While Tailgate-gate has attracted most of the attention, the Texans’ efforts to manage the area around Reliant Stadium represent only the most visible element of the NFL’s high-priority initiative to dial back the rating of a pro football Sunday from a rollicking R to a family-friendly PG.
Commissioner Roger Goodell’s two-year-old fan conduct code also includes limiting alcohol service and setting up text-messaging systems for fans to report unruly behavior to stadium officials, who are equipped with computer terminals and closed-circuit cameras to help spot and eject potential troublemakers.
The goal, according to Jeffrey Miller, a former Pennsylvania state police commissioner who directs the NFL’s strategic security programs, is to ensure that the league remains a family-friendly entertainment option.
“When people go to a grocery store, they don’t throw things or hurl obscenities,” Miller said. “And when they come to a pro football game, there also is a standard of behavior that is acceptable there.
“We were getting to the point where people were starting to think there was a frat house environment at NFL games, and that is not where we are as a league. Our fans don’t want that, either.”
Testing the team’s policy
The Texans promote their fan conduct policy, which was instituted in 2002, as a forerunner of the league-wide policy. It, however, is being tested and refined as the Texans make their long-awaited transition from mediocre also-rans to playoff contenders.
After an estimated 20,000 fans without tickets crowded into parking lots during the Cowboys game Sept. 26, the Texans last week said that only game ticket holders and fans who purchased a $10 tailgating ticket will be admitted into Reliant’s lots for the Sunday game against the New York Giants.
“I think it will be a better experience for our patrons,” said the Texans’ John Schriever, vice president for ticketing and event services. “Parking should be easier, and we will have fewer fan behavior issues.”
The question is whether the buzz of the Texans’ first two home games will survive the crackdown that was generated by fans without tickets who want to be part of the game by being part of the party.
“I’ve talked to a lot of other tailgating groups, and I have not talked to a single person who likes this idea,” said Glen Miller, a member of the Raging Bull Tailgaters crew. “I’ve seen a lot of crazy stuff happen around this team, but this has stirred up more than anything.”
Miller, however, still expects several hundred people to visit the Raging Bull tent south of Reliant Stadium on Sunday, and he acknowledged that some will be encouraged “by the fact that everybody and their grandmother can’t show up any more.”
The Texans as of Wednesday had sold 1,800 of the 2,000 tailgating tickets to season ticket holders, and Schriever said more tickets will be made available if necessary.
About 10 percent of the tickets, according to one ticket broker, had found their way to the secondary market, where they were selling Wednesday for about $20 each. Some fans, however, have placed tailgate tickets on eBay with asking prices of $50 or more per ticket.
Schriever said the Texans will have about 100 extra employees on hand Sunday to monitor cars and foot traffic at parking lot entrances to ensure that everyone entering the lot has a game ticket or tailgate ticket. A parking pass alone, he said, is not sufficient for admission.
On the bandwagon
The Texans are optimistic that limited access will be the answer to the deluge of unticketed fans who crowded into the lots for the games against Indianapolis and Dallas. The league’s Miller said it was not aware of similar problems in any other NFL city.
Zapalac, a professor at Sam Houston State University who has contributed to the Journal of Sports Behavior, said crowds at Texans games have been swelled by bandwagon-jumpers and fueled, in some cases, by alcohol and easy access to the Reliant Park tailgate lots.
“Some people like to roam around and get free beer. You and I both know that,” Zapalac said. “That can be a tough situation.
“When you’ve got an investment in the game, you’re going to be less likely to do something to put yourself at risk of being thrown off the lot. It’s those people who don’t have a ticket who are a higher risk. They don’t have anything invested.”
Through 62 games this season, the NFL reports that 605 fans have been arrested inside and outside of its stadiums, an average of about 10 per game, and that 2,415 fans have been ejected, about 38 per game.
Those numbers are on par with 2009 figures, a league spokesman said. The Texans would not disclose figures on arrests or ejections, but Schriever said officials receive about 50 to 75 text messages each game to report bad behavior, spills, sanitation issues and other problems.
Elsewhere, however, some games have exceeded the league average by a considerable margin.
Twenty people were arrested and 49 ejected from the stadium during the Raiders-Cardinals game Sept. 26 in Glendale, Ariz. Fourteen arrests were for juvenile liquor violations, police said, and most of the ejections were for public intoxication.
If Texans fans are shut out by the new restrictions, they are welcome, for $20 per parking space, to camp out Sunday at the former Astroworld site across Interstate 610 to the south of Reliant Park.
Kent Maree of Front Row Parking, which has leased the space for Reliant Park parking, said his lot will open at 7 a.m. and close at 7 p.m. Tailgating will be allowed, but Maree said he will not allow open flames or glass containers.
Astroworld site defended
“My main point is to give the family man a place to come out, throw the football around, meet folks and have a nice time,” he said.
Maree said 8,000 to 10,000 people have used his lot at each of the first two home games.
Texans officials, however, have cited the overflow from the Astroworld lot as one of the reasons for the glut of tailgaters on the Reliant lot two weeks ago.
“I’m not trying to be a thorn in the Texans’ side. That’s not my point,” Maree said. “I don’t want to be the bad guy. I just want people to come out and have a good time.”
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