Major U.S. sporting events constitute potential terrorist targets (Lipton, 2005). Since 9/11, more money has been spent on security at events (Hall, 2006). This study investigated spectators’ perceptions of security at a NASCAR event, via a survey administered by the Center for Spectator Sports Security Management collaborating with Turnkey Sports and Entertainment. Of 1,642 spectators participating in the study, 52% said they had not been concerned with security while planning to attend the event. Further, only 47% knew where and how to seek emergency care while attending the event, and 47% deemed emergency evacuation procedures and signs to be clear and easy to follow. Overall, 64% indicated an opinion that professional sporting events are a likely target of terrorist attacks.

Spectator Perceptions of Security Management
at a NASCAR (National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing) Event

High-profile sporting events in the United States have been identified by the federal Department of Homeland Security as potential terrorist targets (Office of Homeland Security, 2002, p. 86). According to Goss, Jubenville, and MacBeth (n.d.), an act of sports-related terrorism is inevitable, a matter of when and where, not if—and of how the act will change the sporting world forever. Philpott (2007) explained that effective security management is imperative at large sporting events with many spectators, because there is potential for mass casualties as well as for catastrophic social and economic impacts.

Noted sports-related terrorism in the past includes incidents at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, West Germany, and at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games, as well as several other recent events in the United States. In October 2005, an Oklahoma University student prematurely detonated a bomb strapped to his body outside an 85,000-seat stadium filled to capacity (Hagmann, 2005). In October 2006, the National Football League received a radiological bomb threat against several of its stadiums (Homeland Security: NFL Stadiums Threat Not Credible, 2006). The terrorist group Al-Qaeda prepared a “manual of Afghan jihad” in which football stadiums are proposed as sites of possible attacks, and in July 2002 the FBI warned that terrorist groups were downloading stadium images” (Estell, 2002, p. 8).

The present study intended to investigate the security-related perceptions of spectators at a high-profile NASCAR (National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing) event conducted in the southeastern region of the United States. Knowledge was sought of whether fans are concerned about security at sporting events they attend, whether and how strongly they believe their safety is adequately assured by security measures and personnel, and whether they believe sporting events are a likely target for future attacks.


The University of Southern Mississippi Center for Spectator Sports Security Management was established in 2005 through a Department of Homeland Security grant. The center is the first of its kind in the United States. Through research, education, and outreach efforts, it works to build the capabilities of those responsible for managing security practices at sporting events. The center promotes, supports, and enhances academic research, technology development, and education and training in the domain of sports event security management. Its mission is to provide an interdisciplinary environment for building security awareness, improving sports-related security policies and procedures, and enhancing emergency response, evacuation, and recovery operations that follow acts of terrorism or natural disasters (Center for Spectator Sports Security Management, n.d.).

The Center for Spectator Sports Security Management was approached by the NASCAR organization to conduct research on NASCAR’s security management systems at one racing venue. Faculty, staff, and graduate students affiliated with the center collaborated with Turnkey Sports and Entertainment, LLC, to complete the proposed project. Turnkey Sports and Entertainment is a sports marketing firm that helps its clients develop insights into their audiences and marketplaces, gathering demographic information, collecting sales leads, and measuring sponsorships with custom market tools (Turnkey Sports and Entertainment, n.d.). Clients of Turnkey Sports and Entertainment include more than 80 leagues, properties, agencies, and brands (Turnkey Clients and Partners, n.d.).



The population for this study was limited to spectators at a NASCAR event in the southeastern region of the United States (N = 1,642). Potential participants were approached inside and outside the racing venue by members of a team of 11 graduate students and 5 faculty members from the Center for Spectator Sports Security Management. Team members collected data utilizing personal digital assistants (PDAs). No incentive was offered for participation, and participants were assured of their anonymity. Institutional review board approval was obtained prior to the study.


The survey instrument was developed by the Center for Spectator Sports Security Management in partnership with Turnkey Sports and Entertainment. A panel of experts also assisted in developing the instrument and included the head of security for the national organization that controls the sport; event security managers; marketing staff; and administrative personnel. The survey instrument consisted of two parts. The first part of the questionnaire obtained demographic data measuring gender, age, education, and income. The second part comprised items about the management of security during the NASCAR event. This section of the instrument employed a 5-point Likert scale for participants’ responses (1 = strongly disagree, 2 = disagree, 3 = neither agree nor disagree, 4 = agree, 5 = strongly agree).

