Vern's Verbal Vibe

Singer-songwriter/multi-instrumentalist and purveyor of folk 'n' roll: spirit-filled sad songs made better.

May 04, 2009

The Non-Alcohol Section: So Wet I Need a Raincoat

Mr. Mario Coutinho
Vice-President, Stadium Operations & Security
Toronto Blue Jays Baseball Club
1 Blue Jays Way, Suite 3200
Rogers Centre
Toronto, Ontario M5V 1J1

Dear Mr. Coutinho:

I am a loyal Blue Jays fan who attends upwards of 70 games per season. A lifelong non-drinker for a variety or reasons, I choose to sit in the non-alcohol section (520/521).

I wish to draw your attention to the failure of Rogers Centre to consistently maintain Section 520/521 as an alcohol-free section, a state of affairs that hampers my enjoyment of the game.

First off, I wish to note that by and large, your ushers do a good job of enforcing the non-alcohol policy. When they happen to spot a guest consuming alcoholic beverages in the prohibited area, they politely inform the guest that the section is alcohol-free and ask them to move. Yes, most guests do comply, but I raise this point to illustrate the crux of the problem: ushers shouldn’t have to haul hordes of beer-drinking patrons out of this section night after night.

Why do drinkers flock to an ostensibly alcohol-free section? I offer several reasons:
  • Inadequate signage. Unless a patron is looking for one of the modest signs adoring the passageway from the concourse to seating areas, one would never know that this section has been designated alcohol-free. There is absolutely no signage in the seating area. This paucity of signage can be rectified by: (a) painting the seats in 520/521 a different colour; (b) slapping a (large, visible) sticker on every seat in the section—perhaps a beer stein enclosed in a red circle with the words “NON-ALCOHOL SEATING AREA” would do the trick; (c) hanging a banner in the top row that spans the width of the section, with graphics/text as in (b) above (the banner would be immediately visible to patrons as they turn to go up the stairs to their seats); (d) providing larger and more plentiful signage throughout the concourse.
  • Lack of awareness. A simple in-stadium announcement, together with a graphic on the video board, could be made once per game—ideally in the second or third inning—to ensure that all fans at Rogers Centre (a) know that this section (and the corresponding Level 100- and 200-areas) exists, and (b) are reminded that those who choose to sit in these sections cannot consume alcoholic beverages.
  • Improperly trained beer vendors. On at least three occasions, I have seen beer vendors (a) hawking beer in the non-alcohol section and/or (b) selling beer to patrons seated in the section. Presumably, neither the vendor nor the patrons realize that the section has been designated alcohol-free. Beer vendors must be trained to (a) refrain from hawking beer in the non-alcohol section; and (b) refrain from selling beer to patrons seated therein. (Ignorance on the patron’s part is not a valid excuse.)
  • This-section’s-empty-hey-let’s-sit here syndrome. I understand that—despite its prime location down the first base line—520/521 is usually the most sparsely populated section in the upper deck because the vast majority of guests prefer beer with their baseball. That’s fine, but the lure of empty seats combined with inadequate signage and utter lack of awareness (see above) ensures a steady stream of “migrants” into 520/521. As noted earlier, the ushers do their best to stem the tide; with adequate signage and increased awareness they wouldn’t have to.
  • Strategically misplaced concourse beer stand. If Rogers Centre is serious about creating a non-alcohol seating area in Section 520/521, why is a Budweiser cart situated in the concourse directly behind Sections 520 and 521? Irrespective of the actual seat number printed on their tickets, patrons tend to line up, grab their beer, and head up the nearest aisle, which of course leads directly to the non-alcohol seating area.
I love watching baseball, but I can’t say I enjoy the split focus that makes up my in-game experience. I spend half my time focusing on the field and the other half playing unofficial section cop. Often the usher is busy tending to other duties, or there are too many migrating drinkers for one usher to handle.

It is my steadfast belief that implementing the simple structural changes outlined above would go a long way toward making Rogers Centre a more hospitable place for drinkers and non-drinkers alike. Though I may be the only one writing, I’m not the only regular in this section who is troubled by these ongoing infractions. As such, I urge you to give my concerns your utmost consideration.


Vern C. Nicholson

cc: Richard Wong, Senior Vice-President, Stadium Operations
Liquor Enforcement, Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario

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