Despite the freewheeling, rowdy reputation of NFL crowds, the Minnesota Vikings keep a tight rein on what happens in the purple seats at U.S. Bank Stadium. For unruly fans, it’s one and out.
“We’re not giving somebody three to four chances. If we have to come back a second time, you’re really annoying people,” said Kim Klawiter, director of security for the Vikings, who begin their home season Sept. 8 against the Atlanta Falcons.
Those ejected from a Vikings game risk losing their season tickets and may have to pay the NFL $250 for an online alcohol awareness course to get back in. And the Vikings know who their fans are: About 90% of the seats, or roughly 60,000, at U.S. Bank Stadium belong to season-ticket holders.
The Vikings aren’t alone in bouncing bad fans or even barring them from venues. The newest team in town, Major League Soccer’s Minnesota United FC, has the most detailed code of conduct of all the pro teams in the Twin Cities, with multiple offense levels and penalties escalating to a criminal trespass violation and an outright ban.
Other conduct codes in town leave some room for discretion. For the Minnesota Twins, the guidelines generally amount to common sense.
“It’s not as cut and dry because every circumstance is different,” said Matt Hoy, the Twins’ senior vice president for operations.
Getting a beer buzz is fine; repeatedly spilling beer on a neighbor is not. Rooting for your team is good; yelling obscenities is not. Catching an errant ball is cool; throwing a ball, or worse, throwing it on the field, is not. Fighting will result in immediate removal and, most likely, a long-term ban.
In January, the Twins hired their first full-time director of security, Jeff Beahen. The team has a behavior code on its website. But Twins executives and security staffers say the number of troublemakers during the season is small compared to overall attendance. The Twins have 81 home games and draw roughly 2 million fans a season to Target Field.
Hoy said that every year, thousands of fans get warnings about their behavior. Those who continue to flout the rules or behave egregiously will get ejected — something that happens about 100 times a season, he said.
The worst violators receive a trespass notice and a one-year ban from Target Field, a drastic measure that team officials said is taken only when a fan acts “in an extraordinarily unfavorable way.” If they return to the ballpark, they can be arrested and charged with criminal trespassing. So far this year, seven fans have been given trespass notices at Twins games, a typical rate, Hoy said.
One ejected fan sued
In August 2018, the Twins banned Jason Gabbert of Plymouth from the ballpark, claiming he had violated the Twins’ code of conduct for guests with his overly aggressive behavior in chasing down foul balls in the stands. The Twins allege incidents included physical altercations.
Gabbert sued the Twins in Hennepin County District Court over the ban. But a judge dismissed his lawsuit with prejudice, meaning he could not refile.
United has played only 20 games so far in its new 19,000-seat stadium, Allianz Field in St. Paul. United’s code is by far the most detailed in explaining categories of infractions and what penalties they will yield. For example, anyone who commits two “level two” offenses, such as refusing to return the ball to play, excessive drinking or refusing to follow directions, must complete an online Fan Code of Conduct Education Course before being allowed to return. A third offense leads to a one-year ban.
Level one offenses are more serious and require the fan take the online course and face a ban of six months to a year on the first offense.
The Vikings play eight home games during the regular season and usually sell out all 66,655 seats at U.S. Bank Stadium. That’s a total attendance of about 533,240 per season. On average, the Vikings ask two to three unruly fans to leave each game.
“Some weeks we have none,” Klawiter said.
In a typical season, he said, a few fans are arrested and physically escorted from a game, usually for fighting or intoxication. Fans who are ejected must take a $250 online alcohol awareness class through the NFL before they can return to the stadium. Klawiter, who has been with the Vikings for nearly two decades, knows the numbers because he has to file a detailed security report with the NFL after every home game.
The Vikings’ code of conduct requires fans to act responsibly and maintain a “family-oriented atmosphere.” Serious transgressions include getting drunk, throwing items of any kind and wearing obscene clothing. But fans can also get in trouble for standing in the aisles, harassing visiting fans and failing to follow instructions from stadium staff.
If someone other than the season-ticket holder uses the tickets and gets in trouble, the Vikings warn the ticket holders that another infraction could result in the loss of their tickets — without a refund. That hasn’t happened in recent history.
“To be blunt, it’s a brand-new stadium, a new experience, so people are pretty much using their tickets,” Klawiter said.
At Target Center, where the Timberwolves play 41 games and draw about 600,000 fans per season, Ted Johnson said he didn’t recall ever having to ban a fan in his 16 years there. A fan may be removed from a game perhaps once a season, said Johnson, the team’s chief strategy officer.
The NBA requires its fan code of conduct to be posted at every entrance point and on the center-hung scoreboard during games, he said. Every team has multiple layers of security, and visiting NBA teams come with their own security.
“In our venue, the team bench is so close to fans, the team security are really empowered,” Johnson said.
In Major League Baseball, only a few major market teams travel with their own security. Otherwise, trained off-duty Minneapolis police officers are assigned to guard visiting teams.
Off-duty Minneapolis police play significant roles at all the city’s venues. The Vikings hire about 100 off-duty officers to work games, Klawiter said. The Twins bring in about 20 as well as 85 retired law enforcement and corrections officers who are trained by the team.
Not only that, ushers and ticket-takers are trained in spotting trouble. The Twins have about 300 keeping their eyes peeled at every game; the Vikings have roughly 700.
While new and renovated sports complexes employ much high-tech surveillance technology, the best solution for fans experiencing a problem is old school: flagging down one of the ushers, which Johnson calls “the first line of defense.”
The other option is to text team officials on the number provided at the venue.
“One unruly fan can affect up to 60 people around them,” Klawiter said.
Degrees of misbehavior
Fans headed to Saturday’s preseason came at U.S. Bank Stadium had mixed views on the policy.
“Keeping someone out for a whole season if they’re inebriated seems harsh, but maybe it will teach them a lesson,” said Jim Hayes of Lakeville.
The guidelines need to be made clear, said Chad Buchman of Phoenix. “Dropping a couple of F bombs shouldn’t be the same as getting into an altercation,” he said.
Brian Freeberg, who was tailgating with a 32-ounce cup of rum and Coke outside the stadium, thinks the Vikings should consider a family section similar to the one the Twins have if they’re concerned about rowdy fans.
“After four or five drinks, I’m a better fan,” said the 12-year season-ticket holder. “The more alcohol you drink, the louder you get, but that doesn’t mean you’re being obnoxious. People should get a warning first.”