NFL’s limit on bags is one more strike against the stadium experience


Fans in Houston go through a security checkpoint as they enter the stadium for a 2012 playoff football game between the Cincinnati Bengals and Texans. This season, the NFL is limiting the size and type of bags fans can bring to the game. (Dave Einsel/Associated Press)

It’s a small thing, really — as small as a clutch. You know, those tiny little purses designed for form, not function. I took one to my nephew’s wedding last weekend — it held Kleenex, a $20 bill and a Xanax. (Anyone who has planned or financed a wedding will understand.)

But I wouldn’t want to take that clutch (or that combination) to a sporting event. (How far can you get on $20?) The NFL, however, wants women to do just that: bring their clutches to games. Oh, and women also can bring the rest of the contents of their purses in a 12-inch-by-6-inch-by-12-inch clear vinyl bag or a gallon freezer bag. You can buy the vinyl version emblazoned with your team’s logo, of course, because the NFL never misses a trick.

Except when it does.

The reason for the new rules is, of course, security, especially in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing. How can you be opposed to higher security? The new rules are designed to make the screening process easier and faster, and no one is opposed to that, either. The NFL points out that Michigan and Michigan State, among others, have a no-bag-of-any-kind rule.

So many women will find a way to make it work if they are NFL fans — or rather fans of the in-game experience. The odd thing is that women are a demographic the NFL has pursued relentlessly — and they are crazy protective of their purses.

(Disclaimer: This rule does not affect the media. Essentially, I have no dog in this hunt.)

Not all of the league’s new rules are gender-specific. One assumes man-purses — murses, if you will — are also banned, as are camera bags, briefcases — for those who liked to get a little paperwork done during halftime — and seat cushions.

The contents of diaper bags also will have to fit in one of the approved bags. While I’ve never understood bringing small children to NFL games — the noise alone would concern me — some people do, and finding a way to fit all of Baby’s paraphernalia into a Ziploc bag will be a challenge for Mom and Dad.

Perhaps it’s heartening that the need for security outweighed the league’s worry about its attendance, but it’s also surprising. While the NFL remains the most popular sport in this country by a wide margin, its regular season attendance has been down since an all-time high in 2007 (17,345,205). In 2011, the league had its lowest attendance (16,562,706) since it expanded to 32 teams in 2002. Last season’s number was up to 17,178,573 (by my lousy math), closer to the 2007 number but not there. The league has loosened its blackout rule in order to help some of the struggling teams. This season, all replays will be shown on the scoreboard during official reviews, an effort to give the paying customer at least the equivalent of the couch customer, and footage from cameras in the locker room will be available only on stadium scoreboards.

Is that enough to reverse the trend? Probably not, and the “purse rule” won’t help, although it certainly won’t have the same impact as high-definition television and the high cost of gas and tickets. A lot of fans already are opting for the comfort of their living rooms, where you can choose with whom you sit and control how much they drink. (During Redskins season, the majority of complaints I get from fans involve drunks in the stands, the concourses, the bathrooms and the parking lots. It’s comforting to know that many of those drunks then get behind the wheel and drive home.)

But the NFL may take an image hit with its purse ban, and the league doesn’t need that. It’s not producing a lot of good news these days. Thousands of NFL players have brought lawsuits claiming the league failed to disclose important information about the risk of serious brain injuries. That’s an issue that resonates with women; many of the plaintiffs are the wives of former players. While Dad and Junior may form a special bond while throwing the ball around the backyard, it’s often Mom who makes the final decision about Junior’s choice of sports.

Then there are the arrests. Tallies differ, but ProFootballTalk’s NFL police blotter — good grief! — has a current count of 27. Wait, let me check again. Yup, 27. No one arrested so far today. PFT includes only players who were on a team’s active roster at the time of their arrest.

What the NFL has going for it: TV ratings. They continue to rise, even at the expense of derrieres in the seats. The new bag rules may help those TV numbers; some people — male and female — may decide they’ve reached their limit. You can watch a game on a flat screen in three hours and change — less if you use the DVR and start a little late — and have the rest of your Sunday free. Many women andmen already have decided to forgo the stadium experience. With the addition of the bag rule, some women who normally attend games may find those extra hours hard to resist.

For previous columns by Tracee Hamilton, visit washingtonpost.com/hamilton.

More on the Redskins and the NFL:

Redskins Insider: John Keim joins The Post

Redskins Mailbag: RGIII and the PUP list

The Other 31: Steelers retool after parting with veterans

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