TAMPA — Security screenings that for six seasons forced Tampa Bay Buccaneer fans to submit to patdown searches at the stadium end today — replaced instead with sweeps from magnetic wands.
The required wandings at Raymond James Stadium were announced Thursday by the Tampa Sports Authority. They begin with the preseason game against the Tennessee Titans at 7:30 p.m. today.
With exceptions for medical reasons, fans who refuse to be wanded will not be let in the stadium, the authority said.
"We're optimistic that as fans get accustomed to this procedure, it will result in less time in line and smaller crowds at the gate prior to kickoff," said Mickey Farrell, operations director at the stadium, in a statement. "And as always, we encourage fans to give themselves a little extra time when planning their arrival."
A pilot program began at the end of last season at several stadium gates, said Barbara Casey, a spokeswoman for the authority.
"The response has been very positive. Some people don't particularly like to be touched," she said. "Everyone wants to come and feel safe and comfortable. We are just trying to facilitate that."
If the Bucs sell out a home games, there will be 270 wands in use, Casey said.
Ending the patdown policy comes years after the sports authority won a lengthy court battle to keep the practice in place.
In 2005, the NFL mandated patdowns for all its team venues.
That same year, Bucs season ticket-holder Gordon Johnston filed a lawsuit calling the patdown an infringement on his Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure. Local courts agreed with him. But when the case climbed to higher appellate levels, panels ruled that anyone who had bought a ticket had agreed to a patdown search. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the case in 2009.
Johnston, 67, a civics teacher at Tampa Bay Technical High School, said Thursday he hasn't been to a game in five years.
"Definitely, wanding is better," Johnston said. "Now, I'll consider going to some games."
Wand searches, which are used to detect metal, will be mandatory for all fans except those with pacemakers and other heart issues.
With the change in policy also comes a change in funding, Casey said.
The NFL purchased the first 100 magnetic wands. And Casey said the sports authority, a public agency, has an agreement with the Bucs that the team would pay the costs of anything over the price of the patdown searches.
That means the majority of the cost of converting to magnetic wands was absorbed by organizations other than the TSA.
Johnston said that's good news.
"I didn't like that the taxpayers had to pay for something that the NFL decided was necessary," he said.