Teach me how to tailgate: Bills, NFL lay down the law
blog by Ben Tsujimoto • August 14, 2013 @ 10:03am
Appeasing all types of Buffalo Bills fans who roll into Ralph Wilson Stadium year after year isn’t an easy task. In fact, it’s probably impossible.
Think about it: young families, perhaps staunch Bills fans throughout their post-college years, want their children to experience fall football in Orchard Park, just as they did as youngsters with their parents.
The chance to share a memorable past-time—even if it’s glaring at Tom Brady in person rather than on TV, just like you did to Dan Marino—is a treasured experience for football-loving families.
Even though most are aware that sitting in the Rock Pile probably isn’t the wisest family decision, this breed of Bills fan would prefer not to be doused with Natty Light or have mostly unintelligible obscenities showered down from above for four quarters.
There’s another giant group of fans to accommodate too, however, and this gaggle embraces “rowdy.”
The (rather annoying) slogan that “Buffalo is a drinking town with a football problem” probably should never be used again, but there’s truth to it.
Legions of fans in their 20s or 30s—and in several cases beyond that—view Bills games as more than just football, a Sunday-long Southtowns party for seven days per year, an event that begins with groggily pulling up Zubaz pants at 8 a.m., raiding the freezer for all the grill-able meat in arms-reach and then plucking the 30-rack of Beer-30 before leaving the house chanting “Hey-ay-ay-ay!”
Understanding these two vastly different strands of Bills fans is intimately connected to the Bills and the NFL’s rather stringent “Fan Experience Enhancements,” which is a rather friendly way of saying “we’re cracking down.”
Thanks to WIVB’s Ed Drantch—via Twitter—we stumbled across the 11 new measures for 2013 home games.
128 Uniformed Erie County Sheriff – The additional 128 Sheriff Team Members will help provide a safer and more secure environment for all fans. The Bills Fan Code of Conduct will be proactively enforced by all Bills Team Members and there will be a noticeable increase in the visibility and security presence at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
What prompted this: Just watch this video to understand what security is dealing with. It’s not always pretty.
Buffalo.com take: It’s actually comforting to know that there’s this much of a police presence. Before this standard was implemented, Erie County only provided 85 to 90 deputies for Bills games, The Buffalo News’ Denise Jewell Gee reported. Shifting from 85 to well over 200 security enforcers should make a difference, even when it comes to corralling almost 74,000 fans.
New Security Perimeter Outside the Gate Entry Lines - This will help create a cleaner and safer environment for fans at the gate entry areas, and expedite entry into the stadium. Metal detection screening will still be utilized, and fans are always encouraged to arrive at the gates 60-90 minutes prior to kickoff for EASY ENTRY.
What prompted this: Last year’s death of a fan outside the perimeter of Ralph Wilson Stadium after a Thursday night game against Miami likely influenced this new rule.
There’s been considerable dialogue about what happens to fans after they’re kicked off stadium premises, and it’ll be worth watching to see if this measure prevents any further issues.
Buffalo.com take: Good move, Bills and NFL.
No Drinking or Smoking Permitted at Gate Entry Lines. This will help create a more comfortable atmosphere for fans entering the stadium and Team Members working the area, and create a cleaner and more efficient gate entry process. Ralph Wilson Stadium remains a No Smoking Facility.
What prompted this: This is logical—when fans are waiting in line to get into Ralph Wilson Stadium, they just want to get safely through the gates, and any impediments are annoying. No one likes waiting.
Buffalo.com take: Another smart choice. Some people just want to see Kiko Alonso warm up and would rather not inhale cigarette smoke at the rear of a slow-moving line.
No Binge Drinking Permitted in the Parking Lots (no kegs, funnels, glass bottles). We encourage fans to tailgate and enjoy the pregame atmosphere of game day in a responsible manner. We encourage fans to use cans or plastic cups.
What prompted this: If you’ve read any sort of literature on Bills fans in the last few years, you know that pre-, during and post-game arrests are increasingly significantly—and that’s the whole reason why these rules are being imposed to begin with.
