The NFL’s Fan Experience Problem

A Deteriorating Fan Experience

Last Sunday, I had quite the fan experience while attending the AFC Championship Game at Gillette Stadium alongside my brother-in-law. It was a fantastic game. The crowd as a whole was loud and supportive of the home team as they fought their way back from a 10 point deficit in the fourth quarter. Ultimately, Tom Brady once again led the Patriots to a come from behind victory.

The Pats are now on their way to Minnesota where they’ll play the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl 52. I sure as hell had a great night, and I’m glad to have attended the big game.

However, I can’t help but ponder the experience from the point of view of a father. The environment at a National Football League game is definitely not as family friendly as it had once been in the past.

The Times They Are a-Changin’ 

In the spring of 1997, just prior to my 13th birthday, my father purchased season tickets to the New England Patriots. We were incredibly lucky to be selected considering the team was coming off a Super Bowl appearance.

For the next 12 seasons, my father and I attended just about every home game in Foxborough.

The “Tuck Rule” game? We were there.

The “Cut that Meat” AFC Divisional Round Playoff Game against Peyton Manning? We were there.

We saw some magnificent moments in Patriots team history.

During our span as season ticket holders, we rarely saw a fight. We rarely, if ever, felt truly uncomfortable by the words or actions of fans around us. Perhaps we were just lucky. Or, perhaps the younger generation of fans aren’t lying when they say they’re all about the “YOLO” motto.

And as I think back to how much those games strengthened my relationship with my father, I’m definitely filled with the desire to create a similarly unbreakable bond with my son.

But I’ll tell you one thing…

Bringing him to NFL games won’t be an option.

Call me a loser. It’s fine. But let’s at least be honest here. The teams and stadiums around the National Football League are not doing enough to provide a family-friendly environment for parents and their children.

Recipe for Disaster

So what exactly led me to question the NFL fan experience? Just take a look at what transpired on Sunday…

Being that the AFC title game was set for a 3:05 pm kickoff, local fans took the opportunity to party hard as soon as the parking lots opened at 11:00 am. A full 4 hours prior to kickoff.

The result?

An unbelievable amount of fans stumbling and bumbling their way to their seats. You wouldn’t believe the amount of hammered millennials that staggered to their seats toward the end of the first quarter. Imagine that. You spend hundreds of dollars just to drink yourself silly to the point where you miss a quarter of the action you paid an arm and a leg for? What a waste. But hey, “Dilly dilly!”

Over the course of 4 hours inside the stadium, I witnessed a full-blown fight at halftime and numerous verbal altercations. I even found myself propelling down the steep steps of Section 306 when an incredibly wasted human being, who had fallen face first down the concrete stairs, careened into me. Somehow, as I began my descent toward an unplanned trip to the emergency room, I managed to grab hold of a perfectly placed railing and avoided serious injury.

To be fair, this post isn’t an indictment on the Patriots or the fine folks over at Gillette Stadium. They’re doing the best they can under the circumstances. It’s about a league that puts money over everything else…

…even at the expense of fan safety.

DRINKING

Attending an NFL game is like watching a real life adaptation of the Alan Jackson and Jimmy Buffett tune, “It’s 5 o’clock Somewhere.” 

If it’s a 1:00 pm game, fans are lined up at 9:00 am and cracking open a cold one…or 2, or 3, or 8. They’re working hard to, as the kids say, get “lit.”

Dilly, Dilly!

They’ll never publicly admit it, but the league embraces the fans’ love of game day alcohol consumption. Why?

One word: MONEY. According to Andrew Kraemer, Anheuser-Bush spent 5.5 times more money than the average sponsor during the 2016-2017 NFL season. The NFL doesn’t want to go toe-to-toe with the hand that feeds them fistfulls of cash. Back in mid-2016, Ed Bickley wrote that The Indianapolis Star investigated the Colts’ revenue streams and found that each game produced $500,000 in beer sales, dwarfing the $32,000 in hot dogs and $28,000 in nachos.

