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Bucs fans can tattle via text

TAMPA — For fans spending hundreds of dollars to attend Tampa Bay Buccaneers games, the beer-soaked, foul-mouthed nuisance in the next seat can ruin the game-day experience.

This season, the Bucs have a solution for those who don't want to confront unruly fans or miss any action: Text message for help.

On Sundays, fans dealing with abusive spectators can text (813) 277-6501 with their problem and location, and a security or law enforcement officer will arrive.

"Sometimes people don't want to get up from their seat," said Barbara Casey, Tampa Sports Authority spokeswoman.

In the past, fans had to go find an officer, go to guest services, phone to report obnoxious spectators — or stare down the problem themselves.

The text messaging system arrives at the same time as the NFL's new fan code of conduct, announced this season, which is designed to encourage family friendly football.

It parallels the hard line NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has taken with players, handing out suspensions for arrests more frequently than his predecessors.

The Buccaneers, which host their home opener Sunday against Atlanta, view the fan code of conduct as nothing more than a minimum NFL standard.

Their ticket policy has for years been more explicit and expansive, including most of the NFL's rules in addition to prohibiting throwing or kicking objects, standing on seats, spitting tobacco juice, stepping over chair backs, sitting in walkways, aisles or on chair backs, running and jogging.

"We haven't implemented any changes because we feel like we're going above and beyond it," Bucs spokesman Jeff Kamis said.

It's about time for a behavior crackdown, say some fans.

"That is one of the reasons I stopped going," said Carman Spence, 45, of Tampa, a beer distributor who attends many local sporting events and thinks other teams' fans behave better. "I have had a lot of bad experiences in the stadium."

"In the old days, it was handled differently," said Peter Montesino, 53, a Bucs fan who attends at least one game a season. "You wouldn't have to wait for security. You see unruly people at a younger age, you confront it. At a more mature age, you want to walk away."

The Tampa Bay Rays have similar rules aimed at louts. Their fans can walk up to an usher at Tropicana Field to report problems, said Rick Nafe, vice president of operations and facilities.

The flow of a baseball game gives fans easy and inconspicuous opportunities to blow the whistle, but football's long quarters make that harder, which is why the text messaging system was created.

The text message number will be advertised in the Raymond James Stadium concourse and on the big screen. Messages will be monitored by a security or law officer in the Tampa Sports Authority office, who will dispatch security or maintenance workers to the location. Tampa police, the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office and other agencies are on the grounds ready to respond, Casey said.

Unruly fans can be warned, ejected and even arrested. Typically, the Bucs receive about 10 complaints of a varied nature when they win under clear skies and about 50 complaints when the team and weather disappoint, Casey said.

The Miami Dolphins also have a text messaging system that worked well last Sunday against the New York Jets, said George Torres, Dolphins senior director of marketing and communications.

"We had fewer incidents of reports and ejections and arrests than last year during the Jets-Dolphin game," he said.

The Bucs text message system was tested during two preseason games this year, but no one used it. Casey doesn't expect it to cause much of a rise in complaints so TSA authorities don't think they need more security staff.

Some fans disagree.

"Text messaging is prone to abuse," said Tony Cruz, 38, of north Tampa, a lifelong Bucs fan. "How many people are you going to have at these games responding to these calls?"

Other things the Bucs have done to improve the Ray Jay atmosphere include opening a family section where beer is banned and cursing policed. Stadiumwide, beer sales end after the third quarter.

Justin George can be reached at (813) 226-3368 or jgeorge@sptimes.com.

>>fast facts

Calling for help

Phone numbers to report obnoxious fans at Raymond James Stadium:

Call (813) 350-6501

Text (813) 277-6501

.fast facts

Bucs fans can tattle via text 09/11/08 [Last modified: Monday, September 15, 2008 2:48pm]

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