Sports bubble watch: Fans priced out by PSLs say they won’t be back

The New York Jets, it turns out, had the same problem in their home opener last night as the Giants did the previous day: several thousand empty seats, all in the pricey sections that require fans to shell out for personal seat licenses to buy tickets.

Harvey Araton in today’s New York Times, though, looks not at the empty seats, but at the people who aren’t sitting in them:

In [Judy] Staubo’s case, after making a quick decision not to pay $20,000 for each of the family’s six seats in 2008, she did initially agree to buy four seats in the upper deck that carried a $1,000 P.S.L.

“They sent me my assignment — the last four seats in the last section,” she said. “I said, ‘Wow, what a slap in the face.’ All those years, all that loyalty, and what they were telling me was, ‘You don’t matter.’ And I said, ‘O.K., I‚Äôm out.'”

Now, in free-market fundamentalist terms, this is all well and good: Previously a spot on the Giants’ season-ticket list was something that longtime fans hoarded and newbies had to endure a decades-long waitlist to get; now, anyone with sufficient cash can buy their way to the lower level, and the team gets to reap the proceeds. It all works perfectly — so long as you believe that the most sensible way to decide who gets to see a football game (or see it from the same atmospheric layer is based on who has the most capital to invest up-front in ticket rights.

One who disagreed with this notion, Giants fan Lou Palma, told Araton he not only gave up his seats but refused a ticket to the home opener on general principle:

“I will not go,” Palma said. His only contact with the Giants will continue to be e-mails to officials that contain insights and opinions they won‚Äôt want to hear.

“I sent a column in The Times that talked about libraries closing in Camden while the taxpayers are stuck with the debt on the old stadium,” Palma said. “I got back an e-mail from the vice president of marketing. He said, ‘Take me off your e-mail list.'”

It’s not quite talking about a revolution, but there does seem to be a growing anger at sports teams for inaccessible ticket prices. The question is whether consumer outrage will grow to the point where those empty blocks of seats force teams to adjust their pricing structure. Probably not — but it has already hit the non-football Eagles.


21 comments on “Sports bubble watch: Fans priced out by PSLs say they won’t be back

  1. Why make a huge down payment to buy seats when you don’t need to?

    The only way this will ever work is if the arenas have 4,000 seats. I kinda think the NFL won’t go along with that idea.

  2. Take it for what it’s worth, but when teams or concert promoters price a large chunk of people out of the market it opens up huge opportunities for people to scoop up some really cheap tickets later on. I’ve been to a number of bargain hockey games courtesy of Stubhub and at the Olympics, outside of Canadian hockey games and the Gold Medal game, many hockey tickets during the playoffs were available for less than face value by scalpers.

    These aggressive pricing schemes are creating opportunities for some of the casual fans.

    And I agree with MikeM; I would never pay a PSL let alone season tickets for any of the sports whose season lasts longer than a dozen games.

  3. Not a comment on this article per se, but I am researching this site for a paper and I noticed that there are virtually no criticisms of college facility expansions. Rutgers football expansion debacle gets a free pass?

  4. I guess the NFL executives never learned the lesson of the Oakland Raiders. The Raiders introduced PSL’s back when and it was a catrostrophic error. The team never recovered. I believe the Raiders would have been fine returning from LA, but the PSL’s priced out too many fans, and alienated many others.

    As for the Rutgers “debacle”, I don’t know what the hell the other commenter is getting at. Public funds were not used for that expansion. Look it up.

  5. Just to be safe, I went and checked back on the Rutgers Stadium funding – and I was right, no public funding.

    http://news.rutgers.edu/medrel/news-releases/2008/12/rutgers-board-of-gov-20081212

    To me, RU did it the right way, the pinned the costs on the fans who attend the games. So in that sense, higher ticket prices and the equivalent of PSL’s really aren’t that noxious – if that’s what it takes to get a stadium expansion funded.

    The Jiants Stadium, OTOH, is appalling precisely because they gobbled up huge public subsidies and soaked their fan base at the same time. On top of it, the stadium price is simply jaw-droppingly obscene. And a new stadium wasn’t even needed!!!! The old stadium was perfectly serviceable.

  6. 49ers fans are starting to whine about having to pay for personal seat licenses to help finance construction costs for a stadium in Santa Clara. The 49ers say they told fans in 2007 in a personal letter that there would be seat licenses, but they didn’t mention that at all during the stadium campaign, when they wanted fans to help them campaign. But now that they won the vote, they’re being honest about seat licenses, and season ticket holders aren’t happy:

    http://abclocal.go.com/kgo/story?section=news/7_on_your_side&id=7649519

    “Even though all these years they’ve promised you buy your season tickets, good year, bad year, you get the same seats next year,” he says. “This year, they’re telling us we have no expectations that we’re going to have any seats. We have no equitable right.”

