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Fan ejections from NFL games on the rise

By Daniel Kaplan, Staff Writer, Published November 19, 2012, SBJ

Ejections and arrests at NFL stadiums were up at the midway point of the season compared with a year ago, as the league pushes clubs to enforce fan codes of conduct that penalize out-of-line behavior at games.

Ejections rose 7 percent to 3,520, NFL officials said, though without a wave of smoking-related ejections in California stadiums, especially in Oakland, that number would have fallen from 2011. Arrests were up 19 percent, to 453. Those numbers translate to about 27 ejections and three arrests per game, with approximately 130 games having been played at the season’s midpoint.

League and team officials do not see the increases as a negative. Rather, they cite the numbers as evidence that clubs are cracking down on the type of poor fan behavior that has brought the NFL and its teams the wrong kind of attention for the in-stadium experience in recent years.

“This is part of a pretty positive trend,” said Jeff Miller, NFL head of security, who pointed to text-messaging services in stadiums as a big factor in helping teams identify trouble early. “Clubs can have more ejections or arrests because they are committed [to enforcing fan codes of conduct].”

That has been the experience in Oakland, where the Raiders ejected nearly 100 fans at their first home game for refusing to put out their cigarettes, said Amy Trask, team president. That count represented most of the ejections on that day.

Trask has been working hard to change the perception of the Oakland fan base as unruly, if not scary. Almost 1,000 fans have been ejected since the season began, with a healthy portion of that number being for smoking-related offenses.
“We are certainly committed to enforcing our fan code of conduct,” Trask said.

The NFL developed an official league-level fan code of conduct several years ago, seeking to stamp out behavior such as public intoxication, foul language and harassment of fans wearing visiting club colors. Most teams already had such codes of their own in place, but those that did not subsequently developed team-specific codes, as well.

Teams communicate these codes of conduct online, through public-address announcements at games, and postings in-venue.

While the NFL is not trying to slice off smoking ejections as a different category of fan behavior — stressing that the activity can be a clear disturbance for any surrounding fans — the league does note that without these ejections, the number of ejections overall would have declined in the first half of the year.

In Philadelphia, another city with a reputation for aggressive fans, ejections and arrests are up, but also because of increased enforcement, said Leonard Bonacci, Eagles vice president of events.

“Where we are having success is with the use of technology,” Bonacci said, principally referring to text messages that fans can send to security. “Fans now have an outlet [to immediately report] if someone is eroding the quality of their experience.”

The Eagles survey their fans online four times a year through J.D. Power and Associates, and Bonacci said there has been a statistically significant increase in positive fan satisfaction responses.

In Arizona, the Cardinals have seen a decline in ejections, said Michael Bidwill, team president and chairman of the NFL committee that’s in charge of policing fan conduct.

Bidwill stressed the importance leaguewide of fans thinking well of the NFL game experience.

“This is a business issue,” Bidwill said, “because if fans have a negative experience, they are not as inclined to come back and buy a ticket.”

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