|12-19-2008, 03:02 AM||#1|
Join Date: Jul 2001
Location: Hot Springs, Ouachitah
A security tool or the 'rat line'? NFL targeting the unruly fan
Yahoo! Buzz Digg Newsvine Reddit FacebookWhat's this?By Michael McCarthy, USA TODAY
Count Washington Redskins season-ticket holder Rick Cable as a big supporter of the NFL's new Fan Code of Conduct.
During the Redskins' 23-6 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Nov. 3 at FedEx Field just outside Washington, Cable says, an obnoxious Steelers fan kept waving a "Terrible Towel" in the 47-year-old Cable's face and screaming "Redskins suck!" Rather than escalate the confrontation, the Lusby, Md., resident quietly sent a text message to the stadium's security command center. Security people responded quickly. When the Steelers fan gave them a hard time, he was ejected.
"It worked great," Cable says.
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It also reflected how fans are embracing new text-messaging systems that allow fans in NFL stadiums to inconspicuously report drunk or disorderly neighbors without confronting them, a provocative tactic many of the league's 32 teams are using to enforce the conduct code announced by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell on Aug. 5.
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Goodell's rules — the result of rising concern that fan misconduct was driving some people from games — say that patrons who are drunk or disruptive, who use foul language or make obscene gestures or who verbally or physically harass other fans can be refused admission to games, or kicked out of them without refunds. Such fans also can be stripped of their season tickets.
The sweeping attempt to decrease misbehavior in stadiums and parking lots is a "work in progress," says Milt Ahlerich, the NFL's vice president of security. But the initiative, he says, "absolutely is working."
As part of the program, teams are asking the 22.2 million patrons they predict will attend 333 preseason, regular season and playoff games this season to help identify bad apples in the stands.
Fans still are urged to complain to an usher or call a security hotline in the stadium to report unruly behavior. But text-messaging lines — typically advertised on stadium scoreboards and on signs where fans gather — are aimed at allowing tipsters to surreptitiously alert security personnel via cellphone without getting involved with rowdies or missing part of a game.
As of this week, 29 of the NFL's 32 teams had installed a text-message line or telephone hotline. Three clubs have neither: the New Orleans Saints, St. Louis Rams and Tennessee Titans. Ahlerich says he will "strongly urge" all clubs to have text lines in place for the 2009 season. A text line will be available at the Super Bowl for the first time when this season's championship game is played at Tampa's Raymond James Stadium on Feb. 1.
"If there's someone around you that's just really ruining your day, now you don't have to sit there in silence," says Jeffrey Miller, the NFL's director of strategic security. "You can do this. It's very easy. It's quick. And you get an immediate response."
Since the start of the 2008 season, fans have sent more than 1,000 text messages complaining about others, Miller says. A few have even texted in photos of misbehaving fans. Some have shot back "Thank You" messages after security intervened with a fan causing problems.
"This is about empowering the fans," Ahlerich says. "And getting them to help us, and help security, do their jobs."
Miller, formerly commissioner of the Pennsylvania State Police who joined the NFL in July, is impressed by the Joe Friday-like accuracy of some text messages that describe misbehaving fans.
"Isn't technology great?" Miller asks.
Not so much, critics of the text-messaging systems say. Some angry ticket holders who've been turned in by other fans have coined a nickname for the systems they see as Big Brother run amok: "The Rat Line."
Trying to control normal, rowdy behavior at football games only reinforces criticism of the NFL as the "No Fun League," says Sean Martin, 43, an Oakland Raiders fan from Albany, N.Y.
"It's too much like Big Brother," he says. "It's just another step in the NFL taking the personality away from the game."
Nick Gillespie, editor of the libertarian video site Reason.TV, is "worried about overzealous enforcement on the part of security." Fans snitching on each other only adds to the "surveillance state that's America," he says.
Some fans say they are worried they'll be targets of false or prank messages — and ejected unfairly. Fans are innocent until proven guilty, says Miller. Stadium security managers try to "corroborate" complaints by sending staffers out to talk to fans involved and by scanning their seats with binoculars or closed-circuit cameras, he says.
System has drawbacks
Security officials say prank text messages — along with those berating team management about everything from play-calling to long lines at concession stands — represent the downside of the new alert system.
What's to prevent somebody from sending a prank or unjustified message? Not much. But team officials say they're tracking the numbers from which text messages are sent to them from inside and outside the stadium. They're building databases of the complaints and how they were resolved, and tracking areas in the stadium where complaints are frequent.
