Telling ballpark troublemakers: 'You're out!'
Boston — At Fenway Park, Carl Yastrzemski hits a double, and Red Sox fans go wild -- unaware that just a few feet away under the stands, near the beer concession, the scene is far different.
There, troublemakers who moments before had started a fight in the stands suddenly are surrounded by large young men in Brooks Brothers blazers and gray flannel slacks. The men speak calmly, and there is no rough stuff. But they escort the troublemakers out of the stadium.
These men actually are athletes, too -- many of them football players at local colleges -- and they make up the crowd-control unit at Fenway Park, acknowledged as one of the most effective in major league baseball. When the gates open, they position themselves at the turnstiles, checking packages brought into the stadium for intoxicants, objects that can be thrown, and for persons who already appear to be drunk. The latter may be refused entry.
During the game, unit members equipped with walkie-talkies patrol the stadium to spot potential trouble. They cooperate with the stadium ushers, the Red Sox uniformed security force, plainclothes officers, and the Boston Police Department.
"Things have improved 100 percent since we started the unit in 1976," says Mark Sweeny, supervisor of crowd control at Fenway. "It's completely different now. I'd say the incidents of fan violence and complaints have dropped off considerably."
But effective as the crowd-control unit is at Fenway Park, professional sports teams are not out of the woods yet when it comes to fan violence. In the past few years such violence has become a serious problem for athletic clubs and stadium managers, forcing heightened security, stricter controls on consumption of alcoholic beverages, and even modified stadium designs. One baseball club has adopted what might be called a complaint department for the convenience of fans at its games.
A stadium manager's biggest problem is fan drinking and the behavior that results from it, says Art Fuss, head of security for the office of the commissioner of baseball. If he sees fans getting out of hand, the manager will close the beer concession, Mr. Fuss adds.
"The number of incidents is decreasing, but the few that do occur are pretty violent and there are some pretty tough fights," says Mr. Fuss.
One such incident took place in Detroit June 16, when fans in the bleachers hurled rocks and bottles -- not to mention obscenities -- at the visiting Milwaukee Brewers. Afterward, the management of the Detroit Tigers closed that 10,500-seat section of the stadium for the next game.
Now it is announced over the public address system before each Detroit home game that no fighting, throwing beer, or throwing objects onto the field will be tolerated. The stadium management has increased security, added plainclothesmen , and started checking people at the gate to make sure they are not bringing in alcoholic beverages or carrying anything that can be thrown at the players. If someone looks intoxicated, he does not get in.
In fact, procedures like these have become almost standard at stadiums and arenas throughout the country.
Security has been particularly tight at Schaefer Stadium in Foxboro, Mass., home of the New England Patriots of the National Football League since fans -- many of them intoxicated -- got completely out of control during a game in 1976.
Foxboro officials recently proposed regulations that would cut off beer sales in the stadium 15 minutes into the third quarter of each game, limit beer sales to two per person, and close the beer concession if it looked like trouble was developing.
Meanwhile, "What most concerns us now are the things people are starting to throw," says Mr. Fuss of the baseball commissioner's office."Fans used to throw paper to show their displeasure. But lately they've been throwing ball bearings , lead sinkers, and lino- type slugs. When an individual comes in carrying these things, you know it's intentional."
Frank Torpey, head of security for the National Hockey League, agrees. "Fans tend to throw things less often than in recent years," he says, "but what they're lobbing onto the ice has been more vicious than ever. It shows a premeditation. But they can't realize the damage they can do. They can cause terrible injuries to players if they skate over these things. In fact, it could kill a player."
Most new stadiums are being built with an 18-foot drop from the stands to discourage fans from running onto the playing field. If a fan manages to get onto the field, most stadium managers "let him have his fun" -- in the words of one -- and arrest him when he comes off. In Boston, arrest for disturbing a public gathering can lead to a $250 fine.
To head off potential problems or disagreements, the Kansas City Royals baseball club opened a "fan accommodation room" where patrons can make complaints, exchange seats, or get refunds on their tickets. It has been so successful in handling spectator problems that other stadium managers are considering adopting the idea.