The Winnipeg Blue Bombers are scrambling to head off a growing controversy over an unlikely issue: cowbells.
The Bombers are poised to move into a new stadium this CFL season and club officials recently sent season ticket holders details about a new security policy. The policy outlined restrictions on "artificial noisemakers" and it included a ban on cowbells.
"Over the course of last season, we had numerous complaints regarding artificial noisemakers – cowbells, homemade noisemakers etc. – that were either excessive in noise or unsafe for some of our patrons," team spokesman Darren Cameron told the Winnipeg Free Press over the weekend. While acknowledging the policy might disappoint some fans, particularly those who paid $40 for cowbells sold by the Bombers, Cameron added that the Bombers had consulted other teams and leagues in making the decision.
The policy infuriated many fans and by Monday the club quickly backtracked.
"After listening to our fans, we would like to inform everyone that over-the-counter purchased cowbells will be permitted at home games this season," Jim Bell, the club's vice-president and chief operating officer, said Monday. The Bombers won't allow homemade cowbells, such as paint cans loaded with rocks, "or any other device that may be deemed unsafe by our security staff," he added.
Fans can also bring clappers, thunder sticks and plastic horns, the club said.
"It was never our intention to diminish the fan experience, but as an organization, when we receive complaints and concerns regarding fan safety, we must react accordingly," Cameron said Monday.
"You'd be surprised with some of the items our security team reports that fans try to bring into the facility," Cameron added. "This is and was all about fan safety, but I think we have settled on a middle ground and anything brought in will be at the sole discretion of the club."
The Bombers aren't the first sports organization to have trouble with cowbells, which have long been a popular noisemaker at skiing and cycling events.
Last winter the Canadian Curling Association tried to ban cowbells at the Canada Cup competition because the noise annoyed some fans. The association backed down after an outcry by fans.
The Southeast Conference of the National Collegiate Athletic Association had banned cowbells at football games for decades, but fans continued to sneak them into games. In 2010, the SEC allowed one conference member, Mississippi State University, to lift the ban so long as the school followed tight restrictions about when fans could ring the instruments (only during dead-ball situations such as after touchdowns and during halftime and timeouts.). The university faces fines from the league of up to $50,000 (U.S.) for violations of the policy, but so far fans have complied.