The Visitors Section
We all love the college football environment. Getting in the stands, screaming at the opponents, you and your fellow (insert any school name here) fans all reviling in joy or misery together, united as one. Dressed from head to toe in your team’s colors, wearing your pride on your chest. Your team scores and you high five everyone around you because they are all as happy as you are. Camaraderie at its finest. This can be lost when football graduates to the upper level of the National Football League. Your team scores and you don’t even feel comfortable to clap because you are a lone island in your fandom. You are the visiting fan at an NFL stadium.
NFL Fan violence on the rise
I know for a fact I’m not the first person to think of this, probably not the first to write about it, but it’s a subject I think about a lot. Rival fan violence has always been a prevalent in all sports, and has been on the rise in the NFL. Yet there seems to be a simple way to help subdue some of the energy that opposing fans can have against each other. High school and college football and basketball, soccer around the globe including Major League Soccer, they have figured it out. It’s called the Visitors Section.
For a lot of sports, it’s commonplace to separate fans to help keep order and security, and to increase the fun of a game. Yet in the NFL, where fan on fan violence has increased over the last few years, there is no such thing as a visitor’s section. Fans of both teams are mixed together in lottery dependent on where a visiting fan was able to buy their ticket. Is it time for the NFL to look into this idea and possibly bring it to fruition? I say yes.
As a displaced fan, I am well versed in this subject. More times than not, I see my favorite team play not in their home stadium, but in stadiums across the country. I spend my time on primary and secondary ticket markets looking for tickets behind the away teams bench. I comb through social media trying to find other fans of my team who may be going to the game, asking what section they are sitting in. I consult the many team fan clubs to see if they have tailgating events or are planning on going to the game in a large group.
I do these things for two reasons. One, it’s always fun to hang out with kindred football spirits. Second, and more importantly, I do these things for safety. I’ve learned over the years that some stadiums are safer than others for away fans, however it only takes one person to ruin a long awaited, and expensive football experience. I have not spent what is usually hundreds of dollars for a ticket, parking, and food, only be yelled at, cussed, belittled, and possibly threatened. Sadly those things happen more often than not.
In Europe, violence among fans or “Football Hooliganism” became a major problem at soccer matches in the 1970’s – 1990’s. They used many tactics to curb this behavior, the two main ones being banning alcohol at your seats, and using an away section for visiting fans. Extra security is often placed between the sections or sometimes a fence is used to keep fans separated. These measures greatly reduced many of the issues we are facing here in the US in NFL stadiums. It only seems logical that if a visitors section works so well in those high charged, long standing rivalries in soccer and college football, it would work in the NFL too. Could you imagine the chaos it would cause if you mixed Alabama and Auburn fans at the same game? What about Florida and Florida State? Oklahoma and Texas? No thanks. Yet we think nothing of having fans of the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers, or Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49’ers randomly sitting together thinking all will be well.
Now I agree with the notion that we are all adults and should act accordingly. However, in 2012, the NFL averaged 23 ejections and 3 arrests per game. At one San Francisco 49’ers game in January 2013 against the Green Bay Packers, 92 fans were ejected from the game, 25 were arrested. While most NFL fans are not going to games looking to argue with people, there are always the extreme fans that go to far, taking their love and loyalty to their team to a level that causes disruption and sometimes leads to conflict with opposing fans. In my opinion, this is the number one reason to consider the visitors section.
Separate but equal
Physically separating the fans would automatically reduce the chances of undesirable interactions. Many teams have already added family sections where alcohol isn’t allowed and the area is patrolled more heavily by security. This has given a space where people can enjoy the game with less worry, knowing they have a somewhere set aside for them that have stronger regulations. Why not offer the same thing for away fans? Now I’m in no way saying NFL teams should have to cater to the visiting fans. I’m a Seattle Seahawks fan. I get home field advantage. Yet for teams who are having problems with security or with selling tickets, the visitors section is a great way for teams to promote a great game day experience for everyone and make a little money on top of it, especially for those teams who are geographically close to other teams in their division.
Home fans will always outnumber away fans. Teams will always prioritize home fans over visiting fans, as they should. I just truly believe that the notion of a visiting fan section is a great idea whose time has come. It could be fun for fans and financially beneficial for teams. If it can work to curb violence among fans in so many other sports, why not the NFL?