Outside, looking in — thanks to security theater. Photo by Lou Barberini

With the San Francisco Giants surging, last week I was able to catch the first three innings against the Cubs with the rest of Oracle Park’s knothole gang. Tucked under the right field arcade, through many iterations of ballpark name changes, the Giants have continued the tradition of allowing fans to watch three innings of a game for free. 

What was unusual about my choosing to watch with the knothole gang is that I am a season ticket-holder and I had tickets to this game. And, I was not alone.

As the third inning came to a close, the security guard overseeing the knothole section advised the fans they were going to have to rotate out to let a new crop of fans in. Many of the fans voiced a protest that they also had tickets, but the security lines were still so long, they couldn’t get inside the ballpark.

Consider the irony of how the Giants are treating their customers:It is faster and easier for a freeloading fan to access viewing the game than a paying fan or even a season ticket-holder. And while the glacial lines are imposed upon paying customers in the name of enhanced security, the oversight among the non-paying crowd is far more lax. And yet, an ill-intentioned person could inflict just as much damage here — to the folks watching for free from behind the fence, to the folks within the stadium, and even to the players. 

As a former longtime San Francisco police officer, I appreciate and accept the security the Giants intend for their fans. I fail, however, to understand is if there is any thought process behind both the security plan and the treatment of the Giants’ most loyal customers.

The “security theater” starts off as soon as I arrive at the ballpark with the bicycle parking. The Giants allow the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition to valet-park fans’ bicycles. I have attended major league baseball games in 45 different ballparks (some of them have long since had their date with the wrecking ball), which allows me to state that no baseball team offers anything close to what the SF Bicycle Coalition provides in terms of service and also allowing bicyclists to circumvent game-day automotive gridlock. Fans’ bicycles are stored in a large, attended cement room built under the right-field stands. 

When I turned over my bike last week, the Giants used a contracted security guard with a bomb-smelling (or narcotics-smelling) dog to sniff my bicycle before it was rolled into the cement room filled with stored bikes. Our query to the Giants asking just what that dog is searching for was not answered. Nor were any of our other questions about team security practices.  

“We don’t discuss specifics regarding our security program,” wrote Staci Slaughter, the team’s vice president of communications, via email. “However I can say that the security measures at Oracle Park and other Bay Area public assembly avenues are implemented with fan safety as the top priority. There are incidents almost every  single day that provide real examples of why we continue to prioritize fan safety in  and  around the park.”

A meeting with a guard and a dog was not first experience with security theater for even bike-riding Giants fans. At the beginning of the season, security guards at the bike valet demanded cyclists open their bicycle seat packs. These six-inch by three-inch by three-inch packs are strapped below bike seats and hold approximately two compressed inner tubes, or the equivalent of two thin wallets. 

After a mandatory snooping into my seat pack, I sent a photo to my season ticket representative of myself passing the very same seat pack through the wide bars of the fence that separates the ballpark from the outside, without any scrutiny at all from security guards.

Sneak a suspicious item into a room full of bikes: Bad. Sneak the same suspicious item into a ballpark with 40,000 fans: Who cares? 

So, where is the thought process?

San Francisco Giants security measures have led to large numbers of fans huddling, vulnerable, outside the ballpark even past first pitch. This photo, snapped in April 2013, was described by security experts the very worst outcome of so-called tight security. Photo by Joe Eskenazi.

Last week, after getting rotated out of the knothole gang area in the fourth inning, I went to the still-20-plus-person line to get into the ballpark (yes, this line was still that long in the fourth inning). The bottleneck for entering Oracle Park is largely due to the onerous, manual searching of backpacks fans bring in.

My backpack contained three layers of clothing that I gradually don as the frigid summer cold descends during the later innings of the game. I emptied my backpack, put on my layers of clothes to walk through the metal detector, and handed my empty and ultra-light, 1.5-pound Osprey pack to the security guard. I assumed that the obvious lack of weight would expedite my entry.

