Security at Sports Stadiums

Lots of sports stadiums have instituted Draconian new rules. Here are the rules for St. Louis Rams games:

Fans will be able to carry the following style and size bag, package, or container at stadium plaza areas, stadium gates, or when approaching queue lines of fans awaiting entry into the stadium:

  • Bags that are clear plastic, vinyl or PVC and do not exceed 12” x 6” x 12.” (Official NFL team logo clear plastic tote bags are available through club merchandise outlets or at, or
  • One-gallon clear plastic freezer bag (Ziploc bag or similar).
  • Small clutch bags, approximately the size of a hand, with or without a handle or strap, may be carried into the stadium along with one of the clear bag options.
  • An exception will be made for medically necessary items after proper inspection at a gate designated for this purpose.

Prohibited items include, but are not limited to: purses larger than a clutch bag, coolers, briefcases, backpacks, fanny packs, cinch bags, luggage of any kind, seat cushions, computer bags and camera bags or any bag larger than the permissible size.

Of course you’re supposed to think this is about terrorism. My guess is that this is to help protect the security of the profits at the concession stands.

Posted on August 12, 2013 at 6:29 AM56 Comments


Aspie August 12, 2013 6:36 AM

… security of the profits at the concession stands.

And neatly plausibly deniable. Reminds me of a phrase from The Fruit Palace by Charles Nicholl:

To conceal a big lie it is necessary to surround it with a lot of little truths.

Michael Strasser August 12, 2013 6:47 AM

We have has this kind of nonsense at Australian sports grounds for at least 3 years.

bickerdyke August 12, 2013 6:57 AM

Wow! Really clever.

These rules apply “when approaching queue lines of fans awaiting entry into the stadium”.

So there is a security checkpoint before you get through to the entrance security checkpoint?

Turtles all the way down.

Scot B August 12, 2013 6:58 AM

I think it might have to do more with the fact that sportmanship is gone with modern sports fans. Fans are getting shot, stabbed and beaten until nearly killed at major league games in some markets (remember Bryan Stow?).

Neil B August 12, 2013 7:10 AM

I agree totally. If these rules were really about terrorism, then they would worry when there are 10,000 people in line for security right before the game starts. It is ridiculous how many people get piled up at the gates when trying to get into the game. Of course everyone goes in at the same time and that does not help, but they new security makes things worse.

Skowlx August 12, 2013 7:12 AM

This is also in place in at least one college stadium. Penn State implemented similar rules this year.

Warren August 12, 2013 7:18 AM

Next thing you know, they’ll start expecting everyone to wear the same colour shirts, too! Or they’ll blast hypnotic music that makes everyone behave exactly the same way!!! Or, worst case scenario — when they play a simple series of five sounds, everyone will, exactly on cue, make a sound they have been programmed to believe is the right sound to make at that time……. the attendants won’t be people anymore, they’ll be trained seals. dadada da da-daaaaa…. arrrrffff!!

Darryl Daugherty August 12, 2013 7:26 AM

@bickerdyke – When it comes to security theater, it’s sheep all the way down.

Mike B August 12, 2013 7:26 AM

Everybody knows the best place to hide your food and alcohol is inside bulky winter clothing. Duh!

wumpus August 12, 2013 8:11 AM

In 1985 legendary Oriole fan (since inducted into the Oriole hall of fame) launched his [just banned] beer cooler onto the field, and left the stadium never to return again.

Looks like a steady progression of market segmentation. You can have whatever “gametime” experience you want. You just have to pay at ever increasing levels…

FP August 12, 2013 8:33 AM

And of course to protect the licensing revenue from the broadcast. If there were grainy, unsteady amateur videos with an unintelligible soundtrack on Youtube only hours after the game, who would spend $$$ on an ESPN subscription?

Adam August 12, 2013 8:38 AM

I got turned away from Universal studios for having cans of soda in my bag. Major security threat.

My cunning solution was to slip them into my pockets and go back through.

Why they bother annoying paying customers with such petty rules I don’t know. It might be more understandable if I was carrying fireworks, raw meat or a bbq.

Disney’s security seemed a lot more laid back, one of them even began to regale me with some interesting fact about the sugar in Dr Pepper prompted by the can in my bag.

PJ August 12, 2013 8:56 AM

I wonder if “diaper bags”: diapers, wipes, bottles, sippy cups, kid snacks, toys for distraction, spare kid clothes, etc, fall under the “medically necessary’ bit. It seems like banning all fans with kids under the age of 3 wouldn’t be that great for your revenues…

kingsnake August 12, 2013 8:59 AM

Bryan Stow was beaten in the parking lot after the Dodgers-Giants game, so the new “security” rules would have done nothing to protect him. Even it had been in the stadium, during the game, the “security” rules would not have protected him because “security” did not confiscate fists and feet at the gate.