Data Analysis

Survey data from the research team’s PDAs were uploaded to the FanTrak Surveyor system established by Turnkey Sports and Entertainment and were analyzed using SPSS (version 11.0). Descriptive statistics and frequencies were used to investigate spectator security concerns. Means for each survey item question were reported. Likert scale responses measured how strongly participants agreed or disagreed with survey items; as part of the data analysis, the researchers categorized the respondents’ Likert scale responses as either disagree (1–2), neutral (3), or agree (4–5).


A total of 1,642 spectators participated in this study. According to the results, a spectator attends, on average, 2.07 NASCAR events during the NASCAR season. Demographic data describing participants in the study (see Table 1) were consistent with the general demographic profile of spectators at similar events, as compiled by NASCAR’s central office. For example, men outnumbered women in the study sample (1,117 or 68% vs. 525 or 32%), and the majority of study participants had completed at least some community college. The income bracket into which most of the study participants fell was the $54,999–$74,000 bracket.

Table 1

Demographic Profile of Study Participants (N = 1,642), From Instrument Part 1

n %
Male 1,117 68.0
Female 525 32.0
18-24 142 8.6
25-34 358 22.0
35-44 537 32.8
45-54 396 24.2
55-64 152 9.3
65 and over 51 3.1
Some high school 119 7.8
High school 383 25.2
Community college 514 34
Some college 265 17.5
College 210 13.8
Graduate school 26 1.7
<$25K 119 7.7
$25K–$49K 383 25
$50K–$74K 514 33.4
$75K–$99K 265 17.2
$100K–$149K 210 13.5
$150K–$199K 26 1.7
$200K–$249K 14 0.9
$250K+ 9 0.6

The second part of the survey instrument questioned participants about whether security was a concern for them as spectators at a large sporting event; whether they felt safe attending the event; whether they perceived emergency care available at the event to be managed effectively; and whether they perceived crowd control at the event to be managed effectively. Participants also indicated whether security measures implemented for the event were an impediment to their enjoyment of the event and whether they believed professional sporting events are a likely target of future terrorist attacks. Mean Likert scores for each item from the second part of the survey instrument were calculated, ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree), and participants’ responses were also categorized as disagree, neutral, or agree (see Table 2).

Table 2

Participants’ Perceptions Concerning NASCAR Event Security, From Instrument Part 2

Survey Item M Disagree (%) Neutral (%) Agree (%)
While planning for the event, security is a concern for you. 2.51 52 13 35
The number of security checkpoints upon entering the facility is adequate to ensure your safety. 4.22 6 10 84
Searches of personal items are handled in an appropriate manner. 4.05 6 20 74
You are fully aware of banned or prohibited items. 4.22 10 6 84
Security staff and ushers are highly visible. 4.54 2 4 94
Security measures taken at the event are adequate to protect you. 4.46 2 5 93
If emergency care is needed, you know where and how to get it. 2.91 43 10 47
Emergency evacuation procedures and signs are clear and easy to follow. 4.14 47 13 40
You watch out for unusual occurrences, packages, and people. 2.69 19 9 72
Crowd control is effectively managed. 3.8 7 11 82
Overall security measures in place take away from the enjoyment of this event. 1.42 87 4 9
You feel safe at the event. 4.68 1 2 97
You feel that professional sporting events are a likely target for future terrorist. 3.5 24 12 64

The results suggest that security was not a concern for the surveyed spectators at this NASCAR venue. Overall, they agreed that security checkpoints were adequate (M = 4.22), as were item searches (M = 4.05) and security staff presence (M = 4.54). In addition, 84% of the study participants agreed they were fully aware of items banned or prohibited within the venue (M = 4.22). This indicates that the organization effectively communicates its entry policies. However, participants tended to indicate that they were unaware of where and how to seek emergency care at the venue and that they found its emergency evacuation procedures neither clear nor easy to follow (M = 2.91).

Most study participants—87%—disagreed fairly strongly with the item stating “Overall security measures in place take away from the enjoyment of this event”; the mean Likert scale score for this item was 1.42. The respondents also indicated a perception that crowd control was effectively managed (M = 3.8). In addition, the majority of the surveyed spectators (64%) felt that professional sporting events are a likely target for future terrorist activity.

