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Anyone in the events business knows that one big concern is keeping spectators safe. Often the emphasis is at the point of entry: Checking bags and ‘wanding’ spectators is now the norm at professional sporting events, and is happening more and more at the amateur level.
But now, safety issues are shifting to venues themselves. The issue has turned tragic this past week, with the death of a spectator at Turner Field, who fell over the railing of an upper deck. It’s the third fatal fall at Turner Field since 2008. Earlier this month, Justin Verlander and other Detroit Tigers called for baseball to extend netting to protect fans after a fan was struck in the seats at Comerica Park, and that comes after a spectator was seriously hurt at a Boston Red Sox game at Fenway.
We know that attending a sporting event carries its own level of risk, as is spelled out on the backs of most of our event tickets. But railing height has been almost as much of an issue as extending the nets down the base lines to protect fans. Atlanta Braves’ officials say the new Braves stadium is designed to have higher railings, even though the present railings meet safety standards. The International Building Code mandates that venues like Turner Field and the Rangers’ ballpark, where, four years ago, a fan reached over the outfield wall to retrieve a tossed baseball and fell 20 feet to his death, have rail heights of 33 inches, increasing to 42 inches at the base of aisles. Those guidelines still have not prevented fan-falling incidents at those parks as well as the Georgia Dome and St. Louis’ Busch Stadium in recent years.
And here are some sobering stats: There are 53,000 foul balls that enter the seats every year, according to Edwin Comber, creator of foulballz.com. And 1,750 spectators are injured every season by batted balls at major league games, according to an analysis by the Bloomberg News.
It will be costly for stadiums to upgrade their facilities, and they’re reluctant to obstruct lines of sight because they don’t want to encourage fans to stay at home where they can get an even clearer, closer view of the game from their HD television. But if it continues to become a major safety issue, something will need to be done, and soon. Don’t wait for someone else to die.