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2013 CAROLINA PANTHERS

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Carolina Panthers’ fans to face tighter security rules at Bank of America Stadium

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Jeff Kelly is back in the Carolina Panthers’ memorabilia market because of new NFL security policies.

Starting with Friday’s 8 p.m. preseason game against Chicago, the Panthers will prohibit most bags and many seat cushions from Bank of America Stadium.

The new rules – intended to protect fans and speed up security lines – are the latest in a series of changes since Sept. 11, and the first since April’s Boston Marathon bombing.

All bags except for small purses and clear bags smaller than a certain size are now banned. Covered seat cushions with compartments or zippers are also prohibited.

“I get the safety thing, but come on,” Kelly said of the changes. “It just means I’ve got to spend a lot more money.”

Kelly, 51, of Charlotte estimates he’s spent $1,000 at the team store for items like a Panthers seat cushion for his 8-year-old son. Now he’s looking for an acceptable replacement online.

Under the new rules, only clear plastic or clear vinyl bags no larger than 12 inches by 6 inches by 12 inches will be allowed. Sealable plastic bags are OK, as are foam seat pads without zippers, clasps or compartments.

The only other bag Panthers security will allow is a small purse no larger than a fan’s hand, 4.5 inches by 6.5 inches. Exceptions will be made for medical reasons.

“I’m glad there is more security,” said Ron Patton, a season ticket holder. “There is a bunch of nuts out there … We need security.”

NFL Chief Security Officer Jeffrey Miller said fans regularly asked him to speed up the security process and the new policy should do that. He added that the league was further spurred to action by the bombings at the finish line of April’s Boston Marathon.

“We were looking at our entry process already,” Miller said. “And sadly, then we had the terrorist attack in Boston and that certainly impacted us.”

Just over a week after the bombings, no bags were allowed at the NFL Draft. The league still “strongly encourages” fans to leave all bags at home.

The security changes join a list of procedures enacted in the past, such as bag checks, pat downs and metal detectors. Among the items that the Panthers currently list as permitted: tablets, but not laptops.

To further speed entry into the stadium, the Panthers have doubled the number of screening points and moved them closer to the street this season.

“The stadium was designed before 9/11 and before there were security checks and things like that,” said Panthers spokesman Charlie Dayton. “…We needed to make some interventions to account for the extra security.”

Carolina is asking fans to arrive 30 minutes earlier than normal Friday to account for the changes.

Miller said that the new rules were put in place for the first time at last week’s Hall of Fame induction ceremony in Canton, Ohio, and that the process went smoothly.

Kelly said he wishes the team was better prepared to help the public deal with the new rules. For instance, the Panthers are planning on sending PSL holders a clear tote bag that will be permitted, but the team has not yet received its shipment of the bags.

Kelly also felt that the league didn’t properly consider all the money that fans have spent on now-banned items.

NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said the league consulted focus groups before implementing the stricter rules.

In making the rules, the committee was sensitive to the impact on fans, Miller said.

“Having said that,” Miller said, “security is non-negotiable and the commissioner and owners are responsible in trying to find ways to protect our fans while still respecting … the game day experience.”

The type of large backpack used in the Boston bombings was already banned from NFL stadiums, but Miller said that the size of bags being allowed into stadiums had been creeping larger and larger. Size limits are now clearly defined.

Miller said there will be some flexibility in how teams enforce the new rules.

Some teams could allow fans to check their bags outside the stadium, he said.

McCarthy said team policies may differ on whether to return bags that don’t fit the requirements. Dayton said the Panthers will not confiscate bags.

The NFL is selling acceptable clear bags for $9.95 on its website, but fans can also buy permitted bags elsewhere. The Panthers’ bag on the NFL site is back-ordered and might not ship until Sept. 17, according to a note on the site.

“It’s progressive but reasonable,” McCarthy said of the new rules. “Our policies are working, and we’ve continued to improve them in light of changing times in the world.” Staff writer Cleve R. Wootson Jr. contributed.

Feldman: 704-358-5384; Twitter: @jacobfeldman4
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