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Fan Violence: Whos To Blame?

“These people want to hurt you. It’s frightening. You feel like you’re in a cage out there”. Reggie Smith, (Berger, 1990). Spectator violence at sporting events has been recorded throughout history. People who have power over the events, often team owners, indirectly influence the amount of spectator violence by encouraging the factors contributing to violence, in order to benefit themselves. Sale of alcohol, encouraging crowd intensity, creating rivalries, and targeting social groups, are factors affecting the degree of spectator violence and can be proven to be influenced by the owner’s actions. Therefore the blame for spectator violence can be attributed to whoever has power over the sport.


Many historians suggest that an increase in spectator violence coincides with the commercialization of sports. Anthropologists agree that in societies where games were not for profit, they were enjoyed as celebrations of physical skill without competitiveness or violence between players or spectators (Berger, 1990). However, when people gained power or financially from the sporting events, spectator violence increased (Berger, 1990). Public spectacles and games were part of the Roman Empire. Each emperor had an amphitheater and the size of the crowd reflected the emperor’s wealth or power. The emperor through crowd excitement could influence spectator violence to such an extent that gladiators could be killed or freed depending on the crowd’s effect on the emperor (Robinson, 1998). The emperor encouraged the Roman working class, “to forget their own suffering, by seeing others suffer,” while the senators, and emperor would benefit financially from gambling profits (Robinson, 1998).

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With the commercialization of sports, owners’ profits increased with alcohol sales. Beer drinking has been an integral part of sports since the late 1870’s. Chris van der Alie noticed that his saloon did well when St. Louis Brown Stockings were in town. As a result, he decided to sell beer at the games. On February 12, 1880, Alie signed a contract with the Browns allowing him to sell alcohol on their property (Johnson, 1988). During a game on July 6, 1881, the first alcohol related brawl broke out in the crowd, injuring twenty spectators and killing two (Johnson, 1998). The signed contract with the Browns’ was a financial bonus for the owner, however permitting alcohol to be sold, might have indirectly contributed to the injuries and deaths. Alcohol sales contribute financial support to teams. “Without beer companies as sponsors, the teams would have trouble making ends meet.” Bob Whitsitt, president of Seattle Supersonics, (Berger, 1990). The more alcohol consumed, the more revenue for the owners. During the 1987-1988 season the Cincinnati Reds sold 12,610 half-barrels and 35,365 cases of beer. The amount of beer consumed averages out to a pint for every man, woman, and child who attended the 81 games the team played at home (Johnson, 1988). The team’s owner benefited with a financial profit of over 1 million dollars.


Sponsorship or ownership of teams by alcohol manufacturers, increases the alcohol sales. The first major partnership of beer and baseball dates from the 1953 purchase of the Cardinals by August A. Busch, Jr., president of the Anheuser-Busch brewery (Johnson, 1988). In twenty-five years its’ sales soared from fewer than 6 million barrels a year to more than 35 million (Johnson, 1988). In addition to direct profit, alcohol also indirectly increases profit through increased attendance. In 1974, when the Cleveland Indians’ fan attendance was down, the owner implemented “Beer Night” where they sold beers for 10 cents at the first game of a three game series against the Texas Rangers (Berger, 1990). Attendance was up by 3500. The night turned out to be the first and last “Beer Night”. When a brawl occurred during the 5th inning, hundreds of Indian fans charged the field and beat up the Texas Ranger players. Seventy-six people were arrested. All were intoxicated (Berger, 1990). “There’s no question that the beer played a great part in the affair” (GM Eddie Robinson). Eddie Robinson did not apologize for the incident, and it took Lee MacPhail, president of American League to intervene and ban the beer nights (Johnson, 1988).


The rowdy behavior contributed by alcohol consumption often accompanies the throwing of beverage containers. Cups, bottles, and cans act as stimuli and provide a throwing opportunity. In 1988, Pete Rose of Cincinnati Reds was pelted with full cups of beer and whiskey bottles, when he stormed out of the dugout to dispute a call. “It was insane, many of the fans were throwing unopened beer cans” Pete Rose, (Johnson, 1988).


To restrain spectator violence, many agree with not selling alcohol at sporting events. “The selling of alcohol at sporting events should be banned” (Johnson, 1988). Other solutions have been implemented, such as limiting drinking to designated areas, selling low alcohol beer, and making it more difficult to buy. The solution of prohibiting alcohol at games was never implemented (Johnson, 1988) Alcohol sales increase revenue; profits keep the owners satisfied.