Summary and Implications

Findings from the present study suggest that venue and event operators must ensure that emergency services and security staff are visible and accessible to patrons. Adequate training and placement of key personnel are critical to ensure effective responses to incidents. Over half of the participants (52%) indicated that security was not a concern for them as they made plans to attend the event; an even larger percentage, however, (72%) said they were vigilant concerning unusual packages and people at the event, a notion reinforced by the finding that 64% of participants consider professional sporting events to be likely future terrorist targets.

One important implication of these findings is that sports spectators seem to have an awareness concerning potential incidents. Another is that sports organizations need to implement effective strategies for communicating with event attendees about critical security information: entry and exit policies, items not allowed at the venue, parking regulations, and so on. Many sports organizations do provide such information for spectators, sometimes in fan guides and sometimes through websites designed for spectators’ review prior to attending events.

For many sports organizations, attaining balance between effective security management and a pleasant experience for the sports consumer is an important issue. Overwhelming spectators with security measures may deter their attendance, posing economic consequences for the sports organization; yet an effective security operation may prevent or alleviate incidents that would also bring financial losses.

In conclusion, various sporting organizations should consider conducting self-evaluations similar to the present study, in order to assess their security systems and identify any problems in the operations of those systems or with the consumers’ experience of events. Such knowledge can enhance the effectiveness of security systems and, ultimately, the safety of sports spectators.


Center for Spectator Sports Security Management. (n.d.). Retrieved April 8, 2008, from University of Southern Mississippi, Center for Spectator Sports Security Management website: http://www.sporteventsecurity.com/

Estell, L. (2002). A banner year for stadiums? Security concerns could put an end to stadium fly-overs. Incentive, 176(12), 8. Retrieved September 29, 2005, from the EBSCOhost database.

Goss, B. D., Jubenville, C. B., & MacBeth, J. L. (n.d.). Primary principles of post-9/11 stadium security in the United States: Transatlantic implications from British practices. Retrieved October 3, 2005, from http://www.iaam.org/CVMS/Post%20911%20Stadium%20Security.doc

Hagmann, D. J. (2005). Black hole in America’s heartland. In Articles: The Bombing at the University of Oklahoma (¶ 9). Retrieved July 20, 2006, from http://www.homelandsecurityus.com/site/modules/news/article.php?storyid=16

Hall, S. (2006). Effective security management of university sport venues. The Sport Journal, 9(4). Retrieved August 10, 2008, from http://thesportjournal.org/article/effective-security-management-university-sport-venues

Homeland security: NFL stadiums threat not credible. (2006). Retrieved July 28, 2007, from http://sports.espn.go.com/nfl/news/story?id=2631048

Lipton, E. (2005, March 16). U.S. report lists possibilities for terrorist attacks and likely toll. New York Times, p. A1.

Office of Homeland Security. (2002). National strategy for homeland security. Retrieved September 22, 2005, from http://www.whitehouse.gov/homeland/book/nat_strat_hls.pdf

Philpott, D. (2007). How your facility can avert a terrorist attack. Journal of Homeland Defense: Special Report. Retrieved , from http://www.homelanddefensejournal.com/hdl/TerroristAttack.htm

Turnkey Clients and Partners. (n.d.). Retrieved February 27, 2008, from http://www.turnkeyse.com/clients.html

Turnkey Sports and Entertainment. (n.d.). Retrieved February 27, 2008, from http://www.turnkeyse.com

Author Note

Stacey Hall, Center for Spectator Sports Security Management,
University of Southern Mississippi; Lou Marciani, Center for Spectator Sports Security Management, University of Southern Mississippi; Dennis Phillips, Center for Spectator Sports Security Management, University of Southern Mississippi; Trey Cunningham Center for Spectator Sports Security Management, University of Southern Mississippi.

Trey Cunningham is now at Northwestern State University of Louisiana.

This research effort was supported by Turnkey Sports and Entertainment, LLC.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Stacey Hall, Center for Spectator Sports Security Management, University of Southern Mississippi, 118 College Dr. #10013, Hattiesburg, MS 39406-0001. E-mail: Stacey.A.Hall@usm.edu.

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