NASHVILLE — Major League Baseball has issued recommendations to all 30 Major League Clubs with respect to fan safety at games. Specifically, recommendations related to expanding the number of seats covered by protective netting and expanding the ways in which clubs warn fans about the dangers of sitting near the field.
The recommendations are as follows:
- Teams will be encouraged to shield the seats between the near ends of both dugouts (i.e., the ends of the dugouts located closest to home plate) and within 70 feet of home plate with protective netting or other safety materials of their choice. The Commissioner’s Office has retained a consultant specializing in stadium architecture and protective netting to assist interested Clubs in implementing this recommendation.
- Clubs are encouraged to continue to explore ways to educate their fans on safety issues beyond the mere disclaimers and signs warning them of flying objects leaving the field, and the league will provide teams with resources to assist them in this area.
- The Commissioner’s Office will be working with the Clubs and online ticketing sellers to identify ways to provide customers with additional information at the point of sale about which seats are (and are not) behind netting.
It should be noted that most parks already have netting which extends to the near edge of the dugout. In light of several notable injuries at baseball games, many have advocated for netting which extends much farther. It’s also worth noting that two of those three bullet points are obvious creatures of assumption-of-the-risk calculus — they are, essentially, disclaimers of the “don’t say we didn’t warn you” variety — and, as such, are aimed more at shielding baseball from liability over batted ball or bat-shard injuries than at directly shielding fans from such injuries. Heck, even the netting recommendation could be construed as MLB insulating itself from being joined in a lawsuit at a later date if a club were to get sued over a fan injury.
Not that this is necessarily unreasonable given the interests being balanced here. For all of the dangers here, fans still like to sit down close. Many like to get foul balls and interact with players as much as they possibly can. The league, likewise, wants to encourage that in the interests of customer service. Indeed, Rob Manfred has issued a statement about all of this, noting that the recommendations — and they are just recommendations, not rules — attempt “to balance the need for an adequate number of seating options with our desire to preserve the interactive pre-game and in-game fan experience that often centers around the dugouts, where fans can catch foul balls, see their favorite players up close and, if they are lucky, catch a tossed ball or other souvenir.” It’s a tough balance.
In the first few minutes after this release several clubs — notably the Dodgers and Rays — announced that they will comply with the recommendations. One would assume most or maybe even all clubs will and that the topic of safety netting will be more or less closed until the next on-camera injury occurs at the ballpark.