The NFL is blazing a new trail in dealing with unruly fans. If a fan gets ejected from an NFL stadium this year for unruly behavior, they will be required to complete a four-hour online course about drinking and good social behavior before they can re-enter another game. I’m not saying this new policy is directed at Raider fan, Philly phan, and Patriots fan, but that’s because it’s so obvious that I don’t have to.
It used to be that European soccer leagues led the world in both unruly fans and strict ejection policies. For example, if a fan is ejected from White Hart Lane (home of Tottenham Hotspur), they face a minimum three-match ban from the home grounds. Manchester City’s website reminds fans that they can be ejected for simply being deemed a “nuisance” to other fans. England has also passed several laws governing the conduct and punishment of unruly football fans over the years.
Now, however, the NFL is staking its claim to being the most nanny-ish sports league in the world. They seem to believe that any ejected fan is apparently not just drunk but also unaware that their behavior and choices affect others, that they are in need of education. But Roger Goodell’s office being condescending is not really news. He is constantly guilty of this in the way he deals with player discipline, especially in Jonathan Vilma’s case.
Worse, unruly fan behavior may not be a problem at all. To wit: only 7,000 fans were ejected from NFL stadia last season. That’s one-tenth of the attendance of one game at the Colts’ Lucas Oil Stadium. The ESPN article also points out that the Raiders eject up to 300 people per game for violating the team’s anti-smoking policy. This means the Raiders are responsible for 2,400 ejections, or about a third of the league’s entire total for 2011.
Clearly, NFL teams have already tried other methods of dealing with bad behavior among the fans. Recently, they have tried pricing most fans out of tickets to the games by using seat licenses and incredibly expensive stadia to justify outrageous prices. Ticket prices are up 30 percent since 2005. The average family of four must spend nearly $500 to attend a single NFL game.
The conspiracy theorist in me says that this is part of the NFL preparing to expand to England and showing it knows how to deal with hooliganism, but mainly it’s just another example of the league taking the most annoying, condescending possible approach to dealing with an issue. Bounty program? Suspend everyone without a proper investigation by the league. Not enough minority head coaches? Insult them by demanding teams interview them, often in sham interviews because the decision has already been made. NFL football too fun to watch at home so the league things its’s affecting ticket sales? Tell the league to put Wi-Fi in every stadium. Because it’s access to the f-ing Internet that makes watching at home different from being there.
So instead of just using sensible policy, like a one-year ban from NFL stadia if you’re ejected once and a lifetime ban if it happens again, the league wants you to take a class because you’re not just unruly, you’re uneducated. Nevermind all the things about the fan experience with which the NFL still does not consistently deal. I’ll let Shutdown Corner’s MJD take it home:
You want more, better-trained, friendlier ushers. You want more security and stadium staff nearby. You want unpleasant and disruptive fans kept away from kids and families. You want well-monitored, safe, fun tailgating areas and activities before and after the game.
Of course, there’s one issue that trumps everything, but it won’t be changed, so I don’t know if it’s even worth mentioning ‒ money. If tickets weren’t so expensive, if parking wasn’t $50, if a Diet Coke wasn’t $6, and there weren’t so many TV timeouts allowing the league to rake in additional money, then the stadium experience would be far more attractive. But none of those things will be changing.
‘Nuff said. I’ll just watch from home, thank you.