Game-day experience: Aggressive drunks
April, 9, 2013
By Kevin Seifert | ESPN.com
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesThe NFL has worked to make its stadiums, like Lambeau Field, a more family-friendly environment.
The NFL's latest effort to improve the game-day experience for fans -- installing in-stadium camera feeds from the locker room -- generated a cyber-discussion that we will continue here on the blog in a few hours.
As you might know, my AFC South colleague Paul Kuharsky responded to the news last week with a post that carried this headline: "What would help game-day experiences?" Without reading the post, I tweeted my immediate and passionate response: Cracking down harder on aggressive drunks in the stands.
I sit in the press box during games, a safe zone that gives me a pretty good view of fan behavior in most cases. It's probably not news to you that alcohol-induced belligerence from a handful of fans makes the game-day experience miserable for the people around them. Drinks are thrown, invective is hurled and invitations to fight are extended (and often accepted).
The NFL worked to minimize such behavior a few years ago by encouraging the delayed opening of parking lots, smaller beer sizes, and a limit on alcoholic purchases. Whether or not those measures have helped, your initial Twitter response suggested continued perceptions of a significant problem.
@Kevin_Swiontek tweeted: "It's like people view it as an excuse to get drunk and act like fools." Added @rugdog100: "Most uncomfortable situation is when a drunk is constantly cussing (dropping F-bombs) and there are kids nearby."
@SaysTheWiseman suggested fans should consider the environment and context before buying tickets: "If they want a kid friendly crowd, parents should take their kids to ChuckECheese or Disney instead." But, tweeted @_FrankPeters_: "They don't just ruin the game for the families but for everyone."
The majority of fans, of course, arrive at stadiums with good intentions and behave well. The problem: It takes only a couple of belligerent fans to create an uncomfortable situation for a large area of the stands.
Anger and aggressiveness can spread, depending on the game situation and the team affiliation of the fans involved. Just go to YouTube and search "NFL fan fights" to see what happens next. A scene you would expect near closing time at a bar plays out on a Sunday afternoon in broad daylight.
I don't want to link to any of the videos because of profanity and, uh, adult situations. But it isn't hard to find a video, for example, of an altercation between a man and a woman at a 2009 Detroit Lions-Minnesota Vikings game. It is nearly two minutes before security and police show up. Or you can search "Unruly fan at Vikings game" to see how a single Tampa Bay Buccaneers fan was involved in confrontations with multiple Vikings fans over a nearly six-minute stretch before a policeman subdued him with a violent but necessary choke hold.
The NFL's game-day effort is aimed mostly at exceeding the at-home experience, which has the advantage of lower costs, big-screen televisions and ample Internet access. Like Kuharsky, I'm sure many of you would point to ticket and concession prices as big deterrents to attending games live. But your Twitter response indicated that there is at least a subset of financially able people who stay away because of fan behavior.
Tweeted @bies25: "I can afford to go, but I'm not taking my kid to an NFL game. NHL & MLB, yes. But NFL? No place for a kid."
The NFL and stadium security teams have tough jobs here. No one is going to eliminate beer sales, for economic and other reasons, and plenty of people enter the stadium drunk after tailgating, anyway. Just as a club bouncer can't keep his eyes on every potential problem spot, security officials can't monitor every situation that starts mildly in the second quarter but devolves into nastiness by the second half.
Perhaps a hard-line, behavior-changing approach is in order for at least some stadiums. Maybe obviously drunk and/or aggressive fans should get ejected, regardless of the degree to which they're disturbing others, until behavior changes. I don't know. I'm interested in hearing your thoughts in a few hours.