The more they make attending games an endurance course of airport style probings, the fewer fans will go, the more revenue will sink, and the sport will deteriorate. Take your pick: “No Fun League” or “Numerous Felons League”. (Hey, maybe they would probe the players to keep them from rampaging through our streets?)

ChoppedBroccoli August 12, 2013 10:06 AM

I would imagine there is STRONG economic incentive for these stadiums to implement these policies. The harder it is to bring in food, clothing, water bottles, etc (think on the quantity for your whole family), the more likely you will be relying on the stadium for such amenities.

The one thing I hate about sports stadiums with evening games implementing these policies, is that it makes it darn near impossible to get off work and take your backpack/briefcase to the game directly.

Curby August 12, 2013 10:29 AM

Simple solution: don’t go.

This isn’t like using the Internet in the US and dealing with surveillance.
This isn’t like traveling quickly around the country and dealing with theatrics.

This is more like using Bluray discs to watch movies and dealing with their forced trailers and other baloney. It’s just one form of entertainment with (many) other avenues of access.

Don’t go.

anonymous woman August 12, 2013 10:31 AM

Clear plastic, or a bag as big as your hand? I’m guessing that this rule was written by a man who has never had a heavy period and wanted to carry “feminine hygiene products” with him.* How about a poor soul who wants to carry a spare adult diaper? I’m sure there’s a long list of things that aren’t the size of your hand an which you’d like to keep private. Do they make you turn out your pockets like the TSA?

This is a godsend to car prowlers, since people will be leaving more valuables in their parked cars.

*Yes, there are vending machines in the restroom. No, they are not always functional, nor do they carry the product anyone would want to use.

flasker August 12, 2013 10:45 AM

What if I put a non-see through 11.5” x 5.5” x 11.5” bag inside my clear plastic bag?

Paul August 12, 2013 11:10 AM

Don’t know if it will still work under the new rules, but here is how my daughter gets drink into the stadium. Go to Starbucks and get an empty cup (it helps to be a cute girl and ask a guy barista or v.v.). Fill cup with vodka or whatever. Put on lid. Go into stadium. They never look inside. In stadium, buy a soda and ice. Rum and coke. Mmm.

Kevin An Auditor August 12, 2013 11:14 AM

An exception has been made to the seat cushion rule for Lambeau Field, home of the Green Bay Packers. Insanity has its limits, (maybe). The vast majority of seats at Lambeau are metal benches. The stadium in northern Wisconsin is not enclosed. The Packers often make the playoffs (December and January), and the 10 coldest games in Packer history range from a high of 3 degrees F (-16C) to a low of -17 F (-27C) . Talk about freezing it off!The sole restriction is that the cushions cannot have zippers or Velcro (apparently, terrorists cannot sew). But that only proves that the posters pointing to economic incentives are correct.

I curious: Are there similar “security measures” at regular European matches?

Impossibly Stupid August 12, 2013 11:28 AM

How can this not lead to strip searches or other more invasive inspection? After all, you can put a backpack on under your shirt; done right, it can be made to look like a beer belly. To limit only what is visibly carried is exceptionally dumb.

Atanas Entchev August 12, 2013 11:38 AM

For the last few years security at the US Open (tennis) at Flushing Meadows prohibits backpacks with two straps, but ALLOWS backpacks with one strap. Strictly enforced.

Ken August 12, 2013 12:31 PM

RE: “Of course you’re supposed to think this is about terrorism. My guess is that this is to help protect the security of the profits at the concession stands.”

HEY, wait a minute?!?!?!

Doesn’t THAT make it much easier for a concessionaire to infect/poison more patrons with tainted “food”?!?!?!

. Who’s watching the concessionaires!?!?!?!?????

. Who’s watching those watchers??????

IF pro sports & colleges are implementing such rules I want to know how they’re performing background checks on their employees(assuming, that is, they even do background checks, which seems like a bad assumption).

That’s only fair and proper with full disclosure.

The implicit belief in NOT disclosing background check, or in not desiring to know that info, is that the local authority is automatically competent & has its employees under professional competent control. That there’s a pervasive built-in mindset for you that just ain’t so…..

