The Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks have caused a stir by placing geographic limitations on fans buying tickets to this weekend's National Football League conference championship games.
The Seahawks announced that tickets to Sunday's matchup against the San Francisco 49ers would be sold only to fans with billing addresses in Washington, Oregon, Montana, Idaho, Alaska and Hawaii and in the Canadian provinces of British Columbia and Alberta, notably omitting California and thus many 49ers fans. The Broncos are limiting ticket sales to fans based in the Rocky Mountain region, including Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming, Nebraska, Montana, South Dakota and western Kansas, leaving out the entire East Coast as they're set to face the New England Patriots.
Rival fans can be upset with the teams' attempts to improve home-field advantage, but these restrictions are the prerogative of the home teams, and completely within the NFL's rules. In 2007, the San Diego Chargers and Chicago Bears had similar measures in place, and league spokesman Greg Aiello noted that they were completely legal.
It's a problem for transplanted fans, as I'm sure there are Seahawks fans living in Los Angeles or Broncos fans in Boston who want to attend these games. People living in New York, a city full of transplants, are also out of luck.
The restrictions, however, are a smart move to minimize hostility in the audience, toward both the home team and the fans. I personally can't stand sitting in my team's stadium next to fans of the other team, who tend to overcompensate for being outnumbered by being even more obnoxious in their trash-talking. And it's become a safety issue, given recent incidents of violence, some involving Denver fans. Just last weekend, one Broncos fan was beaten by a group of Chargers fans in California after Denver's win that ended San Diego's playoff run. Last month, three people were stabbed outside Sports Authority Field at Mile High Stadium after a Broncos' loss, also to the Chargers. That came less than two weeks after a fan died after an altercation outside Arrowhead Stadium when the Broncos visited the Kansas City Chiefs.
These attacks are a sign that some folks take sports way too seriously, and, granted, they don't only happen when fans root for different teams. But can you really blame the Broncos and Seahawks for wanting to avoid the issue in the midst of a Super Bowl run? Alcohol, rivalries and the heightened tension of a playoff atmosphere can be a volatile mix, and limiting the presence of opposing fans in the stands can at least temper some of these emotions and reduce the risk of fan violence. If it also happens to create a friendlier environment for the home team, so be it.
(Kavitha A. Davidson is a Bloomberg View columnist who writes about sports. Follow her on Twitter at @kavithadavidson.)