How Do Sports Teams Enforce Lifetime Bans Against Naughty Spectators?

Answers to your questions about the news.
April 12 2012 6:16 PM

One, Two, Three Streaks, You’re Out

Do baseball teams really enforce "lifetime bans" against unruly spectators?

A Los Angeles Police Department officer at Dodger Stadium
A Los Angeles Police Department officer at Dodger Stadium

Photograph by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images.

A man wearing batman underwear and a cape ran onto the field at Baltimore's Camden Yards during last Friday's opening game, and a second man invaded the field on Tuesday. Both were subsequently banned from the stadium for life. Dozens of other fans have been prohibited from entering sports arenas nationwide for similar acts over the years. How are such bans enforced?

They're not. Stadium security personnel are tight-lipped about their procedures, but people in the industry say that little is done to prevent banned spectators from entering U.S. arenas. Some teams may stop rule-breakers from buying tickets online, but that wouldn’t interfere with their acquiring tickets through friends or scalpers and entering the stadium anonymously. A "lifetime ban" simply makes it easier to prosecute a repeat offender. The team wouldn’t have to prove that the suspect instigated a fight or threw something on the field, because his mere presence in the stadium would constitute trespassing.

Stadium security is tighter across the pond, where officials are less worried about batman-caped streakers than they are about rioting, hooliganism, and racial abuse of athletes. Governments and sports governing bodies have issued detailed guidelines on venue security, and stadium owners are strictly liable to the teams for any losses that result from security breaches. In 2007, the Italian government ordered several teams to play their games in empty stadiums until they complied with security requirements. Fans are typically asked to produce identification that matches bar-coded information on their tickets as they enter the stadium. Scalping tickets outside the venue is banned for security reasons, and the rule tends to be strictly enforced.

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A handful of European stadiums have deployed newer video technologies to keep out banned spectators. Parking lot entrances provide the first line of defense, with cameras set up to screen license plates in real time. Digital cameras mounted at the turnstiles, paired with facial recognition software, can identify banned spectators as they enter the stadium proper. If security misses a trespasser at the gate, they may be able to get him at his seat. It only takes 10 to 12 high-tech cameras to monitor a 50,000-seat stadium with sufficient resolution to identify individual spectators with reasonable reliability. Of course, it’s easy enough to defeat the facial recognition analysis with a pair of sunglasses and a baseball cap. Stadium owners who are really serious about barring miscreants, however, force spectators to remove such accessories as they pass through the gate. The process isn’t 100 percent effective, but violators are caught with some regularity.

Similar security measures are fairly common in U.S. casinos, which use facial recognition to keep notorious card-counters from the tables. Most American stadiums, however, are still using older surveillance technology with limited resolution at the gates and in the stands. These cameras are good enough to detect a fight, and they can be manually zoomed in to identify individual perpetrators. But few stadiums have enough of these pan tilt zoom cameras to use facial recognition software across the entire seating area.

Got a question about today’s news? Ask the Explainer.

Explainer thanks Keith Marett of Avigilon and James A. McGee of the National Center for Spectator Sports Safety and Security at the University of Southern Mississippi.

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Brian Palmer writes about science, medicine, and the environment for Slate and the Natural Resources Defense Council. Email him at explainerbrian@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter.

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