In business, borrowing concepts and tactics is commonplace. This is not like plagiarism in school… It is strategic. When enough of these concepts are adopted and implemented across an industry the ideas are recognized as industry best practices. In 2013, the National Football League (NFL) implemented a new clear bag policy. Under this policy, the “size and type of bag” is restricted from entering NFL stadiums. The NFL carries tremendous clout. The league is currently the premiere major league sport in the United States and plays in 70,000 seat sports event venues. The size and attention The League gets, makes their events a perceived targets for terrorism and mass casualty attacks. Nowadays, guests attending crowded events like NFL games, go into their event experience with a little bit of trepidation and a heightened sense of situational awareness. As such, reasonable security measures are expected and desired.
The public’s desire for increased security (perceived or actual) combined with the weight of the NFL gave the NFL Committee on Stadium Security the capacity to implement this rigid policy. Behind the leadership of the NFL, other professional sports leagues, event promoters and event venues quickly followed suit. Clear bag policy is regularly popping up in a majority of NCAA venues and even high school athletic competition. Often times, the policy is written almost verbatim from the NFL policy… Thus… new best practices.
Considerations for Writing Clear Bag Policy
Stylehawk was recently contracted to write clear bag policy for an NCAA institution. As others have done, borrowing basic policy concept from event venues with existing policy was the first step. What we realized though, is that writing policy to mirror the NFL is one thing, but implementing policy and creating procedure with the same force is something else. A cut and paste policy is window dressing. We had to review our goals, practices and budget to determine the details of the policy. The specific questions we asked ourselves were:
- What is the primary goal of this policy?
- What supporting procedure is in place?
- Are people entering the venue getting searched? Mags?
- Who is subject to the policy?
- Visiting teams?
- Any exceptions like blankets and oversized coats? Medical exception?
- Who is providing bags?
- How is policy communicated to attendees prior to event arrival?
- Where does the screening process take place?
- How can you avoid creating additional risk with high density, vulnerable crowds in pre- screened areas?
- Who is responsible for implementing policy?
- Private Security?
- In- House Event Staff?
- How supportive are venue executives?
- Which events are subject to the policy?
- What is the implementation budget?
It is important to remember that the NFL is a multi- billion dollar corporation and that each team only hosts 10 or so games per year. A mid- major, D1, NCAA institution does not have the financial resources of the NFL and is hosting hundreds of events per year across their various men’s and women’s intercollegiate competitions. In this scenario, most event venues and athletic departments do not have the capability to implement clear bag policy with the same authority and consistency as the NFL.
Security Processes Should Not Be Ceremonial
Early in my career, I was taught that security process should not be ceremonial. It must be purposeful and effective. Anything less than that is counterproductive (and costly). One of the local theme parks here in San Diego provides a working example of security as ceremony over function. Upon arrival at the park’s entrance plaza, guests pass through a security check where park staff are performing bag searches. In this search:
- Guests are asked to open their bags while the staff person pokes around with a stick. In my experience (I am a season pass holder), the staff person will rarely ask to open additional compartments in the bag or to open smaller bags or pouches within the bag. At best, this is a very inconsistent process.
- There are no magnetometers and no visual search of guests entering the park. A searched bag, but an unexamined person is a faulty process.
- There is uniformed security staff present at the search podium, but they are largely uninvolved and seemingly unaware of a majority of the guest interactions. The search is habitual rather than diligent.
- The search area is pushed away from the main park entrance which creates a reasonable perimeter, but it is immediately adjacent to the parking lot with no hard barriers (thus leaving the entrance plaza susceptible to vehicular intrusion).
I would consider these security efforts to be counter- productive. The implementation of this policy comes at a cost (which is passed along to the consumer in admittance prices). Worse though, this faulty venue security process creates a false sense of security. Park guests are likely to ease their situational awareness under the false belief that attendees have been scrubbed prior to entering the venue. God forbid there is ever a crisis event in the park, the security measures implemented will be measured against industry best practices and what is considered reasonable protective measures. Nobody likes to talk about it, but part of risk management is to consider and protect against litigation following a crisis. Would this policy hold up under scrutiny?
Sample Clear Bag Policy
The policy below is what the clear bag policy we created. We believe it is consistent with industry best practices and also achievable for the organization. We would love for you to review. Feel free to contact us with any questions. Effective event security is a critical component to venue management.
Sports Event Venue Clear Bag Policy
To provide a safer environment for the public and significantly expedite fan entry into sports event venue, venue has implemented a clear bag policy that limits the size and type of bags that may be brought into the facility. This policy is effective beginning in the 2018- 19 season and for ALL venue events.
This policy is consistent with the NFL Clear Bag Policy and a majority of NCAA institutions, which is recognized as the industry standard. The clear bag policy is being adopted as a measure that will enhance public safety & make it easier for fans to gain access to sports event venue. Venue strongly encourages fans to not bring any types of bags, but what is outlined here is permissible.
