Column

No Food or Drink Allowed

As pro baseball season opens in Korea this week, the KBO (Korean Baseball Organization) has launched a new safety campaign for 2015. SAFE, an acronym for Security, Attention, Fresh, and Emergency, is designed to promote the overall quality and comfort of the baseball watching experience.

Under the Security heading, alcohol and all liquids over one liter are banned, and there are now restrictions on personal items. Under the Fresh initiative, food that is considered disruptive to other fans (strong smell, soups, etc.) is no longer allowed, alongside smoking and vulgar language.

Fans will still be allowed to bring in some food and drink, just not beer. However, fan grumblings are already loud, with the KBO website and op-eds running in Korean dailies filled with demands for changes, cries for boycotts, negative predictions on attendance, and overall mourning of the end of meals like this:

DSC_0170
Chi-mek, short for “chicken” and mekju (“beer”): if you’re not doing it like this, you might as well just stay at home.

Most significantly, fans are more than aware of the massive profit possibility for this shift in supposed security. Beer will now be available in stadiums for sale only, and there are talks of franchises setting up camp inside.

For those of us in North America, the idea of being able to bring in food and drink into a sports stadium sounds antiquated, up there along the once accepted practice of smoking in airplanes. However, these histories did not happen that long ago. The smoking ban on planes to/from the U.S. was only signed in 2000, and I can remember bringing kimbab and juice boxes into Safeco Field that year.

9/11, of course, was the game changer. It is hard to remember a time now when you weren’t frisked, wanded, yelled at, and your bag searched through before entering any sports arena. The size of the one allowable bag shrinks every year, to the point that I fear the ultimate goal is to have fans enter with only cash and credit cards in hand. (I am particularly incensed at the recent NFL rule about transparent bags, which is just a plain insult to fashion.) It’s obvious to me the NFL is trying to prohibit the smuggling in of outside food and drink, as much as potential weaponry.

Journalist Naomi Klein coined the phrase “disaster capitalism” to identify the ways in which corporations (and government) will take advantage of moments of national trauma in order secure profit and sneak in significant legislative changes. It’s how New Orleans completely gutted its public school system after Hurricane Katrina, and how a significant portion of Thailand’s coast is now owned by foreign real estate speculators after the devastating tsunami in 2004.

From the perspective of economics, 9/11 was one of the most profitable things to happen to professional sports and the stadium security industry. Under the guise of security, liquids and foods were no longer allowed inside, forcing everyone to buy from the stands or go without either for 3+ hours. Anyone who attends sports regularly knows how outrageous concession stand prices are, with markups for beer alone ranging between an outrageous 300% at the cheap end, to an unbelievable 765% at the highest, compared to local grocery store prices.

With the MLB season opener just around the corner, it may bode well for us to listen to the protests of angry fellow baseball fans in Korea, and rethink what is really going on—and who is profiting—in the name of perpetually enhanced security.

Cover photo from Murray Cook’s Field and Ballpark Blog.

About heesjoo

I'm an educator, thinker, spectator sport fanantic, and nacho enthusiast. I grew up in the Deep South, which explains everything. My body currently resides in Winnipeg, Canada.

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