Buffalo Bills fans may not be too happy about it, but they’ve clearly gotten the message about the new National Football League security provisions that permit fans to carry only medium-sized clear bags and small purses into Ralph Wilson Stadium on Game Day.
Two preseason games, an email and media blitz pushed by the Bills and the mailing of permissible clear bags to season-ticket holders apparently left very few fans holding the bag as they approached stadium gate screeners Sunday.
Team officials say they’re also heartened by the success of the new Blue Team Tailgate Patrol, the prohibitions against drinking and smoking in the security lines and the universal use of one-space, one-vehicle parking in all stadium lots.
One game into the regular season, the largest complaint may be the long lines at the gates just before kickoff and the possible need for more gate screeners.
But the most controversial issue, the large-scale prohibition of most purses and bags, seems to be accepted – if not embraced – by fans.
The Bills, following the lead of the new NFL policies clearly enacted in response to the Boston Marathon bombings in April, prohibit fans from bringing in purses larger than hand-sized; any camera bags or binocular covers; any bags larger than 12 by 6 by 12 inches; and seat cushions with zippers.
Andy Major, the team’s vice president of event operations and guest experience, said team officials were pleasantly surprised at the fans’ actions Sunday.
“We really pounded the message hard to get it out there, and fans really responded,” Major said. “We saw a lot of fans come to the gates with clear bags.”
To drive home the point even harder, the team gave out some 50,000 clear bags inside the gates. Bills officials hope the increased use of the clear bags makes it quicker and easier for screeners to see what’s inside.
Bill Heussler, president of the Monday Quarterback Club, echoed the Bills’ thoughts on this issue.
“I was surprised,” he said. “I think people were well-informed and knew what to expect.”
It wasn’t always that way. Especially at the team’s first preseason home game Aug. 16, when fans didn’t hide their displeasure about the new bag ban, especially when they had to trek back to their cars in order not to forfeit medium-sized purses or prohibited bags.
While praising the team for the way it handled the new NFL policy, Heussler cited fan complaints about the security lines.
Heussler missed the kickoff Sunday, admitting that it was his fault he got to the gate so late, at about 12:45 p.m.
“It took me probably 20 minutes to get through,” he said. “But they only had four or five inspectors at my gate. They still need more inspectors.”
The Bills have said for years that fans can help solve that problem by heading to the gates earlier.
Team officials also pledged to tweak one of their new practices, sending more sheriff’s deputies and APEX security officers farther back into what they call the “secondary security perimeter,” starting roughly 50 to 100 feet from the back end of the security-gate line, to help expedite the screening procedures.
But those officials also praised several new, or fairly new, initiatives:
• The prohibition against fans drinking or smoking while waiting in the security line.
“We got a lot of complaints in years past from fans and the workers about people drinking and smoking in line,” Major said. “It was definitely better. The gates were much cleaner than in years past, but it’s still a big focus for us.”
• The work of the Blue Team Tailgate Patrol, especially its handing out of trash and recycling bags to tailgaters.
“People were surprised to see them and were very appreciative about the bags,” Major said.
• The adding of the last three stadium parking lots (5A, A and D) to the one-car, one-space parking policy, which requires vehicles to be parked sequentially, in the next available space.
“That went really well,” Major said. “We were able to park cars efficiently and maximize the number of cars able to park in the lots.”
Meanwhile, the Bills announced late Monday that about 2,500 tickets remain for Sunday’s game with the Carolina Panthers. Barring an extension, the game must be sold out by 1 p.m. Thursday to avoid a local TV blackout.
Fans can buy tickets, with up to a $10 discount, using the promo code GPBBT at http://ow.ly/oqG9d.