Regardless of the money involved, the binge drinking at NFL games (both in tailgating and inside the stadium) is simply out of control. Back in 2008, the NFL Security Advisory Board predicted that drunkenness would continue to spiral out of control. In a memo to league owners, the group advised the powers that be that their “fan base is starting to change in some of your stadiums, you’re getting 21- to 35- year olds that are coming to do nothing but just binge drink…and for every person that’s an idiot in the stands, [the person] impacts 25 other people.”

A recent survey of over 1,000 Americans related to game day drinking produced startling results. Conducted by Detox.net, the survey showed that the average NFL fan will drink 3.1 alcoholic beverages over the course of the event. It also found that 22% of respondents said they would binge drink (5 drinks or more) throughout the duration of the game.

While it’s true that not everyone at football games are hammered beyond belief, the league fails to understand that the behavior of the obligerent few negatively impacts the experience of many.

VIOLENCE

What tends to come as a result of excess drinking at football games? Fighting. Physical altercations at NFL games are becoming more and more common, and it’s risking the safety of innocent fans.

In 2016, The Washington Post released a report detailing the prevalence of violence at NFL games.

“Although arrest totals fluctuate year to year, they have trended slightly upward on a per-game basis since 2011, according to a Washington Post examination of police data from the past five seasons. Last year, 6.34 arrests per game were reported league-wide during the 17 weeks of the regular season. In the 10th week of the season, 126 arrests were made — the second-highest total during the five-year period. That was the most since 129 arrests were made in Week 14 of 2012” (Babb and Rich, 2016).

Violence in the stands once again became a hot topic of conversation after an October 2016 incident at Baltimore’s M&T Stadium. In a game against the Raiders, an Oakland fan sucker-punched 55-year-old Joe Bauer. Mr. Bauer fell awkwardly, hitting his head on the round. Upon arriving at a nearby hospital, he had a 30% chance of survival. Despite the odds, he pulled through.

Nevertheless, a night out in Baltimore changed Joe Bauer’s life forever. He will never be the same again. The daily struggles he now faces serve as a reminder of just how out of control things tend to get at NFL games today.

“’It’s rough out there,’ said Bill Smith, a Bay Area attorney who has sued the 49ers on behalf of the man who suffered a brain injury in an assault at Levi’s Stadium in 2014″ (2016).

OTHER INCIDENTS AT NFL GAMES

Do you think public drunkenness and violent behaviors are the only negative things you’re liable to witness at NFL games? Think again!

Here’s a list of some of the more nefarious acts that have taken place at NFL games over the years:

  • The fans in Buffalo are, by far, the most extreme when it comes to heinous behavior. Earlier this year, there were reports of fans performing oral sex and sexual intercourse in the stands, bathrooms, and parking lots. Oh, and there’s been an ongoing stunt of throwing sex toys on the field. #BillsMafia.
  • Last Sunday in Philadelphia, officers arrested a man for punching a police horse. It was the second time in as many weeks that an Eagles fan assaulted a horse. Seriously. Who the hell hits an animal? I wonder how many drinks those violent offenders had throughout the evening.
  • In 2014, a man at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego urinated and defecated in public, leading to his arrest. His parents must’ve been beaming with pride during that bail hearing!
  • Also in 2014, an arrested fan at Lambeau Field in Green Bay diligently worked his way toward earning a blood alcohol content of 0.307! Dilly, dilly!
  • While the NFL Fan Code of Conduct bans obscene and offensive language, you’re more likely to be struck by lightening immediately after winning the lottery than you are of seeing a fan removed for throwing ‘F’ bombs in every slurred sentence he belts out.

What’s Next?

Amy Trask, a former football executive who has also sat on the NFL’s security committee, has gone on record as saying, “If you are concerned about bringing your family to a game, then that is an issue. It’s not just an issue for one team; it’s an issue for all 32 teams. The teams know this. The league knows this.”

Well, Mrs. Trask…

If the teams and the league know that it’s a problem for parents to be concerned about bringing the kiddos to an NFL game, they have a funny way of showing it. From my perspective, things are worsening rather than improving. Until things get better in the stands and parking lots of NFL stadiums, I can promise the league one thing. My children will not be in attendance.

And I have a feeling I’m not the only parent who feels this way.

 

Until next time,

The Pondering Father

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