Sky August 12, 2013 12:36 PM

In Italy, from at least 20 years ago, you could bring your own drinks into the soccer stadium. However, you couldn’t bring the bottle cap, just in case you thought about throwing it into the playing field. Of course, that measure did not stop some people from bringing in a scooter (!) and throw it from an upper seat level to the bottom one. Agents were known to hassle families (with all members busy holding open bottles) while the real bad people would just be let in because they were real trouble to deal with. Maybe it’s my background, but I’m not confident that that measure will do anything for safety or security.

kingsnake August 12, 2013 12:41 PM

I remember the scooter incident. Even better, they lit it on fire before tossing over the edge onto the lower deck …

John S August 12, 2013 12:54 PM

As it happens, a couple times per year I help sell beer at Candlestick Park (NFL San Francisco 49ers games) and just went through the new security implementation last Thursday.

Concessionaires are searched as the ticket holders are searched- wanded for metal items and their bags are inspected. They also are restricted to the same bag limits as ticket holders.

Seat cushions are a real sore point at Candlestick, especially for the older patrons.

No open containers, for example the above-suggested paper coffee cup, are permitted. Cans and glass are forbidden almost everywhere; broken glass is an obvious hazard, and full soda cans are handy missiles. The alcohol prohibition is 2-way: mostly they want the revenue, but the license to sell also requires that none be brought in, and that none leaves the licensed area.

I also attended a SF Giants game yesterday. We got the familiar quick check that our beverage containers were plastic and not glass, and ‘Enjoy the game’.

Guess which stadium will get our ticket money.

infrequent flyer August 12, 2013 1:00 PM


This scenario could also work at airports, inside the “secure zone”, where food vendors could pass the exploding bagel to an accomplice.

Daniel August 12, 2013 1:26 PM

Let’s not be so hard on the NFL. Fans willingly put up with this security nonsense. As soon as people start turning it off and tuning the NFL out, it will stop.

I have a lot less sympathy for the stance against the NFL than I do with the TSA. The NFL is a wholly discretionary activity, if you do not like it; don’t go. Flying is less optional.

EH August 12, 2013 1:55 PM

Scot B:
Fans are getting shot, stabbed and beaten until nearly killed at major league games in some markets.

A little bit of an exaggeration, don’t you think? Brian Stow is certainly an outlier for all sports, even when looking at Oakland Raiders home games.

KeithB August 12, 2013 2:43 PM

In 198X I went to a Bruce Springsteen concert. I went to the restroom, and a guy in a wheelchair was struggling to remove something from behind his back. He asked me for help, and fearing the worst, I went to help him. He pulled out a camera with a 300-400 mm lens. Boy, was I relieved!

paul August 12, 2013 2:52 PM

Those concession profits are crucial. No, seriously. It’s how the clubs themselves manage to lose money on paper but the holding companies and investors who own the clubs make out like bandits.

Movie Plot Terriblismz August 12, 2013 3:17 PM

This does seem more like preventing booze and food from coming in. Anybody who’s been to a game has gone to the bathroom and noticed empty mickeys of booze and plastic bags that held booze discarded everywhere since nobody wants to pay $8-10 for a beer like what it costs here.

A determined terrorist I imagine would just park car bombs in the parking lot and set them off after the game when it was a zoo of people. They could also mortar the stadium like the IRA did once from a volkswagan van to attack 10 Downing St.

They could also just get a job in maintenance, security or concession and spend months planting bombs and weapons. Game day they then hand them out to the rest of the militants who arrived as fans from a garbage cart.

Since terrorists are irrational nothing stopping them from loading up a truck of explosives and just ramming the doors full speed like they do in the middle east to take out hotels. There is a blockade to prevent this (feeble blockade) where I live, but nothing is protecting the rear loading dock. They could drive right up it, through the bay doors and through the basement in a van in a kamikaze attack.

A terrorist could climb the outside of the stadium at night with a rope to the roof and then have an associate pass him up weapons. Then camp up there and wait for the game to begin, and start picking people off from the roof. They already caught a reveller here who drunkenly climbed up to erect some silly banner. He was only caught because they were all completely drunk and yelling their faces off.

You could also dissemble a glock and hide it in your shoes so when forced to take them off they don’t notice anything obvious. Lot’s of shoes have metal eyelets, and whenever my boots/shoes have activated the metal wand they just lightly pat me down looking for a knife hidden there and let me go. They can’t be expected to use an xray machine to test your shoes for a hidden gun. Dress as a superfan to avoid profiling. Go to the bathroom, assemble the glock and then somehow take the security center room hostage (I noticed it was accessible where I live, because I look for security breaches). In fact a good way to get there, is to report a security incident or pretend you have a lost kid, and they take you to the security operations center.