The owners to increase entertainment and increase attendance often promote other stimulants such as music, hearing obscenities, and aggressive play in the event or in the stands. Since sports are a source of entertainment, loud music and aggressive play in the event pump up the crowds, increasing the fans’ enthusiasm. Hearing obscenities can be contagious and escalate into more swearing, name calling and fighting. An obscene cheer starts with two fans, increases to eight and soon a whole section is vibrating to the pulse. If fans take exception to the obscenities individual fights break out building into group fights, as friends come to assist. Owners are often able to control the crowd’s involvement in the game with the type of music they play and how loud they control the volume (Robinson, 1998). An excited, participatory crowd heightens the atmosphere and increases future ticket sales, benefiting the owner. However, the same atmosphere can increase hostility leading to fan violence.
Basketball games attract anywhere from twenty to thirty thousand fans, whereas a gymnastic competition may attract a few hundred (Robinson, 1998). This is party due to the loud, exciting atmosphere at a basketball game. Goldstein did a study comparing crowd hostility before and after a basketball game to before and after a gymnastic competition. He proved that the hostility increased considerably for the basketball fans, and also discovered that hostility occurred no matter if the fan was rooting for the winning or the losing team (Robinson, 1998). Large sport events like basketball often use music to increase the crowd’s hostility and competitive awareness of the game. Owners often don’t realize at what point hostility turns to fan violence. This may have been the situation for Dan Goodenow, organizer of the 1988 Martin Luther King Classic basketball tournament where 5 fans were arrested, a man’s face slashed, and a police officer injured during a riot (Atyeo, 1979). Coaches and game officials blamed the rap group Public Enemy, who played before the game shouting obscenities, carrying plastic guns, and working up the crowd to an extent of raucous excitement (Chapman, 1988).


Owners or school leaders help create team rivalry by encouraging fans, through city or school patriotism, to support their team. With media support, owners use historical team rivalry, competitive stories, propaganda and team loyalty to promote high-ticket sales and increase profits. Excessive promotion of rivalry changes crowd cheers to jeers that can lead to violence. The most common rivalries are school rivalries. Starting as far back as 1899 the students of Colorado School of Mines and those of Colorado College would celebrate victory by using dynamite to blow up the rival’s goal posts (Taylor, 1992). During one game the presidents of the universities promoted the final game, as “The top college in Colorado will win” (Taylor, 1992). By game time, most students from both schools were there to cheer their teams on. When Colorado College was down their fans, frustrated by the score and the name-calling, stormed the field at half time where a riot broke out. When rivalry was claimed to be a factor it was no longer promoted, and violence diminished (Taylor, 1992). A similar example of rivalry leading to hostility occurred in the 1999 Red Feather game Banting vs. Westminster. To encourage attendance and raise money for charities both schools had pep rallies to pump up the students by using music, videos and chants. During half time the two schools emerged towards the center of the field taunting each other. The organizers of the rallies intent on boosting ticket sales inadvertently encouraged spectator violence.


There is an increase in violence following sporting events promoting rivalry as compared to regular promotion, as seen in professional boxing following a highly talked about match. The promoters in boxing do everything they can to make sure the matches turn out violent to satisfy the crowd. David C. Phillips a sociologist studied the rate of homicides following highly publicized heavyweight championship fights. The survey was done the 3 weeks following each of 18 highly publicized bouts from 1973-1978 compared to those bouts with normal publicity (Davidson, 1983). Phillips found that there were 193 more murders, in the surrounding areas, after the promoted fights as compared to the norms (Davidson, 1983). After the highly promoted Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier fight on October 1, 1975, the murder rate shot up thirty-two percent (Davidson, 1983). Phillips theory is “people see how violence is prized in the boxing ring and come to believe that violence outside the ring will also be rewarded” (Davidson, 1983). The rewards however, are the financial rewards to the owners, through increased ticket sales and media advertising.


