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Responses to the Problem of Spectator Violence in Stadiums

Your analysis of your local problem should give you a better understanding of the factors contributing to it. Once you have analyzed your local problem and established a baseline for measuring effectiveness, you should consider possible responses to address the problem.

The following responses provide ideas for addressing your particular stadium spectator violence problem. These strategies are drawn from a variety of research studies, analyses of past spectator violence incidents, and police reports. Several of these responses may be applicable to your community's problem. It is critical that you tailor responses to local circumstances, and that you can justify each response based on reliable analysis of your local conditions. In most cases, an effective strategy will involve implementing several different responses. Law enforcement responses alone are seldom effective in reducing or solving such a problem. Do not limit yourself to considering what police alone can do: carefully consider whether others in your community share responsibility for the problem and can help police better respond to it. In some cases, you may need to shift the responsibility to those who can implement more-effective responses. For example, it might be that redesigning sections of the stadium may be the most effective response. In such a circumstance, nonpolice public agencies and private organizations will have to do most of the work in carrying out the response. (For more detailed information on shifting and sharing responsibility, see Response Guide No. 3, Shifting and Sharing Responsibility for Public Safety Problems.)

General Considerations for an Effective Response Strategy

Before reviewing specific responses to spectator violence, we offer the following general considerations. These will help you develop and implement an effective response strategy.

If we have learned anything from the extreme accounts of spectator violence in Europe, it is that prevention is superior to the most effective response after fan violence begins. Most experts agree that strategies should emphasize prevention and never confrontation.63 Successful violence-reduction strategies in England have stressed deterrence and opportunity reduction.64

It is also important to note that recent findings on crowd behavior suggest that police will instigate or escalate violence if they treat large groups of people as homogenous entities. Assuming that all fans are potentially dangerous will lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy.65 Gatherings or crowds do not drive people mad or make them lose control. People at gatherings have a wide variety of personal agendas, and typically only a small minority of people are willing to engage in violent behaviors.66

After any stadium event, you should convene an after-action meeting that includes representatives of the police and other involved organizations. This will allow you to exchange information about what worked and what strategies should be modified. You can use this meeting to develop an after-action report. The after-action report should include qualitative information gathered in the meeting, as well as quantitative measures of spectator violence-prevention outcomes. You should then use this information to improve your local strategy for dealing with spectator violence in stadiums.

Specific Responses to Spectator Violence in Stadiums

The following are specific responses to spectator violence in stadiums. Some evaluation research studies directly examine the problem of spectator violence. Many of these analyses, however, report mixed results regarding the effectiveness of certain responses. And researchers have not evaluated most responses. For these reasons, many of the following responses are suggested because of their potential effectiveness for particular circumstances, rather than for proven effectiveness or widespread applicability. It is important that you continually evaluate your response to assess its impact in your particular community. To facilitate your analysis of your problem and strategy, the responses are organized based on the three elements of the spectator violence triangle introduced earlier in this guide: venue-, event-, and staff-related interventions.


1. Creating access barriers. It is necessary to prevent spectators from gaining access to backstage or performance areas, seating areas to which they are not assigned, and media rooms, and to prevent entrance of those who do not have tickets to the event. Some European countries have designed moats around soccer fields to prevent fans from interfering with game play; some have even placed crocodiles in these pits.67 Such extreme measures are generally unnecessary (or permissible) in the United States. Simple physical (e.g., gates, fences) and social (e.g., ushers, security) barriers are usually sufficient to prevent access to restricted locations. However, you should choose the locations and barrier types cautiously. An inappropriately placed barrier may encourage people to climb or sit on the railings, or people may use it as a weapon if it is not properly secured.

2. Providing adequate facilities and proper placement. Enough toilets should be made available to prevent long lines and disputes between distressed spectators. Event planners need to consider the number of expected attendees and the length of the event.68 Proper facility layout (e.g., restrooms available in multiple places around the arena) is also critical.69 Concentrations of restrooms, food and beverage vendors, or souvenir stands can result in massive crowds forming in small spaces and increase the likelihood of violence.

