Bases and Faces

Preview image of “Bases and Faces”
  • At Citi Field, drinks will soon be paid for with face recognition
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New York Mets take stock after one year of facial recognition for stadium entry.

Last season, the New York Mets announced that they would be the first MLB (Major League Baseball) team to offer ticket holders stadium access through facial recognition terminals. Wicket is the company behind the technology, which is already in use in the NFL (National Football League) at the Cleveland Browns stadium and in the MLS (Major Soccer League) for Columbus Crew home games.

Upon launching the facial recognition terminals as an alternative to ticket scanning, the club’s management emphasised that Wicket would not store user data and that the technology was already standard in other areas, such as unlocking mobile phones. In spite of this, fans were sceptical. In September 2022, data protection group Surveillance Technology Oversight Project (STOP), whose director, Sam Van Doran, is a Mets fan himself, launched a campaign against the use of the technology at Citi Field under the slogan “Tell the NY Mets: Steal Bases, Not Faces!” Oscar Fernandez, vice-president of technology solutions for the Mets, was therefore prepared for a “slow adoption” of the opt-in ticket solution.

At the end of the season, the club published the results of a survey carried out among the users of facial ticketing. According to the survey, facial-recognition access to the stadium was the “more convenient and appealing” method of admission for 80% of users. In addition, 90% of those surveyed would welcome facial recognition for additional stadium transactions. Oscar Fernandez has already announced that in the future transactions made in the stadium area, such as at drinks stands, will also be possible using facial recognition.

Nevertheless, the legal and social conditions for facial recognition’s scope of use at arena and stadium entrances are yet to be fully sounded out, at least in the US. There were reports in November 2022 that James Dolan, owner of the New York Knicks and the New York Rangers, was using technology to deny access to Madison Square Garden to lawyers from companies in dispute with his company. There is a similar case concerning Radio City Music Hall (also controlled by Dolan). In this case, it has become public knowledge that there is a bill currently before the New York administration which would make sports stadiums “places of public entertainment”. If approved, this would mean anyone with a ticket would also be entitled to admission. The regulation was originally passed to guarantee admission to theatre critics on Broadway even in the event of negative coverage.