BUFFALO - The football gods created the pre-season for trial-and-error.
It's a test-run for the regular season. On Friday, when theBuffalo Bills face the Minnesota Vikings in their pre-season home opener at Ralph Wilson Stadium, you'll get early answers to some of the season's key issues. How's E.J. Manuel looking? What's the new coaching staff like? Who's that undrafted rookie on the offensive line and why is he playing so well?
And this season, due to new NFL stadium rules implemented for 2013, you'll also be asking yourself another question.
What in the world can I bring into the stadium this year?
"There's always a learning curve," said Andy Major, the Bills' Vice President of Event Operations and Guest Experience, referring to the multiple changes at both the NFL and team-specific levels. "We're doing the best we can to get the word out."
The Bills announced close to a dozen changes on Tuesday, ranging from the seat-cushion policy to increased security to the open container law in Orchard Park. But there's one change in particular that may have a significant impact on a demographic that makes up close to half of the NFL's fan base. These are the people who buy a lot of the NFL's merchandise and increasingly play in a lot of fantasy football leagues.
We're talking about the female fans. Under the new rules, stadiums cannot allow people to enter with purses larger than the "size of a hand." Bags must have a clear exterior - so all items are visible - and they must be 12" x 6" x 12".
"The changes affect female fans more than male fans, clearly," said Melissa Jacobs, the founder of TheFootballGirl.com. "The truth is, how much do we really need to bring to a game? It's just the idea that, what if we did? Or what if we have a kid? Or, quite, frankly, what if it was 'that time of the month'? You're just excluded from that."
Jacobs wrote about this very topicon her website earlier this summer, when the NFL announced the rule changes. Several female readers commented on the story to express displeasure with the rule. A poster named "Donna" called it "blatant discrimination."
Jacobs won't take it that far.
"I don't think it's fair to draw the conclusion that they don't care about their female fan base," Jacobs said. "But I just think this wasn't thought out very well."
From the Bills' perspective, Major defended the NFL rule as a matter of security. The team, which has released a full list of stadium rules on its website, stated in a news release that "the following new Fan Experience Enhancements have been implemented for the 2013 season in an effort to improve the safety and comfort of our fans." The Bills have also implemented tailgating restricts by banning kegs, as well as drinking alcohol at gate entry lines. They've also beefed up perimeter security and have added 128 members of the Erie County Sheriff's Department to the security crew.
As for the bags, Major said it's all about ensuring that fans cannot sneak dangerous materials into the stadium.
"We'll make an exception for the medically-needy, or different cases where somebody needs to bring in diapers or things for children," Major said. "There are always those things we've been dealing with since 9/11, and we're still happy to do those things case-by-case."
Major also said the changes should result in faster lines at the gate.
But perhaps the most controversial issue this summer has surrounded the seat cushions. Major said the NFL's initial press release, which banned all seat cushions league-wide, was a source of concern at first for fans and team officials. However, he said the Bills worked with the league to make an exception for Buffalo, which, of course, gets a little icy during the winter. Now, certain seat cushions are allowed- but they must be a certain size and cannot have zippers.
"That was a little bit of a surprise [at first,]" Major said. "We were able to make a little bit of an adjustment. You can have seat cushions on the metal bleachers."
Still no large purses, though.
"But I don't think that'll keep you home if you really, really want to be there," Jacobs said. "That's the power of the NFL."