  7. Neil, wouldn’t it be safe to assume that even at 94% of capacity, the total revenue is greater than 100% capacity at the old stadium? I mean, flushing the waiting list essentially brought the vital “new” fans to the ticket window, those that were willing to pay the higher costs and PSL fees. This was a PR hit to be sure, but the bottom line improved.

  8. I’d say that’s a safe bet, yeah. Leaving seats unsold is kind of the analogue to building smaller stadiums while jacking up ticket prices — sometimes it’s more profitable to sell fewer tickets for more money than more tickets for less.

  9. And the smaller, paid-more-for-tickets-crowd would also require less game-day stadium services and security personnel as well. Probably another hidden bit of revenue, so to speak.

  10. Only issue with leaving seats open in the NFL however is the blackout rule. NY teams can obviously get around the rule but it appears that a possibly record number of teams this year will not including several who are not the usual suspects like the SD Chargers.

    http://sports.espn.go.com/nfl/news/story?id=5577243

  11. Here’s a question:

    Two owners of two different sports franchises playing in the same league operate in similar markets. They are not in the same city but share similar populations, demographics, average income, etc. One owner paid for his stadium out his pocket: 100% private cash, 0% public. The other owner got the reverse deal with his stadium paid 100% with public monies. Both stadiums are similar in size and amenities and open for the same season.

    When ticket prices are set will the publicly subsidized stadium charge more for tickets than the privately funded stadium?

    I’m thinking the owner with the public venue can be more cavalier setting his ticket prices and can risk having 3000 empty seats since he doesn’t have that onerous mortgage payment every month. If his prices price people out of the market he can adjust for next season or not.

    The owner who funded his stadium himself does have that mortgage payment and can’t risk not having fans in the seats buying popcorn and beers so he’ll probably be a little more conservative when setting ticket prices.

    Neil (and anyone else who wants to take a stab) am I onto something here or out to lunch?

    Thanks

  12. Here’s a question:

    Two owners of two different sports franchises playing in the same league operate in similar markets. They are not in the same city but share similar populations, demographics, average income, etc. One owner paid for his stadium out his pocket: 100% private cash, 0% public. The other owner got the reverse deal with his stadium paid 100% with public monies. Both stadiums are similar in size and amenities and open for the same season.

    When ticket prices are set will the publicly subsidized stadium charge more for tickets than the privately funded stadium?

    I’m thinking the owner with the public venue can be more cavalier setting his ticket prices and can risk having 3000 empty seats since he doesn’t have that onerous mortgage payment every month. If his prices price people out of the market he can adjust for next season or not.

    The owner who funded his stadium himself does have that mortgage payment and can’t risk not having fans in the seats buying popcorn and beers so he’ll probably be a little more conservative when setting ticket prices.

    Neil (and anyone else who wants to take a stab) am I onto something here or out to lunch?

    Thanks

  13. It’s a good theory, but wrong.

    In either situation, the mortgage payments, whether small or large, are a sunk cost. Either owner, in trying to maximize profits, is going to make the same calculation: How can I bring in the most revenue with the least added expense? And they’re going to set ticket prices in an effort to hit that target – if they miss high they’re the Jets, and if they miss low they’re the… Red Sox, I guess.

    There’s empirical evidence for this, too: The three teams we’re talking about that have empty seats – the Giants, Jets, and Yankees – all have mammoth mortgage payments (even though they all got subsidies). If your theory were correct, the Nationals would be the ones charging crazy prices for tickets and seeing nobody show up.

  14. Ron,

    I’m thinking that the Giants and Jets are only learning to make the same misteks Al Davis did over and over again (Mets & Yankees too)

  15. Apologies to those who posted comments here this week and had them held until now – I turned up the junk settings to avoid spam, and it got a bit overaggressive about killing any comments with URLs.

    I’ll go back to the old settings, and work on a better solution.

  16. ‘”They sent me my assignment ÔøΩ the last four seats in the last section,” she said. “I said, ‘Wow, what a slap in the face.’ All those years, all that loyalty, and what they were telling me was, ‘You don’t matter.”‘

    This bullcrap always makes me laugh. Loyalty? LOYALTY!!?? How about the fact that for decades they gave you first crack at tickets for which others were willing to pay more? Listen, entitled ones, the team has ALREADY REWARDED your “loyalty” by fulfilling their part of the bargain: they showed up and played the game, all the time shielding you from market forces. Yeah, the same forces that drive the secondary market. Loyalty is many things; what it isn’t is showing up for a game thanks to protected, under-priced tickets guaranteed to you for no other reason than that you had ’em last year.

    Welcome to the free market, or rather the feeble approximation the NFL styles the free market.

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