The National Football League unveiled its first "Fan Code of Conduct" for patrons in its stadiums and parking lots on Tuesday.
According to a copy of the code, drunk and "disruptive" fans can be ejected from stadiums or parking lots without refund — and stripped of their season tickets. The same goes for fans who verbally or physically harass other fans, use obscene language or gestures or interfere with the game by throwing objects onto the field. Fans who become drunk or unruly during pregame tailgating will not be allowed into stadiums.
"Here's the standard: Enjoy yourself, come root for your team — but don't infringe on the enjoyment of another fan," said Eric Grubman, NFL executive vice president.
"If you want to come root for another team, that's OK. But we don't want somebody pouring a beer over your head," he said.
The policy, similar to one imposed by the NBA in 2005, evolved from a growing number of fans complaining to the league and its teams about their experiences at games, league spokesman Brian McCarthy said.
"We are committed to improving the fan experience in every way we can — from the time fans arrive in the parking lot to when they depart the stadium," McCarthy said Tuesday. "We want everyone to be able to come to our stadiums and enjoy the entire day."
The NFL's 32 clubs will be charged with implementing and enforcing the code, McCarthy said. That will give teams the opportunity to add their own rules to the league's code. All NFL clubs are expected to spell out the rules to season ticket-holders and fans through news releases, mailings and stadium-area signs and announcements. Each club will have a front-office employee designated as being in charge of the policy.
The Oakland Raiders have launched a video on their website showing season ticketholders imploring fellow fans to respect and abide by the code, chief executive Amy Trask said.
The Miami Dolphins, meanwhile, will introduce a hotline this season enabling fans to call or text-message security from their seats, team President Bryan Wiedmeier said.
The NFL, the USA's most popular pro sports league, attracted 17.3 million fans to regular-season games during the 2007 season, an average per-game attendance of 67,755. Both were league records. The league began looking at a code of behavior after hearing a growing number of fan complaints about their experience at games, Commissioner Roger Goodell said at a league meeting on May 20.
The rules say season ticket holders and others fans are not only responsible for their own behavior but for that of guests or anybody else occupying their seats. "Event patrons and guests who violate these provisions will be subject to ejection without refund and loss of ticket privileges for future games," states the code.
McCarthy said patrons could lose season tickets for the remainder of a given season and be barred from purchasing them again "depending on the severity of their actions." He said clubs will be allowed to decide whether to refund money for unused tickets of fans disciplined under the policy.
Some NFL clubs may end up hiring additional security personnel to enforce the rules, said McCarthy.
But the country's richest, most powerful sports league has its work cut out for it as it communicates the get-tough rules to fans and prepares some of its teams to implement the policy, say stadium security experts.
The NFL and its clubs need to launch public awareness campaigns to educate season-tickets holders, says Lou Marciani, Director of the Center for Spectator Sports Security Management at the University of Southern Mississippi. At the club level, it's "critical" that teams train security guards, ushers and event staff, he says.
"I commend the league for taking a stance to protect the right of paid spectators. The hard part will be implementing it," Marciani says. "I could see them including it in fan guides and season-ticket contracts. As for the process of deciding who's intoxicated and who's not ... good luck."
Milt Ahlerich, the NFL's senior vice president of security, will direct the program at the league level, says McCarthy. If the league feels some clubs are too lax, it will step in and "provide guidance on areas that may be lacking," McCarthy says.
As the season gets underway, NFL fans might notice more security patrolling parking lots. While Grubman says tailgating is a treasured part of the fan experience, it can also lead to trouble inside the stadium. "Some of the stadium behavior that's too over the top is probably occurring because people had too much to drink in the parking lot," he says.
The new code says season ticket holders and other fans are not only responsible for their own behavior but for that of guests or anybody else occupying their seats.
McCarthy said patrons could lose season tickets for the remainder of a given season and be barred from purchasing them again "depending on the severity of their actions." He said clubs will be allowed to decide whether to refund money for unused tickets to fans disciplined under the policy.
The NFL could be opening itself up to possible legal action from disgruntled fans who run afoul of the new code. But McCarthy says the league and its teams will review these situations on a "case-by-case basis."
NFL FAN CODE OF CONDUCT
"The National Football League and its teams are committed to creating a safe, comfortable, and enjoyable experience for all fans, both in the stadium and in the parking lot. We want all fans attending our games to enjoy the experience in a responsible fashion. When attending a game, you are required to refrain from the following behaviors:
Behavior that is unruly, disruptive, or illegal in nature
Intoxication or other signs of alcohol impairment that results in irresponsible behavior
Foul or abusive language or obscene gestures
Interference with the progress of the game (including throwing objects onto the field)
Failing to follow instructions of stadium personnel
Verbal or physical harassment of opposing team fans
"Event patrons are responsible for their conduct as well as the conduct of their guests and/or persons occupying their seats. Stadium staff will promptly intervene to support an environment where event patrons, their guests, and other fans can enjoy the event free from the above behavior. Event patrons and guests who violate these provisions will be subject to ejection without refund and loss of ticket privileges for future games.