3. Strategically placing stages, sound equipment, and screens. Places where the action can be clearly seen and heard naturally draw people to them. Stadium personnel can strategically place stages, sound systems, and large video screens to control gatherings within the crowd.70 Multiple sound systems and video screens can help break up large crowds. At larger events, more screens and larger stages can help to discourage people from pushing toward the stage/through the field to get a better view.

4. Providing adequate and nearby parking. People who are forced to walk long distances to arrive at their mode of transportation may engage in destructive behaviors along the way; particularly after a highly charged event and if there is little management along the route to their destination. Multiple entry and exit points that lead spectators directly to their vehicles or other public transportation will help to reduce the likelihood of aggressive behavior.

5. Posting signs. For spectators, properly placed and visible signs can serve to inform (e.g., exit only), warn (e.g., sidewalk becomes slippery in inclement weather), instruct (e.g., only one beer per paying customer), and guide (e.g., restrooms behind snack bar).71 When used properly, signs can reduce the need for staff and can reduce conflict due to frustration or confusion. Signs should be easily readable and high enough that they can be seen over a crowd.

6. Changing venues for "high-risk" events. When the stakes are high, it may be beneficial to change locations or switch between locations until an event or series of events is completed.72 For football fans, the Super Bowl is typically played at an "away" stadium for both participating teams.73 This practice can discourage fans from rushing the field to celebrate victories or to act aggressively against members of the winning (or losing) team. Baseball fans take turns watching their teams play home games during the World Series to give fans equal access to the action (despite the travel costs associated with moving players and coaches between cities). This technique does not always prevent violence, as witnessed in the aftermath of the Red Sox victory in 2004.

7. Establishing processing and holding areas for spectators who are arrested or refuse to leave the premises. When police arrest violent fans or remove them from the stands, it is important to have a designated and secure area to separate them from the rest of the spectators. This can prevent them from provoking other crowd members while awaiting transportation.74 Stadiums hosting the NFL's Philadelphia Eagles and Baltimore Ravens have successfully used makeshift jail cells and courtrooms.75

8. Redesigning stadium features that facilitate violence. Some stadiums have been remodeled to include protective tunnels and seating areas for performers and officials. Others have created "family" enclosures to separate vulnerable populations from rowdy fans.76 Italian soccer stadiums have been fitted with Plexiglas barriers or fences to separate fans from the field and players.77 Other stadiums in Europe have separate seating areas for fans of opposing teams. You may consider structural changes to your stadium if your analysis finds that violence repeatedly occurs in a particular location there.

9. Providing sectioned and personal seating. It was mentioned previously that personal seating can reduce the likelihood of spectator violence. Personal seating can further reduce violence if the seating is segregated into well-defined areas. Breaking crowds down into smaller groups helps to facilitate crowd control.78 This seating arrangement can also help to facilitate quick isolation and removal of violent spectators, with minimal disruption to other spectators' experience.


10. Restricting alcohol sales. Most stadiums generally don't allow fans to bring their own alcohol to events. Still, some spectators will pay the high alcohol prices at U.S. stadium events and get drunk. To avoid problems associated with spectator intoxication, security should be positioned near alcohol vendors, should refuse entry and service to intoxicated spectators, and should establish a purchase limit.79 Complete bans are usually unnecessary, unless a particular event carries a long history of serious violence.80 The NBA recently issued guidelines limiting the size and number of beers that can be sold at games in an attempt to prevent spectator misconduct.81 Most stadiums have a one- or two-drink-per-customer policy and stop selling alcohol before the game ends (e.g., at the end of the seventh inning of a baseball game or the third quarter of a football game) to prevent intoxication and/or allow fans to sober up before leaving. Also, serving beer in plastic cups instead of glass containers and removing bottle caps can prevent drink containers from becoming weapons. See, in this series, the guides titled Assaults in and Around Bars and Underage Drinking for more strategies to reduce alcohol consumption.

11. Removing disruptive spectators. Fans may have a right to cheer and shout—certainly event promoters encourage such behavior—but more and more stadiums are prohibiting incessant heckling.82 Cincinnati Bengals fans can now call a hotline (381-JERK) on their cell phones to report aggressive spectators or those who use excessive foul language, and to request staff intervention.83 Removing and isolating aggressive spectators can prevent relatively minor incidents from escalating into more-serious forms of violence.

