The NFL‘s best fans are being thanked for their team loyalty with fees that grant the payer nothing more than the privilege of … being allowed to pay for seats to the game. Minnesota Vikings fans, facing fees of up to $10,000 per seat, are the latest example.
Last month in The Atlantic, an excerpt from Gregg Easterbrook’s new book detailed how the Vikings, like many of NFL teams, have threatened to leave their host city if it didn’t pony up hundreds of millions in taxpayer dollars for a new stadium—all without having to reveal the finances of the team or the owner. “I’m not one to defend the economics of professional sports,” said Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton. “Any deal you make in that world doesn’t make sense from the way the rest of us look at it.”
Nonetheless, Dayton signed off on the deal, in which the state will hand over some $500 million to the team for the construction of a new stadium, planned to open in 2016. The Vikings are expected to chip in $477 million to get the stadium built. Of that, about $100 million will be paid directly by fans, in the form “personal seat licenses,” or PSLs. These are one-time fees that must be paid by anyone who wants to buy season tickets.
The concept of paying just for the right to pay for sporting event tickets may sound absurd, but it’s standard practice now in the NFL. The majority of teams have instituted such fees in some form, and select pro baseball and basketball franchises milk similar fees for revenues as well. Vikings fans recently found out that they will pay $500 to $10,000—an average of $2,500 per seat—in PSLs before they can purchase season tickets. (The cost doesn’t include the price of tickets.) In the grand scheme of things, Minnesota fans may be getting off easy: San Francisco 49ers season ticketholders are paying as much as $80,000 in PSLs at the team’s new stadium, and Cowboys fans in Dallas were charged as high as $150,000. The Vikings explored the possibility of PSLs for upwards of $30,000, so that perhaps as much as $200 million could be raised, before settling on the current figures.
Even though Viking ownership feels like it has compromised, and that the fees are reasonable, many in Minnesota find the PSL concept distasteful, to put it mildly. “As far as I’m concerned, personally, $1 for a personal seat license is $1 too much,” Gov. Dayton said on Thursday, when the terms of the stadium construction and financing were agreed upon, according to the Star Tribune. Nonetheless, yet again, Dayton signed off on what he called an overall “good deal” considering how many Minnesotans would be put to work during stadium construction.
During a public comment period after the agreement was reached, critics bashed the project as a raw deal for fans and taxpayers. “This is fricking ridiculous, man,” said Jeff Wagner, one of 35 candidates reportedly running for mayor in Minneapolis. Wagner removed his shoes and tossed them on the table before announcing, “You can keep my shoes because basically you are just stealing from the people.”
While many citizens are outraged with how pro sports venues are financed, and fans are disgusted by the extortion-like practices used by team owners, there is a very simple reason why PSLs have spread over the years: Fans want tickets so badly they are willing to pay the fee.
“It’s not a deal breaker,” one Vikings 20-year season ticketholder, addressing the new fee structure, said to Minnesota Public Radio. “It’s kind of like paying taxes I guess. It’s not that you want to do it, but you have to do it. I’ve just been part of the experience for too many years to let it go away, and sit at home and watch it.”
The most expensive seats in the new 49ers stadium, which could only be purchased after coughing up an $80,000 PSL, were reportedly nearly sold out in the spring of 2012, when ground was broken on the new venue in Santa Clara—and months before the team made a somewhat surprising run to the Super Bowl.
Even in cities with less rabid NFL fan bases, PSLs are part of the agreement for new stadium construction—as seen with the Atlanta Falcons, which expect to break ground on a new venue next spring. At a recent public hearing, however, many Falcons fans balked at the prospect of pricey PSLs. “I like being a season ticket holder,” said one fan, “but it goes past $10,000 to be a season ticket holder, I guess I won’t be a season ticket holder.”
Expensive PSLs and rising ticket and concession prices undoubtedly chase away fans at the lower end of the economic spectrum. That may be part of the plan: All things being equal, NFL team owners would prefer to cater to a clientele that’s as wealthy as possible.
Many loyal fans view exorbitant PSLs as a smack in the face. “It favors the rich is what it does. Not everybody can afford $80,000 seats,” one 49ers season ticketholder told the Mercury News. Mind you, this fan was voicing her opinion just after paying $5,200 for tickets to see her team play in the Super Bowl.