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Tailgating cut short at Soldier Field

August 6, 2008 3:01:22 PM PDT
The Bears' first preseason game of 2008 takes place Thursday night. And fans who like to get close to the action - but not exactly inside the stadium - will be out of luck because of a new crackdown on tailgating.

The Bears say they are following up on an NFL directive to improve the fans' experience of the game, a challenge put forth league-wide by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. In an e-mail sent to season ticket holders, the Bears outlined new policies that will be in place to curb what they call "unbearable" behavior at games. Key among them: you won't be allowed to party in the parking lots during the game.

Neither rain nor sleet nor brutal lakefront winds stop Bears diehards from showing up early and carrying on well past the final whistle.

But the Chicago Bears want the lots cleared of people - especially those who have no intention to attend the football game inside Soldier Field -- during games. The club is striking new "event services teams" to monitor inside and outside the stadium for violations of the team's code of conduct for fans, "while proactively addressing potential problems that may hinder the fan experience."

Tailgating during games may result in the loss of valuable parking passes or the right to buy season tickets. At the Bird's Nest bar, where tailgating parties have started and finished on game days for a decade, the change is not welcome

"I have gone into the games. I have had numerous people who have, you know, don't have tickets, or, you know, they sit down, keep the grill going for after the game. So we come back and don't have to sit in traffic," said Kip Koppers, Bears fan.

But the NFL says too many fans experience nightmarish situations in the stands. And the league has instituted a new fan conduct policy that puts the onus on teams rooting out trouble-makers. It's a move in line with the commissioner's desire to maintain trust with fans - an approach that has seen Goodell deal out tough punishment for NFL rule breakers, such as Michael Vick, and Bill Belichick, coach of the New England Patriots, both of whom were judged to have damaged the league with their actions.

"Look, it is only a couple of guys on the field who spoil it for all the NFL players and give the players a bad name. And there is only a handful of fans that are creating that negative experience on site. But it impacts the fans that have been tailgating for 30 years that haven't created problems, and they are the ones that ultimately suffer," said Wally Heyward, sports marketing specialist.

"To completely eliminate it, I think you are taking away a big part of what tradition, football, tailgating, the whole thing is," said Brent Khazei, football fan.

Now what if someone doesn't want to leave that experience? The Chicago Park District runs the parking lots for Soldier Field, and they have a private security firm that will presumably enforce the new rules. But this is public space, and the Chicago police say it is unclear if someone can be ejected from that space if they are not breaking the law. And as of now, the police have no plans to enforce the no-tailgating-during-games rule.


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