I also told the security guard there was no metal in my backpack, and inquired whether I could prove the fact by walking it through the metal detector. The security guard declined my offer and, with dozens of people still waiting behind me and the ballgame nearly half done,  proceeded to unzip every compartment of my backpack — even the sections that were too small to contain a wallet. 

It seems perverse that the Giants organization creates gigantic funnels of fans because they are concerned that those fans might be sneaking nonmetallic items smaller than a wallet into the ballpark, while alternatively allowing any potential terrorist to walk that same object through the metal detector in his or her  pocket — but the backpack is not allowed to go through the metal detector. Them’s the rules. 

One needn’t be a security expert, of course, to note that long lines leading to hundreds, thousands, or even tens of thousands of fans massed outside a stadium is antithetical to any notion of “security.” But just in case you were wondering, security experts have noticed this, and think it’s bad. 

“They created a perfect crowd scene for killing the maximum amount of people,” said Ohio State professor John Mueller, co-author of Terror, Security, and Money, after the Giants in 2013 beefed up security and created a bottleneck of thousands of fans spilling into Willie Mays Plaza. “It’s basically absurd.”  

As a security measure, there’s no doubt about that. But, as the guard checked every nook of my bag, I asked him what he was looking for and he said, “glass.” 

Well, huh. This raises the question of whether the Giants are making thousands of fans wait in Disneyland-length lines and using security theater just to prevent people from sneaking in alcohol to avoid $14.50 beers.

Life has grown surreal, inside and outside the ballpark. Photo by Jamie Goldberg.

With the exception of the Giants’ ongoing July surge, there’s been little joy in Mudville for the past three seasons. And, in that time, the team — and everyone else — has learned just what fair market value is for a Giants ticket. 

That’s thanks to the Stubhub phenomenon. This online brokerage service provides real-time ticket values to the Giants organization, which was used to drastically increase prices. But that’s only if you pay face value, and do so before the season. 

That’s what the Giants’ most loyal fans, the season ticket-holders, do. And then they get to chat with the fan next to them, who paid 75 percent less on Stubhub. Barring the July miracle leading to a postseason berth, the Giants will have to make an offseason decision to either lower season ticket prices, or risk more of their loyal fans defecting to Stubhub’s cheaper tickets.

Many Major League parks, perhaps cognizant of this, have special entrances, similar to TSA Precheck, to reward their most loyal customers, the season ticket-holders. Security theater is never pleasant, and it grows less so when one is subjected to it on multiple occasions per week, and dozens of times per season.

But the Giants continue to treat the season ticket-holder in Seat A, paying face value, no different than the fair-weather Stubhub fan paying 25 percent of face value for Seat B. A 20-percent season-ticket-holder discount on a $14.50 beer hardly begins to make up for that.

Alienating and making suckers out of your most loyal customers would appear to be the very worst thing a business could do. “People being shepherded into large, concentrated groups, making them even more vulnerable” is, as University of Nebraska engineering professor Kevin Grosskopf put it in 2013, quite definitely the worst security practice a business could undertake. 

Better luck to the Giants on the field. See you with the knothole gang. 

Additional reporting by Joe Eskenazi.

Happier days. Photo by Chelsi Moy.

 

Join the Conversation

37 Comments

  1. Huh. I’m also a season ticket holder and I find it rather easy and relatively quick to get into the park, yes, sometimes it takes 10 minutes in line. *shrug*

    1. Many season ticket holders have survived by renting out their seats on Stubhub. The more important question is how many games do you attend? The days of claiming season ticket holder status are over.

    2. Wait until they get back into contention again and you have 42,000 entering the stadium instead of 15,000!

  2. Another season ticket holder here: I agreed with everything you say except I think the wait times to get in the park are exaggerated. Or, at least that is not the norm. That being said, there are occasions where the line does take that long, which always makes me ponder if there is something (security related or otherwise) going on that day. Of course, the attendance drop has also shortened the wait times–though it’s picking back up the last few weeks.

