Safety & Security

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Selfie Sticks: Device Non Grata at Sports Destinations

18 May, 2015

By: Mary Helen Sprecher

It’s the device of choice in a social media-obsessed world. But lately, the selfie stick has been drawing red cards from sports event organizers.

For those who need a primer: the arm-out method of aiming your cell phone in order to take a photo (particularly of yourself against a backdrop you want to use to impress your Facebook friends) is so last year. These days, everyone is using the selfie stick, an extendable device that holds the phone out (or up) to provide a wider angle shot. Selfie sticks can be purchased everywhere from phone stores to electronics stores to (of course) airports.

And right now, they’re becoming the bane of sports events organizers’ existence. The sticks, which are variously characterized as intrusive, annoying and even dangerous, are appearing on the ‘banned equipment’ list at a variety of events.

In April, Churchill Downs banned selfie sticks at the running of the Kentucky Derby. According to an article appearing in The New York Times, a spokesman for the track said it was a safety measure meant to protect the horses and the crowd of about 160,000 on Derby day. (Fans in Baltimore were relieved to find out selfie sticks were allowed at the Preakness – at least this year). Selfie sticks aren't allowed at the Belmont Stakes, however (and neither are drones or radio-controlled aircraft, according to organizers).

But that wasn’t all. Selfie sticks are also banned at Wimbledon, where officials called them a ‘nuisance that would interfere with spectators’ enjoyment.’

Two European soccer clubs, Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal, have also banned the use of the devices among fans. The sentiment was applauded by NBC Pro Soccer Talk columnist Andy Edwards, who noted,

“The fact that any Premier League club even had to broach this subject tells you everything you need to know about today’s society. If I’m paying anywhere between $60 and $200 for just a decent seat at a Premier League stadium, you can be sure I’ll be far more focused on the action playing out in front of me than anything happening on my phone.”

Because they are extendable, selfie sticks are able to go where people can not – including over the sidelines of games in progress. And while it might not sound like a problem initially, consider the ramifications of an athlete or official unwittingly running into a camera and stick while in the midst of the action on the sports field.

In addition, hundreds fans with selfie sticks waving phones in the air are unlikely to result in a better photo for any user – and sticks that interfere with someone’s else’s photo (very likely) or come crashing down on other spectators (even more likely) are arguments in the stands that are simply waiting to happen. In fact, the possibility of the latter was one factor that led the soccer clubs (whose fans are known for brawling) to institute a ban on the sticks.

Sports events are joining a growing list of venues banning the devices including concerts and festivals, organizers of which are noting the devices are bothersome to others, and that they infringe upon the rights of credentialed photographers. In addition, BBC has noted that several art galleries in the United States also ban selfie sticks, including the National Portrait Gallery, part of the network of Smithsonian museums. Reached by telephone, Ellie Skochdopole, a spokeswoman for the Portrait Gallery, said the ban, which began March 3, was in place to ensure no artwork was damaged. An interesting list of various venues banning selfie sticks is available in this article.

There’s also the idea of personal use at private functions. For several years, wedding photographers have complained of guests ruining professional shots by sticking their arms and cell phones into the aisle. The selfie stick has made this problem even worse. (In fact, in a recent consumer poll, a huge majority (more than 87 percent of respondents) believed brides and grooms should be able to ban cell phone photos and selfie sticks from their ceremonies and receptions).

Expect the issue of selfie sticks – and their use in sports – to gain even more attention as time goes on. The NFL is reviewing the issue and expects to make a statement in time for next season on whether selfie sticks will be allowed into stadiums. Other national governing bodies also might institute a ban – or they might leave it to the specific sports organization or venue to create their own regulations.

Some sports events don’t have to worry about the selfie stick issue. Augusta National has a standing rule against carrying cell phones onto the course, something highlighted each year during The Masters. (Offenders can be banned for life – a penalty strong enough to give second thoughts to even the most cell phone-crazed individual).

Of course, there’s always the worry that the use of a selfie stick will create a negative image for the person posting the photo on social media (‘Poor guy/girl who is all alone at the Preakness/World Series/Little League game and needs a stick to hold the camera’). And for that reason, necessity is the mother of invention: meet the ‘selfie arm,’ an extendable tool designed to look like the hand of a friend, stretched out to hold the camera.

Money may not be able to buy friends at sports events, but it can buy a plastic hand that masquerades as a friend. Now all it has to do is cheer for your favorite team.

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