Is this a football team or an excuse for tailgating? More often than not since 1999 I think we can safely say it’s been the latter.
I think the newest front office1 is trying to figure out how to gracefully end – or at least curb – tailgating culture that is notable for producing an empty-looking stadium on TV at kickoff. The newest employees of the Cleveland Browns are being very nice about how they’re telling Browns fans, but I think that’s the underlying goal and the ultimate direction that the team is pushing.
After yesterday’s announcements about changes at FirstEnergy stadium this upcoming year it should be even more obvious what they’re really trying to say. Yes, Alec Scheiner wrapped all the improvements in a package that made it seem like these were direct responses to fan complaints. Things like cell service and improved efficiency getting into games certainly do address fan complaints, but there’s something more. Inside those improvements there was also what I felt was a subtle jab at the way Browns fans’ tailgating culture has gotten in the way of the game itself.
Even before Dawgpound Mike attempted that embarrassing kickoff boycott, Browns fans were missing kickoffs regularly. The team has been awful at – you know – playing football and that’s always number one, but that’s not what we’re talking about right now.2 The stadium entry procedures were certainly broken and partially responsible. The roughshod lines for security looked more like a farmland jailbreak through a single tiny hole in a fence. Beyond that though, it seemed like fans were more interested in finishing that last plastic cup-full-o-party than getting into the game to support the football team at the start of the game.
Probably not accidentally, the Browns are currently focusing on the pre-game rituals. Player entrances and introductions, pre-game music and intros, even down to painting the bathrooms so that they’re superior competition to port-Os in the Muni Lot, this club seems intent on leaving no more excuses for fans to miss kickoff. I don’t want to micro-analyze every word that Alec Scheiner said yesterday, but I couldn’t help but notice when he was talking to The Bull and the Fox that he jokingly mocked the alcohol questions. Yes, he was joking, and the Browns have gone out of their way to say that they respect fan culture, but they’re not being so subtle about trying to change it at the same time.
I’ll admit that a lot of the talk about alcohol is probably more my own spin as I’ve found some of my experiences interacting with volatile, drunken fans to be obnoxious at best. So, I won’t project all that on this group of Browns executives.
“We want to make sure everyone’s there before kickoff. That’s important. I think it’s important for the team,” Scheiner said. “You know the energy there at kickoff, that’s critical to the team. And we want our players to feel that.”
It’s hard to argue with that, but it will take more than just a commitment from the team to improve procedures and entertainment offerings. It will take a commitment by Browns fans to place a priority on partaking in the pre-game festivities inside the stadium as well as in the parking lot.
- Alec Scheiner joked about fining people for using the word “regime” yesterday and I have no problem expunging the word from my football vernacular. [↩]
- Winning football is always the number one goal, so let’s not make that an excuse not to also work on stadium and fan experience. They’re not mutually exclusive. OK? OK! [↩]