In light of the way NFL team owners are treating fans—subjecting them to absurd seat license fees that cost tens of thousands of dollars, jacking up ticket prices as much as 90 percent despite the ongoing recession, suing fans who try to get out of multi-year ticket contracts—cheering on a team is starting to feel a bit like rooting for Exxon or AT&T.
The NFL regular season opens tonight when the Steelers take on the Titans. To celebrate the season opener, we’ve got news that the average ticket price for an NFL game has “only” risen 4 percent this year. The average seat now runs $75. Of the 32 teams, 24 did not raise prices, but the Dallas Cowboys’ efforts helped push the average up nonetheless. Thanks to its new $1.1 billion stadium, the Cowboys lead the way with tickets that cost an average of $160 apiece, up 90 percent compared to last year. From a USA Today post:
The sticker shock doesn’t end with the cost of tickets, however. The Fan Cost Index — what it takes to bring a family of four to a game — is $759 in Dallas, by far the highest in the league.
How about them Cowboys? You could pay your family’s winter heating bill for two months with that sort of money. Season ticket holders in Dallas also must pay a fee that gives them the rights to then buy their tickets each season, and tickets cost $89 and up for each game. Isn’t that nice? You pay for the rights to pay for something. Such fees range from $5,000 to $50,000, and some fans are taking out loans to pay their share.
The concept of a personal seat-licensing fee is becoming a trend, particularly at new stadiums, like Giants Stadium, where fees range from $1,000 to $20,000. The Giants lowered prices on some tickets—from $400 to $250—but the license fee remained the same at $7,500.
Both the Giants and the Jets are struggling to sell tickets for the new stadium, which will cost $1.6 billion and open next season. For that matter, ticket sales aren’t doing so hot across the league. Jacksonville Jaguars’ ticket sales are down 75 percent, and the Cincinnati Bengals’ franchise is at risk of breaking its streak of 44 straight home sell-outs. As many as a dozen teams may blackout games on TV if they don’t sell out, a practice that drives fans nuts.
The recession has to be the main reason ticket sales are sluggish in some markets. The economy is certainly forcing some Washington Redskin fans to scale back their fandom to save money. Or at least try to. The Washington Post reported that one family facing bankruptcy asked to get out of its $5,300-per-year ticket contract, but the Redskins said no. The team sued the season-ticket holder—and won a judgment of over $66,000. The story was one of a series from the Post, which also included a scandal about how the Redskins were selling tickets to brokers (who would turn around and sell them at big profits) rather than selling them directly to dedicated fans who were waiting.
I know no one is forced to buy tickets to football games or any other sporting event. Despite what so many crazed, tailgating, painted-face fans may say, no one really needs to go to a game. The money being spent at stadiums and arenas is about as disposable as it comes. But fans love the experience at least partly because of the feeling of community and belonging—that you’re all in this together, cheering on the hometown team. As average fans are priced out of the ticket market and treated like they’re just a means for profit, they will increasingly feel like they just don’t belong.
Where might their allegiance turn? Perhaps to the Lingerie Football League. Legendary Chicago Bear player and coach Mike Ditka has an ownership stake in the new league, which includes teams like the Miami Caliente, the Dallas Desire, San Diego Seduction, and one from the Second City called the Chicago Bliss. (You can almost hear the guys with the mustaches crying out, “Da’ Bliss!”, right?). From the Chicago Tribune:
Players wear slight shoulder pads, lacrosse-style helmets, knee and elbow pads and, in the case of the Bliss, orange shorts and modified sports bras.
Something tells me that the Lingerie Football League isn’t strictly a business investment for Iron Mike.