The text line at Dolphin Stadium, for example, is used for Miami Dolphins and University of Miami football games, plus Florida Marlins baseball games. The more familiar fans have become with it, the fewer prank messages there have been, says Dolphins team president Bryan Wiedmeier. The percentage of prank text messages has dropped to 5% from 15%, he says.
Pranksters can be blocked, says Ahlerich. The benefits of having instant communication with frustrated customers outweigh the hassles.
"If you get 50 text messages and three or four of them are from idiots who are misusing the system, is that a reason not to help the other 47 out?" he asks. "You can send a curt message back to the prankster saying, 'This is an official line, don't abuse it — or you may be abusing your situation at the stadium.' "
The league office is compiling and analyzing data from teams on the number of fans arrested, ejected or stripped of season tickets. The study won't be completed until the offseason, Miller says, but he, Ahlerich and other league officials provided some examples of how they say the Fan Code is making an impact — and not just on conduct:
• The number of fans ejected this season varies widely by club. Some may eject 60-80 fans in a single game, Miller says. Others may eject four to six. He declines to comment on which team kicks out the most fans. Some clubs are using creative ways to warn fans they're crossing the line; one issues small warning cards to fans getting unruly, Ahlerich says.
• The Redskins have rescinded the season tickets of a "small number" of fans, team spokesman Zack Bolno says. Another club told Ahlerich it also had canceled several personal seat licenses — money fans had paid for the opportunity to buy season tickets — because of fan misconduct. Such licenses typically cost thousands of dollars, and season tickets can't be purchased without them.
"Now that's a financial hit" for the teams, Ahlerich says. "I know other stadiums that have done it too. That really puts teeth in the system."
• The Dolphins get the most text messages of any NFL team — typically more than 100 per game. That's because Dolphin Stadium has fixed signs visible from the seats that show the number to which fans can send a text, Wiedmeier says. Other teams flash video messages or make announcements about the text-messaging system. Miller is urging all clubs to post fixed signs next season.
• The Indianapolis Colts are encouraging fans to use the text-message line at their Lucas Oil Stadium as a broader customer-service tool for everything from spilled sodas to medical emergencies, says Larry Hall, vice president of ticket services.
"It's a bigger tool than just fan conduct," Hall says.
Most fans contacted by USA TODAY about the Fan Code and text-message lines support the league's approach.
Jacksonville Jaguars fan Cameron Norris, 21, a senior at Florida State University, says he was punched repeatedly in the back by a New England Patriots fan at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., during the Patriots' 31-20 divisional playoff win over the Jaguars on Jan. 12.
Had there been a stadium text-messaging line, Norris says, he "definitely" would have used it. "College students are always text-messaging anyway," he says. "It's safer than going to a security guard and pointing out the guy. Especially during a road game."
Is the code really working?
Despite the league's attempts to raise awareness, about bad behavior, some fans don't see any improvement at games this year.
Eugene Collins, 46, a Chicago Bears fan from Park Forest, Ill., says he nearly brawled with other Bears fans at Chicago's Soldier Field who were harassing a woman in a Tennessee Titans jersey during the Titans' 21-14 victory over the Bears on Nov. 9.
The Bears, Collins adds, have done a "good job" educating fans about the Fan Code and text-message line. "I just don't think people use it," he says. "I don't see any difference, I really don't."
Redskins fan Adam Myrick of Lexington, S.C., predicts unruly fans won't take the new rules seriously until clubs revoke their season tickets, then publicize it.
Myrick, 33, says he hasn't attended an NFL game this year because of fans' drunkenness and rude behavior. He'd like to take his 4-year-old daughter to a game, but doesn't think NFL games are safe for families.
"I went to a 1 p.m. game last season and I swore it off," he says. "Forget about a Sunday night or Monday night game. Things won't change unless (the Fan Code) has some real teeth. Until then, it's (merely) a great PR stance for the league to take."
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|12-19-2008, 07:51 AM||#2|
Join Date: Aug 2006
I wish they had this when I was at a game last. In Denver 2 kids painted faces like pats and then were pelted with peanuts for 4 quarters.
|12-19-2008, 08:31 AM||#3|
Join Date: Dec 2002
Location: In a van down by the river
Hi, this is Brandon Marshall. And I'd like to talk to you fans a little bit about...
|12-19-2008, 10:12 AM||#4|
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Join Date: Jul 2008
|12-19-2008, 10:14 AM||#5|
Join Date: Nov 2002
Of course, a Raiders fan wouldn't know the difference between the "personality of the game" and intimidating, obnoxious fan behaviour if it came up and punched him in the throat, so there ya go.