One of the stories from this past week that’s jumped out at me is that three NFL teams (Green Bay, Indianapolis, and Cincinnati) struggled to sell tickets to home playoff games this weekend. First off, I never would have thought that the Packers would struggle to sell tickets to any game at Lambeau, much less a post season game! However I read an ESPN article yesterday that indicated much of this issue has to do more so with intangible elements to sporting events than it does anything else. So what does any of this have to do with the Baltimore Orioles? To be frank, it’s something into which all franchises in the business of sport should look – and soon at that.
First off let’s be fair about this; the fact that tickets were available in these cities doesn’t make them bad sports cities or bad fan bases. Again, I’m shocked that this would even be an issue in a post season situation. However again, the article linked above seems to indicate that it’s a problem that’s a little less tangible than economics or anything else. Apparently now teams have to take into consideration the “in-game experience” as much as anything else. Specifically, the number of drunks at the games. Interesting to say the least.
So let me preface this by poignantly saying that this wasn’t an issue when I was a kid, however not in the manner that you might think. I can remember going to Memorial Stadium to see the O’s, RFK Stadium to see the Redskins, and the Capital Centre to see the Bullets and Capitals…trust me folks, all three of those venues had their share of drunks. However the fact is that professional (and college) sports have enhanced their viewing options and packages so much, that people are left to question whether or not they want to brave the crowds, the elements, etc. to go to the stadium and see the games live as opposed to watching them on their in-home projector screen in HD where the beer is cheaper. I would submit that for the most part, people still view going to a live sporting event as a great experience regardless of the television options. However throw inebriated fools running around and acting like hyenas into the mix, and that might change.
This isn’t limited to football, because it happens in every sport. In 2012 I know for a fact that there were at least two incidents of drunkards leaping onto the field and running around at Camden Yards during the first month of the season. Heck, a few years ago a drunk fan running on the field got tasered at a Philadelphia Phillies game. And if you’ve ever been to an NHL game, you’ve seen your share of fights in the stands. So the fact is that this issue exists everywhere. Furthermore, the even bigger fact is that teams are being incredibly naive if they think they can simply throw up their hands and claim ignorance on this issue.
If the “worldwide leader in sports” is publishing an article about this issue claiming that it’s affecting the NFL playoffs, it’s a big deal. I’ve never been a big believer in outside things affecting business, and teams that claim there isn’t much they can do about drunks in the stands are certainly correct in that it’s partially out of their control. However the fact remains that more and more people are holding the team(s) accountable for everything that happens to them from the moment they leave their homes until they return. If traffic patterns to the ballpark are difficult to navigate, suddenly the stadium’s difficult to get to. If there isn’t a big mascot running around or a t-shirt toss, the game isn’t fan-friendly enough. If there are drunks running around and starting fights…it ceases to be family entertainment.
Ultimately consumers are sending a message, and that message is that staying home and watching the game on their big screen is starting to become a better option than going to the stadium…due in part to the drunks. And I would challenge all sports teams to find a solution to this…and fast. First off, it’s not as easy as some people make it sound – you can’t stop selling alcohol at these games. Nevermind the financial hit the team would take, but ultimately fans would then sneak alcohol into the games and if anything the problem would be worse.
However the fact is that teams need to do a better job of patrolling the stands, and perhaps even training their concessionaires to better recognize when someone’s had too much to drink. The act of ordering another beer doesn’t guarantee that a person should be served. Going back to patrolling the stands for a moment, perhaps event staff should be sprinkled into the crowd itself in various venues only to spring to action when needed.
In the Orioles’ case, the one thing that’s lacking in this area would be family or alcohol free sections. Many teams have this, whereby fans can opt to purchase tickets in sections where alcohol is neither served nor allowed, and where foul language in the stands isn’t tolerated. This would at least give them some leverage in terms of informing fans (when/if this situation comes up) that if they choose to watch the game in this environment, they have the option of doing so.
As I said, all teams need to look at this issue because I doubt it’s going away anytime soon. This is not to say that if someone gets out of control it’s the fault of the team. However if it ultimately affects business, why would they not want to take action?