photo from Amazon.com

May 13, 2016

By Eric Flatness

When we first began to hear rumblings of a new MLS-wide bag policy last month, the reactions to it were nearly universally negative, as moves to limit customer choice always are. Council refrained to make a statement on the matter then, and more discussion is needed before an Alliance-wide statement-of-record could potentially be made. But before this issue is forgotten and accepted, this piece needed to be “said:”

The Sounders fanbase is a diverse one, with many unique gameday rituals and ways to spend time before and after matches. Situated at the junction of Pioneer Square and SoDo, CenturyLink Field is perfectly located for fans who would prefer to bike or use mass transit rather than driving and hunting (or paying exorbitant amounts) for parking. The club itself promotes these alternate gameday modes in their weekly emails and at the stadium.

The way these fans experience gameday will now fundamentally change. Bikers will have to make tough decisions between packing what they need or keeping their things secure. Anyone who wants to attend a match directly after work will need to be willing to buy a clear plastic bag, so everyone can see all the valuable electronics and personal hygiene items they’ve got packed in. We’re looking at a significant “infrastructure” change for non-driving fans, and even for many who do. This new policy spits in the faces of all those who aren’t interested in or willing to commit to that battle and drive in one of the most traffic-congested cities in America.

It’s terribly disappointing that MLS has given in to the same fear that other American sports leagues have bowed to in recent years; the idea that large televised crowds are targets for the worst people in our society, that keeping that one deranged individual out of the building is worth the paranoia that turns more and more people away from live sports every year.

In 2017 the restrictions will become even more prohibitive; only clear bags will be allowed inside (this is not directed by the MLS, but instead a choice made by our local decision makers, thank you very much!). The NFL made this change a few years ago; the Seahawks made an attempt to lessen the blow by giving bags that fit their guidelines to all season ticket holders. But the bags they distributed were poorly made, little more than sheets of plastic with a hem stapled to the edges. Mine fell apart in just over a single season of use.

The new policy will also be a problem for driving fans; cars will more than ever be targets for thieves now that they know fewer fans are bringing their valuables inside. And it didn’t appear to have a significant effect on line speed either; the fans don’t seem to benefit from this move at all.

Last year, a terrorist group attempted to exploit security at a Paris soccer stadium to set off a bomb with 80,000 people in attendance. The attempt came 15 minutes after the match, so when the man failed his security check, he ran away and detonated his suicide vest. Events like this one are likely the inspiration for more restrictive entry procedure, and yet there’s significant question as to whether these changes make anyone safer.

As one member of the Alliance Council, I wholeheartedly reject the new MLS bag policy and hope that the Council will be able to make it clear just how damaging this erosion of supporters rights is to the live sports product.