By Dan Steinberg
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 23, 2009 12:14 AM
The Washington Redskins will restrict large tailgate parties in the FedEx Field parking lots this season, limiting tailgates using more than one parking space to "the back" of parking lots, the team said in a statement. The team also said that drivers of all vehicles will be directed to specific areas of the lots instead of being allowed to choose their own.
"The most significant new procedure will have parking attendants directing fans who wish to tailgate in more than one space to the back of lots, where they will be allowed to occupy two spaces until required for additional vehicles," the team said. "Fans who wish to only park, or tailgate within their single parking spot, will be directed to the front of lots, filling the lot from front to back."
In the past, early-entering fans were greeted by something of a free-for-all in the empty lots, leaving a chaotic checkerboard pattern as fans gradually staked out spots and erected tents, grills and buffet lines. The parking lots have traditionally opened four hours before kickoff, but hundreds of fans lined up outside the gates before dawn for the chance to stake out prime spots, with several large tailgates appearing each week in the rows closest to the stadium.
The system also led to fans spreading out over multiple spaces early in the morning, tying up spaces and contributing to gridlock when later-arriving cars pulled in. But to many fans, the system helped foster a community atmosphere, with tailgates springing up all over the massive expanse of asphalt, mapped out by an honor-system geography under which the same families would grab the same spots nearly every week.
After word spread of the new restrictions, fans spent yesterday morning registering online complaints, creating petitions and calling into radio stations.
"It's ridiculous," said Ted Abela, who arrives at the stadium around 5:30 a.m. and hosts dozens of tailgaters a few yards from the stadium entrance. "People that arrive there first and get there early are being reprimanded and moved to the back of the parking lot. And some guy that's not even a fan, that gets there 30 minutes before the game, gets to park right in the front of the lot? It's absurd. We pay [hundreds of dollars] to park at basically eight games, and we can't choose our own spot, we can't park by our friends?"
But other fans, less interested in the pregame festivities than in ease of entry, said they supported the new rules, and that the old system had grown progressively worse as tailgaters expanded their setups into prime parking spots.
"I try to get there two, three hours beforehand, and I end up parking in the very far green lot, which puts me at at least an hour to get out of the parking lot at the end of the game," said Matt Maher, a longtime season ticket holder from Vienna. "The parking situation and a few game-day experience issues have really kept me from going to games recently. This will be a big improvement."
In the release, Redskins chief operating officer Mitch Gershman said the effects of the new restrictions will be minimal.
"Everyone who wants to tailgate should be able to tailgate. We absolutely believe that," Gershman said. "This is designed to improve the experience for fans who want to tailgate."
The Dallas Cowboys instituted tailgating restrictions a year ago, limiting tailgaters in closest lots to perimeter parking spots. Similar restrictions will be in place at the team's new stadium this year. Cowboys fans were asked to purchase extra parking passes if their setups spilled over one parking space, and to keep their parties within set boundaries in an effort to facilitate traffic flow.
A Cowboys team official told the Dallas Morning News the response from fans was "excruciatingly positive," although some complained that the restrictions diminished their game-day experience.
The Redskins also announced that they will open a new gray lot off Landover Road, adding 3,000 new parking spaces to the stadium property and allowing "all fans with season parking the ability to park in lots on FedEx Field property, within sight and walking distance of the stadium." What was once the blue lot, on the grounds of Jericho City of Praise, will revert to the church. The team said it would institute new traffic flow patterns after games to ease congestion. "Cars exiting lots will be directed to dedicated traffic lanes, a procedure that has been in effect for pre-game traffic for several years," the Redskins' statement said.
It said the team also was in discussions with Prince George's County officials "on the possibility of making traffic one-way leading to the Beltway during peak post-game congestion around the stadium."