Anyone who catches a ball at a sports game gets free bragging rights for life, but before you try and keep that ball to take it home after the game, you should know if it’s actually acceptable in the sport to keep a ball that flies into the stands. We’ve got everything you need to know about catching and keeping a soccer ball that falls into the stands.
It’s generally unacceptable for a fan to keep a soccer ball that has been kicked into the stands because soccer clubs only supply a small number of balls for each game. The ball must also be retrieved by a ballboy or ballgirl. There are some instances in soccer games, however, in which it is acceptable for a fan to keep the ball.
Continue reading to find out when you are allowed to keep the soccer ball at a game and to find out more about why it’s usually not acceptable to keep a soccer ball.
What happens if a ball goes into the stands?
If a soccer ball is kicked during a game and it sails over the goal or at a high angle and ends up in the stands, the fan who catches it is expected to return it. There is no written or official rule (except for Major League Soccer) that clarifies this, it’s rather more of a courtesy in soccer culture than an explicit rule.
Usually, the fan who catches the ball is supposed to throw it back into the play, or pass it to a ballboy/girl or to a match official. But don’t let that discourage you, because even catching the ball and getting possession of it is sheer luck, so that’s enough bragging rights to bring home with you after the game!
But, if you try to keep the ball, and the ballboy, ballgirl, or match official has to approach you to retrieve the ball, then you’ll instead be remembered as the person who tried to keep the ball and paused the game for an unnecessary amount of time.
So, unless the soccer club or league officially states that you’re allowed to keep the ball, it’s best to just return it and rely on the fact that most people will believe you if you tell them you were lucky enough to catch the ball during the big game.
Why fans can’t keep a caught soccer ball
There’s a reason why soccer is a bit different than other team sports when it comes to keeping a ball that flies out of bounds and is caught by a fan. The reason fans can’t keep a caught soccer ball is that most leagues or clubs don’t have an unlimited amount of soccer balls, and thus they only have a small number of balls for each game to replace a ball if it truly gets lost or damaged in some way during the game.
The reason for the limited amount of balls is usually that the balls are expensive (usually around $100 each) or the soccer team is sponsored by a ball provider or company. These companies will then give the club a select amount of high-quality matchday balls to be used for a team, as well as a payment for using the balls in exchange for the promotional value.
If the club goes through all the balls given to them by that company, they’ll have to buy additional balls, which will cost them out of pocket and is yet another reason why the club will want the soccer balls to be returned. Furthermore, these companies supply those balls to the team because they want fans to buy them, and if a fan catches the ball, then the company loses one potential customer. If you want to support your favorite soccer team a bit more, then buy a soccer ball from the company that sponsors them so that company will want to continue sponsoring that team.
When you can keep the ball
If the soccer club or soccer league specifically states (either on their website or in a game announcement) that fans can keep a ball kicked into the stands, then you can feel free to keep the ball.
Another instance in which you can keep the ball at a soccer game is if a player specifically kicks the ball to you, especially at the end of the game. You can tell if they are kicking it to you if you were waving for them to do so and they specifically look at you and kick the ball towards you, or towards a general group in the audience for whoever catches it to keep.
You don’t want to do this during the game, however, because they won’t be able to kick it to you anyway (unless the ball has become damaged) and because it can cause unnecessary distraction during the player’s gameplay.
If you want a ball, you can try waving and asking for one at the end of the game, but don’t expect the players to be able to give you a ball in the first play, as some clubs won’t even allow players to give a soccer ball to a fan.
Rules for keeping and returning soccer balls for various team levels
Generally speaking, this unspoken rule that you should return the ball at a soccer game if it gets kicked to you applies to several different levels of soccer. Those levels include high school soccer, recreational soccer (unless the player specifically gives it to you), and college because of limited balls supplied by or for the team. This is true as well as for professional soccer levels such as Major League Soccer and European Leagues for the reasons listed for why fans can’t keep a caught soccer ball.
While there are some leagues or soccer clubs that do allow fans to keep a soccer ball if they catch one, you should never assume that you can keep the ball unless the club or league specifically states that it’s okay. Otherwise, you should just assume that you need to return the ball as soon as possible so that no excess amount of time is wasted before the game can resume.