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New NFL Fan Conduct Policy Tries to Curb Disruptions

But talk sports personality Jody Mac wonders if its enforcement is wrapped up in too many privacy concerns.

Jody Mac. Credit: Matt Skoufalos.
Jody Mac. Credit: Matt Skoufalos.

Originally reported Sept. 16, 2012.

At Sunday’s I-95 showdown against the Baltimore Ravens, it’s almost guaranteed that some Philadelphia Eagles fans will get too rowdy for their own good and be shown an early exit from the Linc.

Thanks to the now “toothy” NFL Fan Code of Conduct (enacted in 2008), they’ll have to jump through some hoops before getting into their next contest.

Starting this year, all fans ejected from an NFL stadium for violent, disorderly or abusive behavior will be blacklisted from attending future games until they have satisfactorily completed a four-hour, online Fan Conduct Class.

Fans caught returning to their seats without having done so could be arrested as trespassers, and potentially jeopardize a very expensive investment: the Eagles fan code of conduct holds season ticket-holders liable for their guests as well as anyone to whom their seats are given or sold.

(And it’s not just fighting and swearing that can get you tossed, either—at Lincoln Financial Field, you’re done if you inappropriately display affection or wear indecent clothing.)

The Fan Conduct Class was created by Ari Novick, a Laguna Beach, C.A. family and marriage therapist, who piloted the program at MetLife and Gillette Stadiums. It’s now an NFL best-practices policy with all 32 teams.

Each charges a different fee for the class. Getting kicked out of Lincoln Financial Field will cost you $75, which covers the course—60 percent of the content of which concerns alcohol—plus a $20 donation to Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

‘Political correctness and maturity’

“My initial reaction is that I don't like it,” said Patch Eagles blogger Mike Diviney in an e-mail. Diviney recollects growing up in Veterans Stadium among the 700-level fanatics “where it was like a Lord of the Flies atmosphere.

“I loved the unruliness of it,” he wrote. “I loved opposing fans getting ridiculed—verbally, not physically—and to be truthful, I loved that opposing fans were scared to go into that section of the stadium.

“Political correctness and maturity dictate that one shouldn't like that,” Diviney wrote, “but I have to admit I liked the undercurrent of intimidation that greeted and still does greet fans wearing the wrong colors.”

Even so, Diviney wrote, no amount of fandom should “cross the line.” He has no problem with booting a problem fan who’s negatively affecting someone’s enjoyment of the game, and posits that “there should be family sections where it's much more tame.

“Beyond that, come on, it's an NFL game, stop trying to sanitize EVERYTHING,” Diviney wrote.

'If you're stupid enough to get thrown out, it's gonna cost you'

“I think it just goes to show that we’ve moved into the 21st century,” said talk radio personality Joseph “Jody Mac” McDonald.

It may be a colorful recollection to think back on the wild days of the 1990s, “when they were shooting fireworks across the vet and they had Judge Seamus’ quick-justice judicial room in the bowels of the Vet,” McDonald said.

But with the cost of ticket prices, concessions, and parking at an NFL game in 2012, fans are going to have little threshold for such antics.

It’s not even necessary to spare everyone the “Won’t somebody think of the children?” argument, McDonald said. As a parent who took his daughter, now 17, to “about 20 professional football games” growing up, McDonald said that young fans are a small minority at games, but “one that needs to be respected.”

“There’s no reason to ever get completely inebriated and take your fandom and cheering to a physical level,” he said. “If the Eagles are going to use it as a crutch, I think it’s a worthwhile crutch.”

Even if only one or two of every 10 fans required to take the re-education test straightens out, McDonald still think’s it’s a worthwhile exercise.

“I got no problems with them telling you that you’ve gotta take this test,” McDonald says. “I have no problems with them telling you that you’ve got to pay for it. If you’re stupid enough to get thrown out of a football game, then it’s going to cost you.”

What does concern him is the notion that once a fan is ejected from an NFL stadium, the measures for keeping that same fan from gaining re-entry to the game are becoming downright Orwellian.

Just show your ticket to Big Brother, please

In an ESPN report describing the new fan behavior policy, NFL director of strategic security Ray DiNunzio said deterrents for violators trying to sneak back in “could at some point involve facial recognition technology.”

According to a 2011 article from phillyburbs.com about security measures at Lincoln Financial Field on the tenth anniversary of the September 11 attacks, such countermeasures are considered “state-of-the-art” stadium security (please insert your Gold Standard jokes here) and were “used extensively” at the 2012 London Olympic Games.

Find that hard to stomach? Consider that the league was already using such technology ten years ago to verify Super Bowl ticketholders, at which time security staff at Raymond James Stadium, home of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were “considering incorporating the facial recognition technology into its standard security program.”

And last year, Poland trialed facial recognition tech in an effort to identify banned soccer hooligans in advance of its 2012 Euro Cup hosting duties.

Novick’s program is standard-issue for fans ejected at any NFL stadium, and is also being piloted by MLS. Therefore, it’s not too large of a leap to wonder just who else could have your face on file—especially because the FBI believes that facial recognition technology will eventually replace fingerprinting as a more effective form of biometric ID.

“That’s a bit much for me because now we’re talking Big Brother stuff,” McDonald said. “This is an idiot at a football stadium. Do we really want to go that far that we create a file folder of people’s faces? I hope they don’t turn around and share it with police or other groups that are going to have your face on file.”

“If you get thrown out of an Eagle game are they going to be watching you while you try to get into a Union game? If they want to police their own stadium and have their own code of conduct, I don’t have a problem with that, but does their end of the bargain include being able to capture your image?”

A class divide

In the effort to drive greater foot traffic to its stadiums, the NFL, like Hollywood, has also been a victim of its own success in the past five to 10 years. Not only has gambling—excuse me, fantasy sports—democratized fan interests across a variety of teams, but improvements in theater systems and a greater availability of out-of-market contests have made game day a more attractive at-home proposition. The concessions are cheaper, for one thing, and the bathroom lines are a lot shorter.

McDonald said it’s a balancing act.

“It all comes down to the individual,” he said. “How much do you enjoy being there as a group to root for your team? Even your 10 best buddies in your man-cave with your 60-inch and your laptop can’t compare being live at the game with 60,000 other folks.

"That’s an individual thing that the NFL needs to keep its finger on the pulse of," he said. "I think the league needs to be very aware of how to get those creature comforts.”

At the same time, he said, the cost of attending an NFL game as a season-ticket holder, or even as a one-off, is expensive enough that it’s driven out a certain class of fan. If new good-behavior policies are a byproduct of that expense—or of the fan intolerance of it—then so be it, McDonald said.

“Teams in the league just look at it as ‘We want to fill our stadiums,’” he said. “If we can fill them with well-behaved people and we don’t have to worry about crime prevention and loss, then good.

“Right now they’re taking advantage of the fact that they have the most popular sport on the planet,” he said.

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