- Bags that are clear plastic, vinyl or PVC and do not exceed 12” x 6” x 12” or one- gallon clear plastic freezer bag (Ziploc bag or similar).
- Small clutch bags, approximately the size of a hand (4.5” x 6.5”), with or without a handle or strap can be taken into the venue with one of the clear plastic bags.
- An exception will be made for medically necessary items after proper inspection at designated locations.
Prohibited items include, but are not limited to:
- Purses larger than a clutch bag
- Cinch bags
- Fanny packs
- Seat cushions w/ pockets/ zippers
- Computer bags
- Camera bags
- Any bag larger than the permissible size
- Skateboards/ scooters
- Aluminum/ Glass water bottles
- Outside food/ drink
The sports event venue Clear Bag Policy is applicable to all guests entering venues through a pass gate. This includes (but is not limited to) season ticket holders, boosters/ donors, recruits, scouts and media.
Clear Bag Policy: Frequently Asked Questions
Why did sports event venue adopt this policy?
Venue management and law enforcement meet regularly to evaluate existing policies, practices and procedures to determine their level of compliance with industry-recognized best practices. This review resulted in a determination that a realignment of the policy was in order to continue to provide for the best fan experience. This proactive measure will both enhance safety inside and outside of the athletic venues and expedite the security screening process for all fans. The public deserves to be in a safe, secure environment. This is about both safety and improving the overall fan experience.
Are other venues adopting similar policies to limit or restrict bags?
Yes. All National Football League (NFL) stadiums and many NCAA venues have adopted a very similar policy in order to provide an additional level of safety for spectators and fans. In addition, many universities have a policy that prohibits bags of any size. These limitations on bag size and style are an enhancement for convenience and safety of our fans.
How does the new policy improve public safety?
Any prohibited bag at the gate will be highly visible and more quickly resolved. Prohibited bags will be turned away. Clear bags are easily and quickly searched and greatly reduce faulty bag searches. It also supports the Department of Homeland Security’s “See Something, Say Something” campaign.
How does this make it more convenient for patrons?
This will enable us to move patrons through our gates much faster. Staff will be more efficient and effective in checking bags that are brought into athletic venues. There will be less time spent standing in lines at the gates and fans will have more time to get to their seats prior to the event. Shorter lines mean quicker entry and fewer hassles. Fans will also enjoy an improved sense of safety.
How many bags can each person bring into athletic venues?
Each ticketed attendee (including children) is limited to one large clear bag – either a one-gallon clear plastic storage bag or the approximate 12″ by 6″ by 12″ clear bag – plus a small clutch (no larger than 4.5” x 6.5”). The one-gallon clear storage bag is readily available, inexpensive and enables a quick and efficient entry procedure into the venue. The small clutch allows privacy for small personal items and also is easily searched.
Can fans carry cameras, binoculars, smart phones, tablets, seat cushions, seat backs separately from what they put in a clear bag?
Yes. All of these items can be carried into the athletic venue, either on their own or in a clear plastic storage bag. This is not a restriction on items that fans have been able to bring into the athletic venue previously. It is only a restriction on the type of container used to carry the items.
What about bringing blankets and extra jackets/clothing in cold weather?
Fans will be able to bring these items into the athletic venues by tossing them over a shoulder or arm. Items that are folded up will have to be opened up in order to gain entry into the athletic venue.
Are all purses prohibited?
No. Unlike some athletic venues, we are not banning all bags. Small clutch bags (no larger than 4.5” x 6.5”), with or without a handle or strap, are permitted along with either the approximate 12″ by 6″ by 12″ clear tote bag or the one-gallon clear plastic storage bag.
Do I have to put everything I’m carrying into the permissible bags?
No. We are limiting only the type of bags carried into the venue. Therefore, you can carry in your pockets or jacket (keys, makeup, feminine products, comb, phone, wallet, credit cards, etc.) if you choose not to put them in a clear bag or clutch. And you can carry a blanket over your arms, and binoculars and/or camera around your neck or in your hands without the case. You can use the clear bag and clutch to carry other items. You will continue to have the flexibility to bring a wide variety of approved items into the venue. Every member of your family may carry in a permissible bag.
What about diaper bags?
For the safety and security of our fans, we are requesting all items, including baby supplies to be carried in approved clear bags. If there are medical necessities for an alternative bag, fans will be directed to the respective gate supervisor.
If I have special medical equipment I need to have with me at all times, where do I put that?
An exception will be made for medically necessary items after proper inspection by the respective gate supervisor.
Where can the one-gallon clear plastic storage bag or the 12″ by 6″ by 12″ clear bag be purchased?
The one-gallon clear plastic storage bag (i.e. Ziploc bag) can be found at any local grocery store.
What happens if I show up at a gate with a bag that is not permitted?
Fans carrying bags that do not comply with the Clear Bag Policy will be asked to return their bags to their vehicle and transfer their belongings to an approved clear plastic bag before entering the venue. Sports event venue will not accept responsibility for storing or checking unpermitted items at this time.