  3. So, Lou –
    Upset you weren’t led to your seat by a hostess and then given a foot rub upon your arrival?
    Security Theater is everywhere….airports, theaters, websites, even this very comment section. You may bitch & moan all you want, but there are few proper solutions to get 40k people into a small area. Want that they just get rid of security altogether & pretend like it’s 1961?

    First time a bomb goes off in an airport set off by a perpetrator *in the security line*, you will be the first thing I think of.

    1. Agreed that security theater is everywhere. But would be receptive to going through security at SFO while they leave side doors wide open? Kind of like going through a saddle bag but allowing fans to pass the same saddle bag through the fence.

  4. season ticket holder here too, 10 minutes would be the longest I’ve ever waited, most of the time, its 5 minutes or less

  5. Season ticket holder here. It usually takes me around 5 minutes or so to get through Willie Mays Plaza. It is also with one or two bags. Now I arrive between 30-40 minutes prior to the game, primarily to buy dinner or lunch and use the restroom before first pitch. Maybe arriving at 6:45 to a 6:45 game is a problem?

  6. Interesting write up. Thank you for your years of service in the police dept sir. I typically walk to the ballpark from the financial district and enter through the giant’s dugout store. I’ve never waited. What I have done is wonder why in the heck so many people line up in the main plaza in these draconian queues that move slower than molasses in winter.

  7. I fondly remember — we were coming back from Edinburgh the day the U.S. instituted a ban on all liquids on flights, due to the extremely unlikely possibility that someone could combine the liquids into a binary bomb once aboard. While security laboriously searched for toothpaste and yogurt, thousands of people were packed together outside of any security waiting to get in.

  8. I was in there in the free viewing area when this exact event occurred during the Cubs game.

    There were about 20 people there who wandered in to catch part of the game rather than wait in line, and most of them were entitled season ticket holders whining about how outrageous it was they couldn’t get in, and how this was the first time it happened to them in 10 years.

    As frustrating and avoidable as it was, I can’t believe one of those people went home and wrote this piece. I got the hell out of there when they started mumbling about physically fighting security if they tried to remove them after their 3 innings.

    It was a fluke situation, people weren’t lining up at any of the gates properly and security was backed up….this isn’t the usual situation, but someone was inconvenienced once in their ballpark going life and it inspired this piece? The line took 10 minutes. It was annoying. It won’t be there the next series and neither will the Cubs fans who couldn’t form proper lines.

    So let’s get this straight… slow security inspired them to poke holes in the security so that there’s…slower security permanently?

    And I’ve never heard anyone call it the knothole gang or the knothole.

    1. Sir or madam — 

      Just so you know, the author of this piece goes to 40 or more games a year and has been attending Giants games since the 1960s.

      So, those are his credentials.

      Just so you know.

      Best,

      JE

      1. In fact, he appeared in “The Enforcer”, the third in the Dirty Harry series. That’s a fact. He’s disguised as a concessionaire outside the ‘Stick, dressed in his official Harry M Stevens Company uniform, toting around a rack of beers. What he’s doing outside of the ballpark during the game, I do not know. He may well have been inspecting the security. He can be seen in the background as the Mayor of San Francisco is hustled into his limo just before Bobby Maxwell and crew kidnapped him over by the Ramp.
        To say that this Lou Barberini character has seen it all, or almost all, is not an exaggeration.

  9. It’s a matter of getting to the park early(if you have time). Gates open 2 hours before game time at Willie Mays Plaza. 90 minutes before at Marina, O’Doul & Second St. Get your hand stamped and re-enter before the first pitch. Get CLEAR- it’s free at ballparks. Also, entering at Seals Plaza/Marina Gate is less crowded than Willie Mays Plaza or Lefty O’Doul Plaza. Alternate places to enter the stadium – through the Public House and the Giants Dugout Store. Best way to get into the ballpark without getting there early is CLEAR. Or have a premium ticket that allows entrance to the left of Willie Mays or in right field through Alaska Airlines Loft or membership to the Gotham Club.

    1. Actually on the day after the knothole incident (Sorry, the Giants created that name), I was at the Park when it opened. There was nobody in line in front of me. Nevertheless, the security guard made me take out every piece of the clothing from my backpack and put it on the table? Why?

