On fence, fans look up, see red Railings prove barrier to happiness for some

Stadium watch

August 17, 1998|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,SUN STAFF

It is, perhaps, the most nettlesome issue in designing a stadium: what to do about the railings that must encircle the seating areas.

Safety requires railings that help prevent fans from falling off the upper deck. But the pursuit of unobstructed sightlines, and the implications that holds for prices fans will pay for tickets, suggests the fewer railings the better.

What's a stadium builder to do?

"It's a fact of stadium life, unfortunately. Obviously, safety is the No. 1 issue," Ravens director of ticket operations Roy Sommerhof said.

As of early last week, he had fielded about 350 formal complaints about seats, many requesting seat reassignments. The reasons varied, but many of them had to do with railings that were spoiling views. When the team gets such a complaint, it sends someone out to the seat to test the view.

If the obstruction is severe, the fan will be relocated and the seat held out for single-game sales to buyers who are warned of the problem. So far, most of the troubles have involved people seated in row 9 of the upper deck above the portals through which fans pass to get back and forth from the concourse.

But not everyone agrees on what is an obstruction. Andrew Wagman, a 30-year-old customer analyst with McCormick & Co., had seats in the seventh row of the upper deck. The railing in front of him interfered with his view of the field from the 40-yard line to the 5-yard line, he said.

"You're always competing with that railing. Whether you crane up or slouch under it. In that whole half of the field, you are competing with that railing," he said.

He complained repeatedly and the team initially said the view wasn't bad enough to warrant a move. But he kept complaining and was eventually given new seats higher in the seating bowl.

Maryland Stadium Authority chairman Bruce Hoffman said requirements for railings have gotten more stringent since Oriole Park opened in 1992. At that time, a railing had to have horizonal barriers every six inches. That standard is now four inches -- small enough, the thinking goes, to keep even a small child from getting a head wedged between the bars.

"They are expensive and they are really a pain," Hoffman said of railings. The Ravens stadium has five miles worth of railings, including those lining pedestrian ramps and other areas.

The stadium authority considered a number of railing designs before settling on the galvanized steel models used for the facility, said Alice Hoffman, the stadium authority's project manager on the job.

They considered a glass or Plexiglass barrier, as is being used in Cleveland's new football stadium, but found that glass thick enough for the job inevitably distorted the view through it, she said. It's also costly.

DTC "We looked through the glass and decided it wasn't worth it," she said.

They also tested a cable configuration in which the uppermost handrail was tubular steel but the horizontal rails beneath it thin cable. A section of this was installed as a test at the stadium. But when the cable was drawn taut enough to ensure the four-inch maximum gap, it bent the upright supports.

Sommerhof said there has been an upside to the complaints about the rails: Some fans who found the upper deck too steep and too high have expressed a desire to trade with the railbirds who want to move to a seat with an unobstructed view.

"It's pretty subjective. For some people it's an issue; for others it's not," Sommerhof said.

Ravens tickets

The Ravens sold more than 15,000 tickets to regular-season games this weekend as of yesterday afternoon, said Kevin Byrne, the team's vice president of public relations.

The Sept. 6 season opener against Pittsburgh remains the only game that is sold out. The three games with the fewest tickets available are: Nov. 29 against Indianapolis (500 remain), Nov. 1 against Jacksonville (1,500) and Nov. 8 against Oakland (1,800).

There are 5,000 tickets left for next Monday's preseason game against Philadelphia, the Ravens' second game at their new stadium.

Pub Date: 8/17/98

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