Evan Derr (left), Director of Event Services for Ohio State University’s athletics department, and Jim Null, Senior Associate Athletics Director and Department CIO.

May 23 2024
Data Analytics

AI-Driven Analytics Help Ohio State University Manage Stadium Crowds

The university shortens lines and improves the fan experience at football games, concerts and other events with IP-based video cameras and AI-powered crowd intelligence software.

During college football season, more than 102,000 fans squeeze into Ohio Stadium to watch the Ohio State Buckeyes play. They want to be in their seats to enjoy the game, not stuck in lengthy lines for food, beverages and restrooms, potentially missing key moments in the action.

To reduce wait times, The Ohio State University’s athletics department is working on technology that will allow fans to check a mobile app and find the shortest lines in the 102-year-old stadium.

“Anecdotally, we hear from people who say they stood in a concessions line ‘forever’ or that ‘I spent 20 minutes in line,’” says Evan Derr, director of event services for the university’s athletics department. “Hopefully, in the near future, they can look at the team app and see that, for example, the concession stand three sections over has a shorter line or the restroom five sections over has no line.”

Colleges and universities are increasingly deploying IP-based security camera solutions to provide real-time situational awareness and improve campus safety and security. They can also use the technology for crowd management during events in stadiums, arenas and other campus venues.

Universities and colleges can use real-time video analytics to improve the customer experience, but they can also use the data to improve venue or business operations, says Mike Jude, research director for IDC’s video surveillance practice.

“Video solutions are not just for safety and security. You can also improve the experience for people who attend events and make sure they are well served,” Jude says. “If you’ve got several entrances to a stadium that are getting choked up, you can direct people to a different entrance so they can get to their seats faster. But there are also business-oriented benefits. You can optimize the consumption of concessions and improve revenue potential.”

At Ohio State, for example, if the university sees that certain concession stands are popular and consistently have double the wait times, it will add more point-of-sale systems in those locations to speed service, Derr says.

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Modernized Infrastructure Supports Crowd Intelligence Solutions

To better manage crowds, Ohio State standardized on WaitTime’s AI-based crowd intelligence software, IP video cameras from Axis Communications and three Dell servers to store and analyze the video and data, says Jim Null, Ohio State’s senior associate athletics director and department CIO.

The university purchased the technology from CDW Education, which helped Null assess the university’s needs and determine its technology requirements for the project.

“The volume of data is intensive during a game,” he says. “We needed three beefy servers onsite to crunch those numbers and see what’s going on in real time.”

Ohio State’s athletics department launched the project in 2023 as part of an ongoing effort to improve the stadium experience.

In 2019, the university installed 1,750 Wi-Fi 6 HPE Aruba wireless access points to provide fans fast internet speeds. In 2021, the team implemented mobile ticketing to expedite entry into the stadium and added cashless payments to speed concessions purchases, Null says.

The Wi-Fi project, which included 58 network switches across 34 data closets and miles of cabling, provided the network infrastructure the team needed to implement the crowd intelligence software, he says.

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“When our stadium was built in 1922, technology wasn’t even thought of. So, the Wi-Fi and networking infrastructure enabled these other projects,” Null says.

To gather crowd analytics, Null and Derr collaborated with the university’s facilities department and the stadium’s food and beverage vendor to track lines and wait times at 95 stadium locations. Restrooms account for 60 percent of these, followed by concession stands and soda refill stations, at 30 percent and 10 percent, respectively.

Last summer, the university mounted Axis cameras above these locations and connected them to the stadium’s network with CAT 6 cabling. Most locations could capture the queue of fans with one camera, but some locations needed two cameras, Null says.

The university completed the installation in September 2023, right before the first game of the season. Ohio State and WaitTime spent that season testing the technology and validating the accuracy of the data it produced, Derr says.

“We wanted to make sure the data the AI technology was producing was correct, so the WaitTime team spot-checked the video footage, watched the cameras and did calculations by hand to make sure it worked accurately,” he says.

Animation describing wait times at Ohio State University football games


Crowd Control Data Helps Bolster Stadium Operations

The Ohio State athletics department launched the project in 2023 as part of an ongoing effort to improve the stadium experience.

By midseason last year, Ohio State and WaitTime were confident the data was accurate, so the university began using the insights from the video analytics solution to find ways to operate more efficiently and improve the fan experience, Derr says.

Through a data dashboard, athletics department staff could see average and maximum wait times broken out for every location. The data also highlighted the busiest and least-busy locations.

“We took the opportunity to look at the data and make tweaks to our operations,” Derr says.

Besides adding more point-of-sale systems to the busiest concession stands, the university made sure its vendor refilled ice and syrup more frequently at the busiest soda refill stations. It also scheduled housekeeping staff to clean and resupply the busiest bathrooms more often.

“If we know some restrooms see three times more guests than others, then we deploy the housekeeping staff to those locations more frequently to clean them, empty the trash and make sure they don’t run out of toilet paper and paper towels,” Derr says.

Jim Null


Intelligent Analytics Will Lead to Shorter Wait Times

Ohio State hopes to activate the guest-facing portion of the technology in 2024 for its eight home football games, concerts, commencement and other large events at the stadium.

Fans will be able to check a mobile app, and through a stadium map, they will see an indicator of how long the lines are for food, drinks and restrooms. Each location will be color-coded like a traffic signal: green for shorter lines, yellow for a medium wait and red for longer lines.

“It helps fans make an informed decision about where to go to use those services,” Derr says.

Null agrees. It’s not easy to provide modern amenities in a century-old stadium, he says, but through its technology investments, the athletics department is improving the customer experience.

“Everyone knows traffic spikes when a quarter ends. The hope is that maybe when the other team has the ball, you look at the app and realize this could be a great time to use the restroom and get a hot dog,” he says.

Photography by Aaron Conway

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