Fan conduct within Cleveland Browns Stadium had been a hot topic of discussion heading into the preseason. With the Browns looking to become more apt to enforce rules that have been in place for several seasons and delaying the opening of one of the city’s most popular tailgating spots, an article in the most recent edition of the Sports Business Journal presents an ideal that appears to be envisioned outside of Cuyahoga County.
“I think what we’re driving to is a cultural norm within our stadiums,” said Jamey Rootes, President of the Houston Texans. ”You’re talking about the 1 percent jerk factor. In any place you go, 1 percent of the population is going to be a jerk, so we as a league and as individual teams have to make it clear that this type of behavior is not [okay].”
Early last month, Browns team president Mike Holmgren went public with his desire to “overhaul” the experience at Cleveland Browns Stadium to make it more friendly, to “create a fun and safe experience.” Soon after this initiative – deemed Home-Field Advantage – kicked off, it created a bit of controversy amongst fans. Some applauded the team’s efforts while other opposed, claiming that the NFL is a product in and of itself and that games, specifically those in Browns Stadium, can be policed by those in attendance.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announced a similar initiative several seasons ago, with much of his focus on secondary ticket sales, ensuring that the majority of fans inside a given stadium were those of the home team. Thinking here is that fewer fans of the opposing team would mean less chance for an altercation. Alas, the onus would then be placed on the original owner of the tickets, placing them in full responsibility of what occurred by a third party that may have been using said tickets.
Since Goodell’s initiative, many teams have implemented the infamous text lines where fans can report unfavorable behavior. With the team providing sub-par results, more season-ticket holders have increasingly placed their tickets on the open market, resulting in a lot of secondary sales. The Browns appear to be set to act more aggressively this season with regard to these aspects as season-ticket holders will reportedly have their license revoked for infractions deemed worthy of such punishment.
And as with any hot topic, teams are finding themselves in the midst of a balancing act.
I think it’s a fine line, too,” said Mark Donovan, Executive VP of the Kansas City Chiefs. ”You don’t want to take the passion out of the fan base. You want to give them that opportunity to set the parameters and have ways of policing the parameters.”
For those that align themselves more with Donovan than the stance of Holmgren or Rootes, note that all sides appear to be in agreement that the “fan experience” extends way beyond behavior. While many team front offices are looking into ways to ensure fans do not act in an uncontrollable manner, they are also looking into taking the steps necessary to ensure that fans feel that they are getting a return on their investment. Ranging from more easily accessible concession stands and restroom facilities to the taste of food and beverages given the cost at hand.
“It’s something we as a league have to keep an eye on and make sure that we talk about getting people in the stadium versus watching on [at home],” said Rootes. “Even when they’re watching on HD, we want them to see that and say: ‘I’ve got to get there. That looks like the place to be.’”
As indicated by Mike Holmgren’s thoughts last month, the teams are also well aware that winning may in fact be the most important factor. Fan arrests have been up year-over-year since 2007 when the Browns won 10 games under Romeo Crennel.
“I think it goes hand-in-hand when the team’s doing well, you want to watch the game and be part of it,” Holmgren said. “The fans are very, very important in the team’s success. Instead of acting up, you’re cheering for the team.”
New season, new game plan [Sports Business Journal - Subscription]