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Internalizing Fan Externalities

The out-of-control fan problem has concerned me for quite a while. Taking two teenage daughters along to many sporting events is about the equivalent of taking them to a frat party -- I can't tell who is more uptight, them or me. The recent venture to the USC-Ohio State game serves as Exhibit A. Recent articles, one in the WSJ (sub required) and one the the LA Times, discuss attempts by the Philadelphia Eagles and LA Dodgers to reduce the negative externalities, including violence, imposed on other fans by the unruly ones. Around both college and pro sports, many measures have been installed to deal with the issue. It's not easy because a few fans can create havoc for many others.

The old days at the Vet were not about a few unruly fans. It was more an experiment in anarchy or a "mob mentality" as one season-holding police officer calls it. In those days, the Eagles took the approach of undercover cops in the stands and even on onsite court. Since moving to their new stadium, the Eagles intalled an updated, preemptive policy:

Before fans even enter the Linc, they go through three layers of scrutiny. If the ticket-taker suspects the fan is intoxicated or has other concerns, he raises his hand and a second usher makes an assessment. If there's still a question, a "black shirt," usually an off-duty police officer, pulls the fan aside and questions him. If the black shirt thinks the fan is unfit to enter, he walks him over to the ticket booth, gives him a full refund, and says, "Have a nice day."

(Of course, if that guy gets on the road, the externality has just shifted to a different venue.) The Eagles also installed a system that allows fans under siege to anonymously text security who can investigate without the fan becoming a target. The Dodgers have addressed the problem in the more traditional way by employing more patrolling officers -- a system that doesn't always work well:

"It was pretty intense," said Dan Pike, 28, a Las Vegas resident and Phillies fan who was tormented for much of Monday's playoff game at Dodger Stadium by two brew-bleary home-team supporters sitting behind him. He endured pushing, shoving and obscene taunts, along with a seat soaking by strategically spilled Buds whenever he stood to cheer. "After about eight beers, they were getting a little physical," said Pike, whose misery ended only when security officers hauled off the pair.

From a team's perspective, even if only thinking about the bottom line, the degree of aggressiveness in limiting fan behavior can be a tricky thing, balancing the long term and short term. Long term, if parents cannot take their children to games, where will the future fans come from?

In a counterpoint to efforts to limit bad behavior, I went to a PBR bull-riding event in Nashville (hey, I'm an eclectic sports fan) a few years ago and was surprised to see whiskey and mixed drinks being sold. I don't generally take my daughters to bars. I thought, what next, pole-dancing?

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