Now with full control over that room either by killing everybody in it or taking them hostage have your bus or truck full of armed terrorists back up to the rear bay doors and pour into the stadium to take everybody hostage and activate the building security lockout, preventing anybody from escaping. Then cut the power. Totally ridiculous movie scenario, but technically feasible.

Since everybody in the stands is unarmed, they are at your mercy. I guess the gun nuts win this scenario.

John Hritz August 12, 2013 3:22 PM

“As an alternative for guests that have no other option, stadiums are encouraged to consider providing the opportunity to temporarily check non-compliant bags at a facility located well outside the bag-restricted area.”

This suggests strongly that the policy is more about contraband food and drink than it is about a terrorist threat.

GG August 12, 2013 3:22 PM

This looks like simple cost cutting. They can save money on bag screeners by convincing fans to keep their bags at home.

I stopped paying attention to big time sports events 10 years ago. I mean, it’s about as real as the WWE with all the doping. I guess the main difference is, unlike with the WWE, the guys running the show don’t actually know who is going to win before hand. But whatever. If fans want to pay $$$ to be subjected to this, let them.

RE: the TSA. Yeah, largely true. To the extent that air travel is discretionary (e.g. family vacations), and other options are available (take a cruise from a local point of departure, drive somewhere, go on a bike tour, just friggin stay home), folks can somewhat avoid the TSA. And of course, if you want to avoid the NSA, you have to completely unplug yourself and it’s pretty much a non-starter.

John S August 12, 2013 4:27 PM

@gg “This looks like simple cost cutting. They can save money on bag screeners by convincing fans to keep their bags at home.”

Not really; fewer bags means faster line processing, but each entry gate still requires the wanding, which actually increases staff requirements, since many women sensibly prefer their search to be conducted by another woman. Minimum-wage stadium security jobs seem to catch males about 2-1, in my experience; I’ve done temporary music venue ‘security’ staff for the last 12 summers.

Eric Black August 12, 2013 4:44 PM

Of course the real target would be crowd as it is exiting. People are much more densely packed then they are inside the stadium.

Dirk Praet August 12, 2013 7:14 PM

So is there by any chance ANY credible prior works, intel or even suspicion that “terrorists” would now be targeting US sports stadiums ? If not, would it require a quantum leap of faith to assume that this has nothing to do with terrorism at all but again only serves the hidden agenda of a privileged few ?

jdgalt August 12, 2013 8:42 PM

Fan violence does exist and is a shame; much worse in other countries. Even with cameras watching everyone in stadiums, a few fools can ruin things for everyone if we let them. But it seems to me that the sort of “security” this new rule represents makes the problem worse, not better, just as TSA airport searches kill many more people (by getting them to drive rather than fly) than they save.

What it convinces me to do is to watch the game from my favorite sports bar, at least until they, too, start searching fans at the door.

I rather doubt that most of the public are really that worried about terrorism, and that’s good: we shouldn’t be. I suspect the real driving force behind such policies on the part of private venues is the fear of being sued for their eyeteeth if anything at all does happen. The lawyers’ kid needs a new pair of shoes, so now THEY are ruining things for everybody…

Paul August 12, 2013 9:25 PM

I fully expect to NOT see a study of the correlated increase in parking lot THEFTS from automobiles now rife with “hidden” forgotten purses and bags with valuables in them. Externality for the sports teams and stadiums, likely to be ignored.

Chris August 12, 2013 10:18 PM

Most stadiums (well I know for a fact Arizona Diamondbacks and Minnesota Twins do this) allow you to bring in as much food as you want to the games. And water too, if it’s in unopened bottles. And juice boxes for the kids. No need to hide it from the gate agent. Read the fine print on the team’s website, it’s right there.

John S August 12, 2013 11:18 PM

@ Chris “Most stadiums (well I know for a fact Arizona Diamondbacks and Minnesota Twins do this) allow you to bring in as much food as you want to the games. And water too, if it’s in unopened bottles. And juice boxes for the kids.”

I think it’s a matter of scale, or perhaps ‘expected impact’; you point out the (IMO) far more sensible policies of baseball teams. I suspect it is ‘easier’ to annoy 70-80,000 ticket holders 8-10 times per year (NFL home dates) than 35-40,000 ticket holders 82 or more times per year (MLB home dates). Somehow I doubt the more liberal policies of MLB will be with us much longer – NFL-like restrictions have been applied for MLB playoff games, at the direction of the leagues; extending that to the regular season is just a matter of time, I fear.

