Sports teams experiment with facial recognition for contactless admission

Several sports teams are exploring the use and implementation of facial-recognition technology in their stadiums, an effort that would help reduce risks from the coronavirus when fans return, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The initial outbreak of coronavirus appeared to accelerate due to high-occupancy sports venues in Europe acting as super-spreaders – most notably soccer stadiums in Italy, and matches in the Champions League involving Spanish teams. With some areas seeing the pandemic under control, sports teams are looking to bring back fans in a safe and controlled way.

The use of facial-recognition technology may allow sports venues to bring back small numbers of fans – most likely season-ticket holders or VIP guests – suggested Shaun Moore, chief executive of Trueface, a facial-recognition supplier.

Moore indicated that the primary concern is that even scanning ticket bar codes could help to spread the virus. As such, vendors are focused on reducing “touch points,” such as when someone hands over their photo identification upon entry.

Christian Lau of Los Angeles FC, a Major League Soccer team, outlined how fans would use an app called Clear, made by Alclear: fans would download a selfie and link their Clear accounts with existing Ticketmaster profiles. A camera at the stadium turnstyle would measure the fan’s temperature, with a second camera confirming that the person is wearing a facemask. The fan would then show his or her face so the camera can verify identity.

“Our plan is to move everything to face,” Lau said. He added that trials for using Clear started just before lockdown.

Teams exploring the use of technology like Alclear include the Mets and AFC Ajax in the Netherlands, among others.

“Hopefully we use this coronavirus pandemic to change rules,” said Henk van Raan, chief innovation officer Ajax’s Johan Cruijff Arena. “The coronavirus is a bigger enemy than [any threat to] privacy.”

The WSJ reported that some 10,000 fans will be allowed back into the 55,000-capacity arena to watch a practice game on Aug. 8. A spokesman declined to comment on the arena but stressed that such technology should only be deployed with a legal basis and under strict circumstances.