Drinking is obviously central to the tailgate concept, but no one likes the guy or gal who gets belligerently drunk in Lot A and then conks out on the concrete long before 1 p.m. Don’t be that person.
Buffalo.com take: Good luck enforcing this one, but I feel a tiny amount of sympathy for the first group of fans to purchase and lug in a keg—only to have it confiscated. Sometimes it pays to read the rules.
New Orchard Park Open Container Law - Fans are not permitted to carry open containers with alcohol on the streets or sidewalks of Orchard Park. We encourage fans to tailgate responsibly.
What prompted this: Considerable discontent has arisen from this law—instituted in May—approved by the Town of Orchard Park board. Town residents feel persecuted because of the pre-game actions of Bills fans, and now rather large contingents will have to pay higher parking prices (an additional $10 to $15) in order to tailgate legally.
Buffalo.com take: Bummer for the OP residents that are affected by this change, but we’ll pay attention to how intensely this rule is enforced. To a certain degree, the magnitude of this is parallel to enforcing an open container law in Buffalo on St. Patrick’s Day.
New SEAT CUSHION POLICY: Seat cushions larger than 15” x 15” or contain arm rests, zippers, pockets, flaps or metal backs are not permitted.
What prompted this: The NFL is apparently wary of vast improvements in seat cushion technology. Time to curb the progress!
Buffalo.com take: Since when do seat cushions have pockets?
New BAG POLICY: Clear Bags smaller than 12” x 6” x 12” are permitted. One gallon clear plastic freezer bags are permitted. Small clutch bag approximately the size of a hand, with or without a handle or strap is permitted.
What prompted this: The NFL adopts loose airport regulations for bags. Okay, it just makes the checking process smoother at the gates. Seems a little Big Brother-ish, but I’d rather have to take in a clear bag than have a dangerous weapon sneak through security.
Buffalo.com take: I know female Bills fans have already become annoyed with this rule—that’s what I learned from JOY 96.1 this morning, at least—but seriously.
You don’t need to overdo the cosmetics in a purse anyhow, because Robert Woods is there to play football, not catch your eye and see you wink at him from 30 yards away.
New “Blue Team” Tailgate Patrol – The Bills have increased the number of Guest Services Team Members for the upcoming season and the Blue Team will roam the parking lots sharing Fan Code of Conduct messaging. In concert with new team partner Republic Services, the Blue Team will also distribute complimentary recycling and trash bags to tailgaters who will be encouraged to leave their bags at the foot of their tailgate area. Bills cleaning partner, Jani-King, will pick up these bags during the game for a cleaner, safer parking lot for fans leaving the stadium. This new recycling effort and cleaning program by the Bills and their fans also allows the Bills to be 100% landfill free.
What prompted this: People litter, and if you’ve driven around the stadium on Sunday evenings or early Monday mornings, the scene is that of an exploded dumpster. Any measure helps.
Buffalo.com take: Good. The Bills and the NFL are going even greener. Change the mentality one Miller Light can at a time. No bottles, remember. No one wants to end up on Milestrip with just three tires.
Here are the remaining rules, all of which are relatively minor (the one-space parking was enforced late last year, as I recall):
Parking Lot 5A and 5B Paved – Parking lots 5A and 5B have been paved with larger striped spaces for more tailgating space for fans. This creates a better tailgate atmosphere for fans and enhances the cleaning operation.
One-Car, One-Space Parking in All Stadium Lots – This parking plan will continue to improve the efficiency and safety of the parking operation and takes effect in all of the stadium parking lots for 2013.
New Bills Gameday Experience – The Bills Gameday Experience in the Healthy Zone Fieldhouse will include new complimentary fan photos each game, new kids and family interactive games, and new banners and graphics.
(All photos courtesy of former (and missed!) Buffalo.com photographer Leo Chan—see the full gallery of Bills fans before last year’s Thursday Night Footbal game vs. Miami here). Edit: Title was changed to add “NFL” because this is a collaborative move between the two and not solely instituted by the local organization).