Carlos August 13, 2013 4:58 AM

“I got turned away from Universal studios for having cans of soda in my bag. Major security threat.
My cunning solution was to slip them into my pockets and go back through.”

I’ve done that a few times to bring water aboard planes(*)… The first few times because I forgot I had a bottle in the jacket pocket but eventually figured it works pretty much every time.

(*) Low cost airlines (I’m looking at you EasyJet!) don’t even serve free water, if you don’t bring it with you, you have to pay for it.

Sohrab August 13, 2013 6:35 AM

For the point of argument, if one was to seriously plan on damaging a sports stadium and had a long-enough period of time to plot, the thing to do would be to sign on as maintenance staff and start weakening the structure in ways that would take a lot of looking to find. You also get more than one bird with that stone – the building owners get discredited and (potentially) bankrupted, the building inspectors – such as they are – get discredited, and the hospitals are filled while the anger of the victims and their families is left with no target.

A much harder blow than a mere bombing.

Need I point out that this is the state of the infrastructure in much of the US? We know the reason. I can’t see why the Pentagon hasn’t bombed America back into the Stone Age. I just don’t get it.

The Continental Op August 13, 2013 10:50 AM

Football is the opiate of the masses. The fans will put up with anything for a hit.

azastrow August 13, 2013 12:35 PM

I live near Michigan Stadium – seats 109, 901. On game day, it’s usually full up, plus at least another thousand working the event inside the venue.

Myself, I’ll be outside, participating in the great American dream of owning my own mini-parking lot. That’s why I pay close attention to the ever constricting list of what they allow people to take in. They busted one of my parkers with an unopened can of Diet Coke. They made another one carry a cell phone case back to the car if he wanted to keep it. Some of my season people leave their keys, because there’s no telling if the Swiss Army knife or mini multi-tool on their keyring will be considered a weapon at the gate or not. Much depends on the person doing the checking.

This year’s list of ok items is: foam seat pads, small non-pocket seat cushions without zippers or storage slots, binoculars (no cases!), cell phones, pagers, small cameras (lens shorter than 6 inches), radios, blankets and rain apparel (no umbrellas).

The following are specifically prohibited (and they’re serious about “all”):
All bags (including purses)
All bottles (including all types of water bottles)
Seat cushions containing any type of metal or those with pockets, zippers, storage slots, seat backs, arm rests, or attachments of any kind
Containers of any kind (including coolers, thermoses, cups, cans, flasks)
Aerosol and spray cans
Flags and flagpoles
Alcoholic beverages
Food of any kind
Apparel or signage displaying profane or abusive language
Video cameras and tripods
Projectile toys (including footballs, Frisbees and beach balls)

[List from Safety at Michigan Stadium.]

Dan August 15, 2013 6:54 AM

Just got season tickets for New England Patriots. Included was a 8 inch square clear plastic bag that must be used to carry any personal items into the stadium. They also included a large list of items that can not be brought in.

Chelloveck August 20, 2013 1:36 PM

I was at the Rams’ stadium (Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis) in April for the FIRST Robotics championship. Security was really weird. The main spectator entrance had people going through bags, and a single dog kind of standing off to the side. What were they looking for? It’s a robotics competition, for crying out loud! 90% of the “spectators” were also participants. Weapons? No, lots of people had tools and such that could be considered dangerous. Outside food? No, we openly carried box lunches from outside vendors into the arena. Drugs? Maybe, but the cursory glance made into bags would only uncover the dumbest of users, and I have my doubts that the one dog on hand was sufficient to cover the entire entrance.

The back entrance (which was also open to the public, and did I already mention that 90% of the spectators were also participants?) had no search.

The best I can think is that “security” is a union job, and the union requires it to be staffed even when there’s nothing the arena’s interested in looking for.

Clive Robinson August 20, 2013 4:08 PM

@ Chelloveck,

It might as you say have been a “union” issue but my money would be more a “reduced insurance cost” issue.

In some respects business insurance is just like home insurance, you get a discount for having a five lever mortice lock on your front door. But the policy says nothing about windows / back door / home to garage door etc etc.

Mike Stone April 15, 2015 3:30 AM

Maybe security theater at sports stadiums is a good idea for reasons other than preventing “terrorism.” Last week in Las Vegas some nut blew his brains out in front of hundreds of people at a casino buffet. Certainly everyone who was there, and everyone who heard about the incident, was emotionally traumatized. Do you really want someone, say a disgruntled New York Knicks season ticket holder, doing the same thing at midcourt at Madison Square Garden? I think not.

And sports venues are privately operated, Fourth Amendment probably not applicable, people are free to not patronize the venue.

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