Eagles fans have beef with new stadium policy

Posted: Thursday, July 24, 2003

PHILADELPHIA The Philadelphia Eagles say they won't let people bring hoagies and other food into their lavish $520 million stadium set to open next month. To which Eagles fans respond: ''Baloney!''

In a city that loves its food and its sports teams in equal measure, the ban on outside grub has gone down about as well as a 3-day-old cheesesteak.

The issue is turning into a public relations bellyache for the Eagles at a time when they should be feeling triumphant about Lincoln Financial Field, which will replace decrepit Veterans Stadium.

Last week, the Philadelphia Daily News ran a banner headline telling team owner Jeffrey Lurie to ''STUFF IT''; inside, the paper asked readers to sign a petition in protest. Callers to a sports-talk radio station called management greedy and ''out of touch,'' and the chat room on the Eagles' Web site was filled with venom against Lurie and team President Joe Banner.

One writer suggested a class-action lawsuit, while another advocated bringing ''a whole dead fish on a hoagie roll left out in the sun 3-4 hours before a game. Let them confiscate it.''

''They want to rip the people off for a couple more dollars,'' said retired trucker Eric Manton of South Philadelphia, who has been going to Eagles games for five decades.

Banner said the ban at ''the Linc'' was made for security reasons in the post-Sept. 11 era. He said the team consulted with security experts who advised that the less brought into the stadium, the better.

The Eagles' stance isn't unusual; 14 other NFL teams ban fans from bringing their own food, according to individual teams. Many others, however, do allow small quantities of food for personal consumption.

In its first NASCAR race after the Sept. 11 attacks, Dover Downs International Speedway banned all coolers, backpacks and large bags from the track. Although the rules were later relaxed, other tracks have limited the size of coolers that can be brought in.

Outside food isn't allowed into basketball games at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, Madison Square Garden in New York or the United Center in Chicago.

Guests are permitted to bring bottled water and food into the Pittsburgh Pirates' PNC Park, as long as it fits into a 16-inch-by-16-inch bag with soft sides, but scores of minor-league ballparks bar all outside food and drink.

Paul Swangard, managing director of the Warsaw Sports Marketing Center at the University of Oregon, said it's becoming more common to see arenas prohibit outside food, but he questioned whether the money to be gained from concession sales is worth the public relations cost.

''A football team can generate maybe $5 million a year in concession sales over eight home dates. That's not money to scoff at, but when you look at the tens of millions of dollars they receive from television contracts and from the gate, it's not much,'' he said. ''You could end up spending a couple million dollars in marketing work just to repair the damage to your relationship with the fans.''

Eagles fans have always been allowed to bring in their own food, but Banner contends a ''minuscule'' number of people actually do.

He is unrepentant about the policy, accusing critics of jeopardizing fans' lives. He said food wasn't banned immediately following Sept. 11 because the team doesn't own the Vet the city does.

''God forbid, there's an incident in the (new) building and we ignore the advice of all these security experts so that somebody can bring a hoagie in the building. How ridiculous is it to even suggest that we do that?'' he told a recent news conference.

At the new stadium, cheesesteaks and hoagies will cost $6.50, a pork sandwich $6.25, and beer $6. The teams will split all the proceeds with the stadium's two concessionaires Delaware North Sportservice of Buffalo, N.Y., and Restaurant Services of New York City.

Banner denies suggestions that the ban has to do with money, but fans are highly skeptical.

At Tony Luke's, a renowned South Philadelphia hoagie stand, lunchtime customers fumed over the decision. Although most said they tailgate outside Eagles games and didn't bring food into the Vet, they objected to the new policy on principle especially since they helped pay for the new stadium. Pennsylvania taxpayers forked over $180 million, with the team paying the balance.

George Novelli and Steve Shakespeare electricians who just finished working on the new stadium recommended staying away from Eagles games.

''We should boycott the first game to send a message to Jeffrey Lurie,'' Shakespeare said.

Fans won't get any support from Gov. Ed Rendell, a former Philadelphia mayor and huge Eagles fan. A spokeswoman said he agreed with the policy. Philadelphia Mayor John Street, who faces re-election in November, was more sympathetic.

''Bringing hoagies to the game is a Philly tradition and you'd hope it wouldn't be put aside lightly,'' said his spokeswoman, Barbara Grant.

Manton, the retired truck driver, said it was ''deplorable'' for the Eagles to use Sept. 11 to justify the decision.

''They asked the taxpayers for money, they got it,'' he said, ''and then they shaft us.''

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