      I do not expect to be coddled. When you attend 4 games per year, 15-minute lines are not a problem. When you attend 40 to 81 games per year, those hours start to add up. The question is still: Why can’t you wear a backpack through the metal detector if there is no metal in your backpack? And, are the Giants creating lines just out of concern for people sneaking in alcohol? What are the Giants worried about someone sneaking into the cement rooms bikes are parked in?

  10. I believe this story is mainly about the Marina gate. We need CLEAR at the Marina Gate. Another suggestion is to have a line with folks with no purses, bags and backpacks. Better yet a season ticket holder express line. This gate gets slammed also with Ferry passengers and when they have their special events out there. Why would a person want to walk to Willie Mays and then to my seat in the bleachers. I completely agree with Officer Lou.

  11. By the way, I am also a member of CLEAR. When CLEAR was initially demo-ed at the Park, it was available in the bleachers. Now for bike riders arriving in right field, we have to circle the exterior of the Park to Willie Mays Plaza, then complete the circle of the Park inside to get to the bleachers. Why isn’t there CLEAR at opposite ends of the ballpark?

    1. Agreed. I’m a season ticket holder in the bleachers as well. When they 1st implemented clear, the search was much lighter. Now they do a complete search. What’s the purpose of CLEAR? Not to sure because they do the same search as anybody else entering the stadium. I think the only reason it’s faster to enter is because proportionally, you have fewer people with CLEAR access. And it actually adds time to us City dwellers who take Muni or ride bicycles because then we have to walk around half the the stadium as well.

  12. I agree with this author. I take the ferry, season ticketholder, handicapped and sit in the bleachers. The security needs to step up and work on a solution. For me to go to another gate and then make my way to my section the game would be in the 7th inning stretch. I have sent emails and calls for the past couple of years with no change. They also need to vet out the yellow coats. They are a bunch of bullies looking to cause trouble not preventing it.

  13. Meh …. get there early.

    The more foul thing is the price of beer.

    At last check here are some tips – please correct if they are not accurate:
    $8.25 14oz Bud, Bud Light, Coors Banquet, Coors Light – Doggie Diners and Derby Grills
    $12.50 20oz can – Doggie Diners

    If you’re a fancy pants ball park boozer well ….. you pays the price and you’ll gets the fancy.

    1. Respectfully, nobody should be giving anyone a hard time for being a “fancy pants ball park boozer” and then touting the merits of an $8.25 Coors or Bud.

      JE

      1. You’re in fine form tonight, Joe. Heckling the readers for fact-checking your site’s articles? So entertaining!

          1. Dear Joe:

            Here’s a fact from another comment that you also heckled: “It was a fluke situation, people weren’t lining up at any of the gates properly and security was backed up….this isn’t the usual situation, but someone was inconvenienced once in their ballpark going life and it inspired this piece? The line took 10 minutes. It was annoying. It won’t be there the next series and neither will the Cubs fans who couldn’t form proper lines.”

            So, first fact: “The line took 10 minutes.”

            Second fact (prediction actually): “It won’t be there the next series…”

            Also, maybe you could check my take on this which is that an entitled person experienced a short delay and while the Giants (and every other organization dealing with large numbers of people) can always improve, this a really just a first-world-problem that needn’t be griped about in public.

            Cheers,
            NFH

          2. Dear sir — 

            If it’s a “one-time situation,” why was I writing about crappy ballpark security practices in 2013? Lou — who is retired — goes to dozens of games. Has for years. So I take his account with a bit more weight than someone who thinks himself subversive and intelligent for, essentially, saying SHOW UP EARLY. NO PROBLEM!

            Also, I think people from Chicago know how to form a line. They have *two* teams in Chicago, you know.

            The bigger issue, and one I thought was hard to miss, is that “security theater” only provides the veneer of safety. The inconsistencies Lou pointed out make no sense. Searching for beer or nail files under the auspices of terror prevention is worse than a waste of everyone’s time.

