In most businesses, it’s smart to cater to your customers, offering them exactly the product they want while excluding extras that are unnecessary and add little value to the proposition. Football works differently. Tickets today are often sold in packages, with fans forced to pay for seats at games they don’t care about just for the privilege of being allowed to spend their hard-earned money on tickets to the games they actually want to see.
On the college football scene, many teams now fill up the stands by selling tickets in two-packs, in which one of the home games features a less-anticipated matchup. Wanna see Penn State host Michigan? OK, but you’ll have to buy tickets to the game against Eastern Michigan at the same time.
In the NFL, fan gripes center on the unnecessarily long preseason. NFL season ticket packages include not only a team’s eight home games, but two preseason games as well—and fans hate having to pay full price for these games, which don’t count, rarely feature top talent, and are valued in the marketplace at a tiny fraction of regular season matchups.
Complaints about the NFL preseason are commonplace. Last spring, for instance, after the NFL announced the schedule for this fall’s preseason games, Pete Prisco of CBS Sports voiced the widely held opinion that “fans are getting ripped off” by being charged full price for pointless games featuring many players that will never be seen on a regular season NFL squad. “Either greatly discount the preseason tickets, giving plenty away to underprivileged kids, or do away with two games,” Prisco recommended.
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Bolts from the Blue, a blog covering the San Diego Chargers, recently published what’s become an annual post around this time of year, bashing the NFL for being greedy and pleading with team owners to “come to their senses and stop charging regular-season prices for meaningless exhibition games of lesser NFL talent.” Twitter, of course, is filled with comments from average fans and ESPN bloggers alike that declare the preseason “meaningless.”
Almost everyone acknowledges this perspective concerning the preseason. “I hear from fans consistently that they want to make every NFL event more valuable,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said during a spring meeting with team owners. “They see the preseason as being less valuable to them because they don’t see the best players and the games do not count.”
To NFL owners and the league as a whole, however, the preseason certainly means something: more revenues, thanks to TV contracts and sales of tickets and concessions at the games. The easy reply is that no one is forcing these fans to buy anything. But many fans indeed do feel that because full-priced preseason tickets are a non-negotiable part of buying season tickets, they have no choice but to pay up. And they are paying exorbitantly more than what the tickets are actually worth. A quick look at preseason ticket prices on the secondary market—where plenty of seats to the upcoming Falcons-Jaguars game were selling for about $5, for instance—indicates how much fans think of the games taking place before the regular season.
At least one NFL owner says that fans are looking at the situation all wrong, however. Last week, Jim Irsay, owner of the Indianapolis Colts, posted a series of Tweets making the case that season ticketholders should view their purchase as a single package, and that if there’s something meaningless, it’s the prices listed on the tickets. “Tic prices shouldn’t even have a tic price on individual tics. The 10 home game tics have varying value,” Irsay explained. Because some tickets are worth more than their face value, while others are worth much less, Irsay says, the pricing is fair and “it balances out in the end.” In the grand scheme, he told fans, “U R NOT paying full price for pre-Season games.”
“Sounds like a used car salesman,” Indianapolis Star columnist Bob Kravitz wrote in reaction to Irsay’s comments. “There is no defending the NFL rule that forces teams to charge full freight for preseason games. It’s an absolute scam. It’s price-gouging at its worst. But here’s Irsay trying to defend it, and doing so for reasons I can’t even begin to fathom.”
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One might suppose he was doing so because he truly believed in the pricing system, and he was attempting to argue what a terrific value a season ticket package represents, preseason games and all. But they’d be an even better value if preseason tickets weren’t forced into the mix, like a car dealership strong-arming customers into buying an extended warranty, paint protection, or some other add-ons that drivers don’t want because they feel like they are not worth the money and are just plain (yep) meaningless.