My objection isn't to the prohibition on alcohol – the last thing anyone wants to equate with a college campus is drinking. If it's a dry stadium, it's a dry stadium. I can remember my own outrage attending an NCAA basketball tournament game at the Metrodome and being informed (quite sober with no intention of remaining so) that alcohol wasn't served at NCAA events – even if most of the 40,000 people in attendance are more than willing to pay $8 for a beer. The next time I went to an NCAA tournament game, I was sure to get my drink on before getting my ticket ripped in half.
Therein lies the potential problem. For my willingness to mix drink and sports, on my worst day I still pale in comparison to some of the Sunday regimen of the hard-core, face-painting, fueled-up Vikings fans who have been tailgating (i.e. drinking, eating occasionally) since sunrise for a noon game. If there is one thing I've learned about the predisposition of people to drink is that they will find a way. A drinking ban at the stadium? All that's going to do is prompting many to fill the tank enough that they can run on the fuel for a while.
On the other end of the spectrum is going to be the typical 50-yard line Vikings fan – well-heeled, perhaps even elderly fans who toughed it out during the Met Stadium years. For as much as they enjoyed the 68-degree comfort of the Metrodome, they are going to head to TCF Bank Stadium on a nostalgia tour back to the days when disco was on its last legs and they could sit outside for three hours in bone-numbing temperature. But that was 29 years ago. They were a lot younger. Players were a lot poorer. Tailgating included a couple of cocktails. They're going to be in for a rude awakening on game night.
While this won't be another retro-flashback to the Cincinnati tragedy at a concert of The Who, what that concert taught major market arenas was that festival seating was a bad – and dangerous – idea. They told passionate rock fans that they had a ticket to get inside, but how they got to their seat was their own problem. It was naïve thinking that went tragically wrong.
The NFL may not realize how passionate Vikings fans are – some markedly more than others. By telling fans we're going to let in the lower bowl fans at 5 p.m. and the upper bowl fans at 5:30 and, once we're full, the velvet rope is coming out, they have drawn a line in the sand with an unknown fan element. It should be noted that, given the Vikings' current condition (D.O.A. for the playoffs) and the Bears standing as a team looking to get a first-round bye and at least one home playoff game, there are more than a few Vikings fans that have sold their tickets to Bears fans that aren't coming for the cold stroll down memory lane, but to cheer on Da Bears. They bought tickets in the Metrodome that were in the last row of the 100-level seats and they're going to want to cheer on their team up close.
In most aspects of its business, the NFL does things the right way – whereas the other major sports have found ways to sabotage their own product. In Major League Baseball, the stink of steroids still hangs over the sport. In the NBA, everyone knows that LeBron and Kobe wield more power than David Stern. The NHL went away for a year and lost a lot of the casual hockey fans in the process (not to mention a sweet deal with ESPN). The NFL was different … until now.
Festival seating is a bad idea in any sort of entertainment where the audience truly cares about the product. It's going to be Woodstock II, not Woodstock I. While the vast majority of fans will adhere to Minnesota Nice, it's hard to imagine telling tens of thousands of fans to wait patiently in line and make a mad dash for the seats two and a half hours prior to kickoff.
If nothing else, it's going to be interesting. If it all it turns out to be is interesting, I'll be happy. I just have a sinking feeling it's not going to be. The NFL has fans that are overly passionate about its product. Hopefully, most of those guys will stay away from The Bank on Monday night.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.