A day spent cheering on your favorite football team could end with a night in the slammer if you’re not careful. Rowdy NFL fans are getting arrested by the dozens at some stadiums, a recent investigation by the Washington Post found.
A number of violent incidents at NFL stadiums – such as a recent fight between Ravens and Raiders fans that sent one man to the hospital in critical condition — and growing concerns about fan safety at games prompted the investigation. The reporters analyzed police data on arrests both inside and outside the stadiums to find out which stadiums were the biggest trouble spots. (Arrest information wasn’t available for New Orleans and Cleveland, and in Atlanta, Detroit, and Minneapolis, data was only available for arrests inside the stadium.)
The average number of arrests at NFL games has increased since 2011. In 2015, 6.34 people were arrested per game, league-wide. But at a handful of stadiums, arrests were twice or three times that number, including Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, New York’s MetLife Stadium, and the Oakland Coliseum. In Seattle, Chicago, and Tampa Bay, arrests averaged less than one per game.
A deeper dive into the data revealed a few factors that cause arrests to spike. Night games and division games lead to more fan arrests. NFL fans were also more likely to end the day in handcuffs after a home-team loss.
A higher number of arrests doesn’t necessarily indicate a team’s fans are more violent. It could also be a sign of a greater police presence at games and strong “zero tolerance” policies.
Arrests at 49ers games averaged 4.1 per game between 2011 and 2013. But in the 2014 and 2015 seasons – after the team relocated from Candlestick Park to Levi’s Stadium — there were 22.2 arrests per game. Stricter policies and tougher enforcement at the new stadium may be behind the dramatic upward trend in arrest numbers, some have speculated.
San Diego had the highest number of average arrests per game, at 24.6, but police in the city claim that’s because they have little patience for trouble-causing fans. “We strictly enforce the Fan Code of Conduct and have a zero-tolerance policy in dealing with fan misconduct. It isn’t clear if that policy is as strongly enforced in other jurisdictions to the same standards as it is here,” the San Diego Police Department said in a statement.
Fan misbehavior, which sometimes crosses the line into violence, isn’t a new phenomenon, but it’s a growing concern for the NFL. The league’s fan code of conduct, introduced in 2008 and updated several times since, has helped reduce incidents inside stadiums but does little to address what happens in parking lots, where some people drink to excess before games.
“You’ve created this multi-acre bar, but you don’t have any real bouncers out there,” William Carr, a Kansas City-area attorney, told the Post. Carr filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against the Kansas City Chiefs after a fan died following an assault in the parking lot.
“We see very few incidents, but one incident is too much,” Brian McCarthy, a spokesman in the NFL league office, told the Post. “We do recognize that, and it’s something we take very seriously.”
These are the seven teams who had the highest average number of home game arrests, according to the Post’s investigation.
7. Green Bay Packers
Arrests per game: 7.2
6. San Francisco 49ers
Arrests per game: 11.35
5. Pittsburgh Steelers
Arrests per game: 16.8
4. Oakland Raiders
Arrests per game: 17.8
3. New York Jets
Arrests per game: 21.5
2. New York Giants
Arrests per game: 22.5
1. San Diego Chargers
Arrests per game: 24.6