At the Major League Baseball All-Star break, here’s a flashback to the Jays’ home opener, where a decision to limit beer sales had some unintended (but foreseeable) consequences.
The decision to limit beer purchases in the upper deck of the Rogers Centre during last night’s Blue Jays home opener led to fewer scuffles in the stands than in previous years. Instead, frustrated fans in the 500 level, who were only able to purchase one beer at a time, bickered and scrapped while waiting in lengthy queues in the concession hallways. Those lucky enough to grab a final brew before the seventh inning deadline got back to their seats just in time to watch the home team blow a two run lead, as the Jays lost 4-2 to the Boston Red Sox.
While the goal had been to reduce tension in the crowd, alcohol compliance officers, security personnel, and police officers had their hands full all evening in the upper deck as annoyed patrons shoved and jockeyed while lining up for a drink. Many fans were unaware of the beer restrictions when they arrived at the park: one Red Sox supporter we spoke with named Mike, who traveled from Nova Scotia for the game, complained that he had unwittingly entered a “sobriety zone” by purchasing an upper level ticket. “I can’t even leave my jacket with my friend while I get us a drink,” he remarked. “We both have to get up and take everything with us.”
Others, like a woman named Shauna, relied on a pre-drinking strategy to beat the lineups and overpriced beverages. “I’m pretty much here to drink,” she told us, “so maybe it’s good they put a limit on us.” Another fan remarked that “at $10.50 for a tall boy, a limit doesn’t matter. I don’t have much of a problem with it.”
It wasn’t hard to spot fans swaying, slurring, and stumbling around even during the national anthems that preceded the first pitch. One fan pointed to this as proof the beer restrictions had “completely backfired,” adding that those caught off guard by the rules “will only be more agitated now.”
One angry fan said she simply left the beer line after a near confrontation. “I waited in line but this bitch budded me, so I just had to leave,” she fumed. The few beer vendors designated to walk the 500 level bleachers never made it to the seats, as thirsty patrons mobbed them at the tunnel entrances. Alcohol compliance staff even closed some beer stands before the end of the seventh inning, to the ire of fans who felt they were being punished for the bad behaviour of others.
It didn’t take long for creative fans to undermine the efforts to curb drinking. Some banked beers under their seats before returning to the concession area for more. Others took the elevators to the lower sections, where patrons could buy two drinks at once. The most ambitious imbibers sought refuge in the winding ramps between floors, and hastily downed their beers before security or police officers discovered them. A Red Sox fan returning to his seat with two beers in plain sight was hassled by Jays fans, but not by stadium staff. “You just gotta work the system,” he told us.
Despite their hopes, officials did still have some fights to break up, the first of which broke out in the field level seats along the first base foul line. Fans in all areas of the stadium ignored the game to watch the tussle, and some heckled the police officers who arrived belatedly to separate the brawlers. As Jays catcher J.P. Arencibia grounded out to end the game, dejected fans from all levels of the bleachers hurled their complimentary rally towels onto the field.