Fixing the Fan Experience: Netting Fails and Opens MLB to Losing Lawsuits

During the first 50 days of baseball of the 2016 Major League Baseball season, it became obvious that the extended netting had nothing more than a nominal influence on the game. In fact, most season ticket holders—those who choose to sit close of the field in order to interact with players, get toss-ups and foul balls, and maybe even a broken bat, batting gloves or just a handshake from a player–it’s more of an annoyance than anything. Most importantly, these incidents open MLB to losing lawsuits.

In the first 50 days of the 2016 season, balls were going THROUGH the netting, an issue I raised to MLB Commish Manfred, though it went ignored.

The fact is, the extra netting has done nothing. Fans are still getting hit. Teams are expending significant money and time to put up the netting, season ticket holders hate it, and the netting fails in those areas more than the pre-existing netting.

NETTING FAILS

Here are just two of the epic fails from 2016:

The first epic fail of the extended netting came about two weeks into the 2016 Major League Baseball season during the April 15 Rays/White Sox game. This game was the first test of the net netting at the Rays’ park. During this game, the ball went THROUGH a gap in the extended netting and hit a woman with such force she was admitted to the hospital for observation. She could sue the Rays, netting company and MLB for failure to provide safe seating. And, thanks to Manfred’s short-sightedness, she’d win.

Another failure, repeated failures in fact, came around May 13. A devout Boston Red Sox fan and I had a Twitter conversation about how the netting at Fenway is failing and not protecting fans as advertised. Here’s a part of our conversation:

CONVOS ABOUT NETTING

Here’s one Twitter discussion I had wiht a fan at a Boston Red Sox game last season.

H… Boston, MA
@FoulBallz yup. There’s a big gap at the top where the net meets the awning above and it’s been going through the gap

H…Boston, MA
@FoulBallz yup. Three balls have [gone] through the top of the home plate netting tonight. [This] one happened to come right to me.

Another fan told me about a player who was able to slip a ball through the netting. This means there are gaps large enough to fit a baseball. Thus, if a foul ball is going fast enough and hits the netting at just the right spot, that kid–or any fan–is still going to suffer greatly. At least with no netting, the average human response time would have allowed them to react to the ball.

These are only two examples of the issue Manfred never considered. A ball dropping down on a fan’s head can do significant damage, almost as much damage as the ball that struck the fan at the Tampa Bay Rays – Chicago White Sox game a month earlier.

During the 2016 season, we saw a proof of the dangers extended netting poses to fans, netting companies and to baseball itself. During this period, there were at least four well-publicized net failures within the first two months of play.

The first epic failure of extended netting came only days into the season when the Tampa Bay Rays’ netting exposed a major flaw in the netting rigging which allowed a foul ball through. Two later instances occurred in Boston.

This is an exchange I had with a fan on Twitter regarding the Boston netting:

Note he says the ball was squeezed though. This has been a point I’ve tried to drive home time and again: Netting fails.




Imagine a ball hit with just the right trajectory and speed. It WILL go through the netting at that point. It happened in Tampa the first week of the 2016 season. It’s happened in Boston and other parks this season. Teams pay thousands of dollars for netting that repeatedly fails. In adding the netting, MLB has opened themselves up to more lawsuits, because there are more seats in which fans can assume safety.

LEAVING MLB OPEN TO LAWSUIT LOSSES
You’d think Manfred, being an attorney, would understand the liability issues he’s set up baseball to have. These lawsuits will be won by the fans, not by Major League Baseball. The netting failures become a financial liability to MLB, NOT something protecting them from culpability. The recent jury decision in favor of the Cleveland Indians is evidence of how MLB isn’t responsible for foul ball injuries in unnetted areas. Given all the warnings baseball has at games—signs, announcements and so one—unnetted areas guarantee an MLB loss due to the “reasonable precautions” clause the league adheres to.

I understand covering the slaughter pen—the area right behind home plate—due to the number of foul balls that are hit there, but any extra netting only opens MLB and MiLB to lawsuits they are sure to lose. The examples above illustrate the continued dangers of netting. Fans now feel safe behind the netting. They are anything but safe. Neither is MLB now.

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