12. Refusing entrance to known troublemakers and inebriated spectators. Stadiums can ban spectators who engage in serious violence or disruptive behavior from the premises for the rest of the event, the rest of the season, or for life.84 Some stadiums routinely confiscate or suspend season tickets belonging to violent spectators.85 To prevent violent incidents, security should refuse entry to the stadium to known and potential troublemakers (e.g., highly intoxicated people).86 Students who have been ejected from University of Wisconsin-Madison football games have been required to pass a Breathalyzer test before being granted access to the college's stadium.87

Security checks of spectator's bags, pockets and jackets reduce the likelihood that potential weapons will be brought into stadiums.

Security checks of spectator's bags, pockets and jackets reduce the likelihood that potential weapons will be brought into stadiums. Credit: Michael Scott

13. Screening items brought into the stadium. The risk of serious injury can be lessened if security confiscates potential weapons from spectators before they enter the stadium. Few stadiums still allow beverages to be served in glass containers, but spectators can break and use their own beer bottles as weapons (or otherwise produce a safety hazard). Security should check spectators' bags, pockets, and jackets through hand searches (i.e., pat downs), metal detectors, or X-ray machines.88

14. Reducing situational instigators of violence. Reducing noise and heat levels can reduce the risk of spectator violence. However, you should identify and address other situational instigators. For instance, if students wear T-shirts bearing obscene messages, University of Maryland ushers will trade socially acceptable T-shirts for them. The university also prohibits the band from playing songs that encourage fans to shout vulgarities.89 Personnel should also plan for unexpected weather, such as thunderstorms that may send a crowd running for shelter and encourage conflicts.90

15. Controlling the dispersal process. Mass exodus from a venue sets the stage for crowded conditions and spectator violence. Postgame events, such as autograph signings, help to stagger the dispersal process. The University of Wisconsin marching band began performing a postgame show known as the Fifth Quarter. This performance attracts a significant number of fans and reduces the number of people leaving the stadium at the same time. Fifty percent or more of crowds attending Saturday night baseball games at Dolphin Stadium stay after the game to watch a free concert and fireworks.91 Strategic dispersal times (e.g., not during rush hour) may also help to prevent traffic congestion and related accidents.92

16. Requiring permits and adherence to entertainment ordinances. The permit review process can help to deny access to those wishing to hold potentially volatile events, or to put restrictions on these high-risk events.93 Permits may require adherence to noise-level requirements, demand a particular number of staff, or place restrictions on the number of attendees. Police may use entertainment ordinances to penalize event organizers or performers who fail to adhere to local permit laws and other city requirements.94

17. Advertising penalties for violent behavior. Media coverage and other campaigns aimed at educating both spectators and performers about sanctions associated with aggressive behavior may deter such behavior.95 Fans have been sentenced to jail and forced to pay fines for pouring beer on players. Players have been sanctioned for rough contact or overexuberant celebrations after scoring, either through fines or game penalties. Awareness of consequences may reduce incidents or the seriousness of incidents when they do occur. The University of Wisconsin ended body passing at football games in the 1970s by announcing on the PA system that this behavior could constitute fourth-degree sexual assault (groping of women) and making some arrests. In recent efforts to prevent trash-throwing at opposing players, the University of Alabama notified students that a first offense would result in losing ticket privileges to three consecutive games; a second offense would result in losing ticket privileges indefinitely for that particular sport; and a third offense would result in losing ticket privileges indefinitely for all sporting events.96

18. Encouraging marketing to gender- and age-diverse crowds. We have already discussed the fact that younger males are more likely to engage in violent behavior. In fact, most male spectators in Finland reported that they would watch (61.1%), encourage (4.7%), or join in (2.7%) if a fight broke out.97 Promoting the attendance of more "peacemakers" by portraying the event as a family experience may help to reduce the likelihood of spectator violence. As noted previously, this tactic proved successful for organizers of the Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix.98 Most sporting events provide continual entertainment (e.g., dancing mascots, synchronized clapping and singing, shooting T-shirts into the stands), leaving very little time that something interesting or entertaining isn't happening. This keeps fans continually occupied and makes what might otherwise be tedious events attractive to families with young children. So, even if you don't much care for the sport, the event is fun.