Spectator violence may be parallel to violence in the society. For example in a violent society, play will be violent, whereas in a peaceful society play will be more peaceful. The make up of the social group contributes to the possibility of violence. Spectators can be divided into different social classes and the event advertised in areas where a particular social group is targeted for ticket sales. Often working class males are targeted, as their values and attitudes of aggressiveness, fearlessness and toughness are well suited to competitive sports (Bonney ; Giulianotti, 1994). They are likely to be the fans that are betting on the game or are there for the thrills (Berger, 1990). These fans are more likely to attend contact sporting events such as rugby and to be violent, compared to the upper class fans who analyze the game are more likely to attend a cricket match. In the sport soccer, hooligans who dominate the crowds are mainly males who generally act in rough, noisy behavior (Taylor, 1992). They have lawless fun, fighting spectators, throwing objects and vandalizing property. Most hooligans are from the working class. They have low ambitions, violent behavior and high stress levels (Bonney ; Giulianotti, 1994). They act out their frustrations, like the Roman working class, by attending sporting events where they loose their individualities. Fans in Glasgow, Scotland, trampled sixty-six persons to death when they tried to return to the stadium they had just left upon hearing that a last-minute goal had been scored. (Berger, 1982). “Hooliganism gives the organization of a team motivation with their traditional cheers and it builds the atmosphere which builds a team” Lesie Davis, management of Peru’s soccer organization (Taylor, 1992). Major soccer teams target this low-income social class because it brings atmosphere to the game and alcohol sales and profits increase (Shumacher, 1975).


In marketing ticket sales for most team sports, owners target males nineteen to forty-five. Sixty three percent of males and twenty percent of females in that age range are involved with sports whether they participate in them, or follow them (Oliver, 1971). Team owners often exclusively target males, resulting in an increase of ticket sales and merchandise. However, when males are bonded they often act violently emphasizing their masculinity, machismo, bravery and fighting skills (Tiger, 1970). Many teams in the American Baseball League in the 1970’s were having problems concerning fan violence, and found the main instigators were males. They changed the games to Sunday, traditionally a family day and encouraged female fans by admitting them free. With women and family present the men were less likely to loose their individuality and act violently as a group. The results for the next 5 years were positive as fan violence decreased by 30 percent (Berger, 1990).


By studying the occurrences, degrees, and causes of fan violence over history, owners are able to decrease the incidents of fan violence while maintaining profits and entertainment value of their organization. Slowly but effectively owners, teams, coaches and professional leagues are creating solutions to minimize fan violence. The American Baseball League, National Baseball League and the National Basketball Association participate in TEAM (Techniques for Effective Alcohol Management), which is a program for training everyone from vendors to ushers in handling people who have had too much to drink (Berger, 1982). Many of the NFL teams have moved their tailgate parties outside the stadium to eliminate the hostility caused by loud rock bands on the premises (Berger. 1990). Security cameras have been installed in many of the soccer stadiums and transportation centers to games, spotting the fans that cause the violence, and acting as deterrents for others. Controlled drinking areas, entrance controlled security checks, and increased visible security personnel are measures, which have helped to reduce fan violence in all sports. Most important, the owners need to be aware that some of their actions to benefit their organization have an indirect influence on the factors for fan violence.


References
Berger, G. (1990). Violence And Sports. New York: Library of Congress-in-Publication Data
Johnson, O. (1988 August 8). Sports and Suds. Sports Illustrated, pp. 70-72
Atyeo, D. (1979). Blood and Guts. New York: Paddington Press
Chapman, A. (1988, January 19). Violence Jeopardizes Tourney. Newsday, p. A4
Davidson, K. (1983, May 3). Study Links Boxing, Homicide. Newsday, p. A7
Berger, M. (1982). Sports Medicine. New York: Crowell
Hazelton, L. (1989, April-May). British Soccer: The Deadly Game. New York Times Magazine, pp. 40-43
Robinson, L. (1998). Crossing The Line. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart
Taylor, R. (1992, June 16). Football and its Fans. St. Martin’s Press, p. B3 <a href=”http://cbs.sportsline.com/u/baseball/bol/features/flashbacks/06_04_1974.html”>http://cbs.sportsline.com/u/baseball/bol/features/flashbacks/06_04_1974.html
Schumacher, E.F. (1975). Small is beautiful: Economics as if people mattered.New York: Harper and Row
Tiger, L. (1970). Men In Groups. New York: Vintage.

Bonney, N., & Giulianotti, R. (1994). Football Violence and Social Identity. New York: Routeledge
Oliver, C. (1971). High For The Game. New York: Morrow.

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