makes the system less expensive to deploy, according to Roberts and Lau, and in terms of privacy concerns, the data collected is not used to identify individuals, but to monitor movements of people within a venue. The collected data ultimately leads to a mapped visualization with artificial intelligence software deployed in command centers and on mobile devices, allowing operations personnel to make adjustments related to crowd density, space utilization, concessions sales, sanitation and security.

Generally, our software is up in a command center and mobile devices of the operators of the venue,” Roberts said. “So that could be security operators, IT professionals, facilities folks who are tasked with keeping the venue running smoothly and safely. You could imagine in real time being able to tell, you have a hot spot in a certain portion of the venue, we can translate that into, ‘Hey this concourse is getting over-crowded.’ We can deliver that via text message to someone who’s tasked with responding, provide an incident management tool on the mobile app as they are walking through the venue. If they see something that was concerning, they can click down into a certain area of the venue and double check that (it’s) not outside of the safe parameters that they’ve set up. The utilization piece has really taken on new meaning in light of COVID.”

Additional information like event schedules, ticketing, weather and transit data can also be incorporated to enhance the system’s predictive capabilities, Roberts said.

“We have (a) dashboard, which is kind of the cloud-based dashboard that is available anywhere. Mobile app, same thing, and the way that it usually works is that they are effectively looking at a map of their entire facility or campus and they can drill down from the 35,000-foot view of where people are down into very specific zones to kind of understand that activity,” Roberts said. “We call it a heat map, but I’m veering away from that term because I don’t want folks to be confused with the all the thermal camera stuff that’s going on, but it’s really almost like a weather map, where you can see areas of higher density, lower density, how folks are moving in relation to one another, patterns or trends that you look (at) game over game or week over week, and that’s where, long-term, we can also be predictive. Based on past experience, you might want to alert when your venue starts to look like ‘X,’ because that can be indicative of a threat that’s coming down the line.”

The system is a subscription model, based on a per-square-foot cost, extracts a return on investment from existing infrastructure, Roberts said.

“We’re actually getting ROI immediately out of those systems because they’ve already spent, in general, $10 million to upgrade their WiFi, $10-$15 million putting in IP-connected video cameras,” Roberts said. “We’re taking that, then, and amplifying it.”

It usually takes two to four weeks to stand up a deployment, depending on the size and complexity of the venue, Roberts said, explaining that space is first mapped. 

“Once we have that mapping done, we like to do our first layer of analytics in the customer’s environment in many cases,” she said. “So they will usually have a data center already where we can deploy a virtual machine. We can put our software in their environment so that we’re already ingesting that data and having it be hashed or anonymous by the time it gets to our system and all we are taking to the cloud is our very lightweight understanding of raw counts and patterns. That’s how we keep a pretty lightweight footprint in the cloud so we are not taking tons of video data up to our cloud environment for analysis.”

The company earlier this week announced that it had raised $7 million in additional seed funding, led by Will Ventures with participation from Splunk, provider of the Data-to-Everything Platform, and existing investors Glasswing Ventures, iNovia and MassVentures. Will Ventures, is focused exclusively on investing in innovations that impact sports and how sports can impact society, was co-founded by former NFL linebacker Isaiah Kacyvenski. The new funding brings the company’s total capital investment to nearly $15 million.