Friday night I went to Dodgers-Cubs at Dodger Stadium. I had four choice seats, thanks to Barry, but only ended up using three. I’d hoped to convince a diehard Cubs fan I knew to go, but he repeatedly refused, citing several bad experiences at Chavez Ravine. (He went to Cubs-Padres at Petco instead.)
(MLB/NFL/NBA: Don’t want this to happen? Then do something now)
Obviously I quizzed the guy on what happened, and he said the last time he went to Dodger Stadium his dad had a beer dumped on him by a drunken, loudmouth lout - and ballpark security did nothing. (Yeah, I know Victorino/Phils fans, your heart bleeds …)
So with that rattling around my headhole Friday, I can’t say I was surprised to notice an inordinate number of unruly fan-generated incidents. Indeed, after the first three innings, it seemed like every 20 minutes the jackass rodeo commenced - usually somewhere in the vicinity of Mannywood. I’ve been to dozens of Dodger games over my 10 years in L.A., and I never remember seeing so many booze-fueled episodes in one night. But to be fair, perhaps it was only because I was really paying attention this time.
In defense of the Dodgers, there was a massive, uniformed security presence at the game - along with plentiful plain-clothed police officers. But there was so much security that you kind of said to yourself, is this a baseball game or Lakers postgame celebration? Three weeks ago I was at Yankees-Red Sox at Yankee Stadium and didn’t see nearly the security presence that I saw at Dodger Stadium.
The upturn in fan violence at Dodger Stadium has been well-chronicled over the past few years. Two murders and multiple stabbings since 2003 will do that. But there’s been no talk of a wholesale ban of bad acts being prevented from buying tickets to Dodger games in the future. In these rough economic times, it might be a little unrealistic to expect pro sports teams to start profiling ticket buyers. That said, if the off-field turbulence at Dodger Stadium gets much worse, the McCourts are going to do have to do something.
Of course, this sort of thing is nothing new to high profile pro soccer teams in Europe. For years, teams have made a practice of banning particularly unruly fans from games. Likewise UEFA-sponsored games and the World Cup.
FYI: Check out the number of Google search results you get from “football fans banned“.
So besides economics, what’s preventing MLB and other major league sports from doing the same?
First, fans aren’t nearly as organized in North America as they are in Europe, which is the way the N.A. leagues like it. And obviously we haven’t seen the profound level of violence at big league games stateside as we have at soccer matches around the world. But here’s the thing, if you were MLB or any other local pro sports league, shouldn’t you be doing what you can to head off that possibility now?
Soccer fans are routinely banned and suspended en masse from attending matches. Some are even restricted for life if their behavior warrants. Some North American clubs, most notably the NFL’s New England Patriots, have been aggressive in taking away season tickets from fans who engage in unseemly behavior. But the vast majority of teams have been laissez-faire when it comes to banning fans.
The IRISH TIMES recently noted sports have essentially become another religion in Europe.
North America isn’t far behind. We haven’t endured massive fan unrest at a game yet, but if teams like the Dodgers don’t start addressing the growing trend of violence at the ballpark, things could get uglier than we ever imagined. And fast.