The terrorism threat has already prompted cities, teams and schools to ramp up spending on sports security to $2 billion per year worldwide. And the entire fan experience has grown ever more taxing since 9/11. At today's games, endless lines await you. Guards search you and, if it's your unlucky day, grope you. Cameras spy on you. Traffic barriers, pat-downs and metal detectors all carry the same message: You are safer because your surroundings are bear-trapped.
But the deepest change of all has come gradually over the past decade. As stadium security grows practically omnipresent, it's become impossible to think about sports as pure escapism.
Recent studies have revealed that 62 percent of the people running security for FBS schools have no formal training in event security management, more than 60 percent of college programs outsource the hiring of security personnel for game days and fewer than 30 percent of universities run background checks on full-time employees who work at their athletic facilities. "Our school, Southern Mississippi, is meant to be the mecca of sports security," says Hall, "but a street runs under our stadium, and there are buses parked near the field on Saturday afternoons. It's often hard for good procedures to displace habits and traditions."
For the companies developing terror-fighting tools, the money and sex appeal are in sci-fi-level detection. Of the 18 products the DHS has certified this year, 12 try to stop attacks before they occur, including metal-(detection, water-contamination and X-ray systems. Since 9/11, these kinds of devices have filled airports, convention halls and corporate headquarters, and now their manufacturers hungrily eye sports arenas. "We see it as an emerging business," says Mark Desmarais, the program director for Clear View at Raytheon. Security companies know just how to capture that market: scare the hell out of anyone who runs a stadium. "When a briefcase enters your facility, is your X-ray system missing something?" a trade ad from American Science and Engineering asks ominously.
Dozens of these businesses were exhibitors at the 2011 National Sports Safety and Security Conference held in New Orleans in August, showing off products to hundreds of venue managers, teams, consultants and government officials. Nearly all the firms are private, and beyond Raytheon and SAIC - two large defense contractors - many are small. Mostly, they sell peace of mind, not measurable results. Asked how many disasters his equipment has averted, the director of sales for one company that makes explosive-detection equipment replies: "We don't know. They don't tell us."
That's the thing: Nobody knows. "We haven't seen a clear outline of how to assess your return on investment in trying to stop terrorist attacks," Hall says. "That needs to be done."