19. Establishing an effective command post. Interested parties should design a command post to quickly and efficiently relay information between various groups (e.g., police officers; medical, fire, and stadium personnel; event organizers).99 This control/command center will be most effective if it is centrally located and a representative from each group is present. It should also be secure from potential hazards (e.g., fires, riots).100 An experienced crowd observer placed in this centralized location can monitor camera images or directly view the crowd and spot potential threats before they become actual problems.101 Plainclothes officers can also pass along intelligence to the central command post and call for a uniformed presence, if necessary.102

20. Training staff to respond appropriately. No two crowds are exactly the same. Therefore, the tactics used to prevent spectator violence must be flexible. Police must understand spectator behavior to avoid pitting them against those who are working to maintain order.103 Proactive contact with spectators can help police to accomplish this task. Officers should recognize when to intervene and when just to let the crowd tire itself out.104 In addition, all staff must fully comprehend their responsibilities and be familiar with contingency plans if preventive efforts fail.105 Some departments and officers within departments have more experience and see the prevention of spectator violence as just another part of their everyday duties; others may require more extensive training.106 Practice exercises can help inexperienced staff better cope with extreme spectator aggression and help organizers identify problems with communication and staffing levels.107

21. Using different security "levels." You can use other staff, besides uniformed officers, to prevent spectator violence. You can train ushers or "stewards," vendors, medical personnel, other stadium personnel (e.g., janitors), and plainclothes "place managers" to control spectator behavior. Directions from nonuniformed personnel can reduce the tensions that the presence of many uniformed officers may instigate.108 Using other personnel can also reduce costs, since they tend to be paid less than sworn officers. Finally, using women or older staff as frontline personnel may display a less threatening security presence and reduce tensions between fans and security.

22. Increasing the visibility of security. While an overabundance of uniformed officers may not be necessary, some level of visibility can provide a deterrent effect. Some event organizers have prevented violence by positioning more uniformed officers at entrances (as a show of force) and decreasing their presence as people move into the event.109 Increased visibility may be particularly effective at high-risk events, but officers should remain cognizant of the effect their appearance may have on crowd behavior.110

While an overabundance of uniformed officers may not be necessary, some level of visibility can provide a deterrent effect.

While an overabundance of uniformed officers may not be necessary, some level of visibility can provide a deterrent effect. Credit: Michael Scott

23. Incorporating technology. CCTV (closed-circuit television) cameras and nonlethal weapons can be useful crowd-monitoring and control devices.111 Cameras reduce the number of personnel needed to monitor large crowds and direct personnel to places where assistance may be needed. Police can use nonlethal weapons to immobilize extremely violent spectators and reduce the likelihood of serious injury or death to the spectators and others nearby. However, "nonlethal" weapons can be deadly, as witnessed by Boston police who used pepper spray balls to subdue a crowd outside of Fenway Park. A 21-year-old college student was struck in the eye by a pepper ball and was killed.112 Use of nonlethal weapons requires specialized training, and police should use them only when other strategies have failed.

Cameras can reduce the number of persons needed to monitor large crowds and direct personnel to places where assistance may be needed.

Cameras can reduce the number of persons needed to monitor large crowds and direct personnel to places where assistance may be needed. Credit: Michael Scott

Responses With Limited Effectiveness

24. Relying on reactive tactics. Although it is outside the scope of this guide, it is necessary to develop a detailed contingency plan to respond to spectators or groups of spectators who become violent. However, these tactics will not prevent violence and can often serve to escalate negative situations.

25. Presenting extreme shows of force. While some police visibility can work as a deterrent to spectator violence, excessive shows of force can create a militaristic and highly hostile atmosphere. Police in riot gear with face shields and batons are usually not necessary to address officer safety concerns, and can stunt efforts to develop a positive rapport with event attendees.113

26. Segregating fans. Segregating fans from opposing teams has worked to reduce spectator violence in Europe.114 However, since North American game locations are more widespread, fewer "away" team fans usually attend games; thus special seating isn't normally justified.

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