            Speaking of wastes of time, it’s odd to write multiple comments complaining that a subject “needn’t be griped about in public.” If you don’t like the story, go get your money back from the ticket booth.

            Best,

            JE

  14. I have a law enforcement background. The author has made some valid points. Thousands of fans queuing up outside of Oracle are a more attractive terrorist target than fans inside. It would be more difficult for a terrorist to escape from inside Oracle than to commit an act outside with more avenues of escape.

    The Giants need better to practice better customer service and keep the lines moving.

  15. The prices and hassle to attend a PacBell (whoops Oracle) game aren’t worth it anymore.

    After 30+ years being a Giants fan, I have officially given up on going to games mainly due to the $35 parking and high concession prices, even when tickets only cost $5 on stub-hub.

    The last game I attended: the last place Giants were losing 6-0 in the 7th. I asked the ticket office if there was any way to get a discounted ticket for better seats below for the last 3 innings so my wife and I could have at least on positive from another loss. Nope. Didn’t expect it, but would have nice customer service. I just knew this was going to be my last game.

    On the way home, I hit a SF pothole and got a flat tire. A fitting end to time attending Giants games.

    I had tried Caltrain in past, but after being stuck in un-air conditioned Caltrain car to the South Bay for over an hour, I gave up partaking of that joy fest.

    I’m glad the Bobby Evans years are behind us and that the front office seems to know what they are doing again, but I’m fine watching it on TV these days

  16. Season ticket holder here, Clear member, 50+ games a year:
    One of the issues is there are not as many actual metal gates and tables open, there are fewer staff members in Giants gear and instead a lot of rental searchers in yellow jackets.
    Another issue is that the searches are more extensive recently – opening small side pockets and making fans remove items.
    The Giants doing better means more people but not more gates open or more personnel. It means longer wait times as management hasn’t adjusted.
    I like seeing the first pitch but the intense searching is over the top.
    The 6:45 start times haven’t been my friend either.

  17. It is obvious the Giants need to harness the tech knowledge from the valley to make the game entry more seamless.

    I attend more than 20 games. The lines are moving slower and the bag searches have become more intrusive.

  18. former Niner season ticket holder, I recall one late summer game at the Stick where I was able to wear shorts… the security had gotten goofy enough then where they started doing pat downs.
    No biggie, it’s part of the process, takes longer, whatever. However, the guard patted my arms, under arms, sides and back, then proceeded to pat all the way down my legs – hairy man legs – even though I was wearing shorts. Made no sense to me, but, whatever.
    Got into the game, undid my belt and took out my coors tall boy can that I stashed in the front of my pants.

  19. When I first read this article there were no comments and it was a “get off my lawn” article so it made sense. Glad others have chimed in to refute the wait time claims. As someone who goes to many games over the years and the past two years with a kid now having to bring so much with us the wait times have never been this long unless it’s a giveaway day. They also added the Clear lane which is free and much faster on those busy days. Really nothing to complain about here but somehow found an essay to write about 1 bad experience.

    1. Eric, have you been to many games since July 1st, or are you thinking back to the crowds of 17,000 in May?

  20. The author has raise some important issues.

    After the tragedy in El Paso yesterday, it got me thinking that the Giants probably view their only legal responsibility is a terrorist attack inside the park. By thinking this way, the Giants have created a much larger bottleneck outside, that is a much richer terrorist target. The Giants would be liable for any terrorist attack on their property, which includes Willie Mays Plaza and the Marina Gate. I agree, this is theater.

  21. When I was in Ireland in June, I saw FleetWood MAC in Dublin. No metal detectors. I opened my backpack to be inspected and they looked at me like I was a loon. Security even said to me, “Have you taken your drugs tonite sir?” And no major lines to get in.

  22. More than a bit surprised that former LE wouldn’t be aware of the importance of screening for non-metallic WMD, though I feel you on the funneling. The kinds of security issues I’ve seen I dare not mention. I hope UASI courses return and SFPD takes a stronger interest in counterterrorism training.

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