Sports bubble watch: NFL fans would rather watch on TV

It’s not just the New York Giants and Jets: Attendance is down across the NFL, with average game attendance projected to fall to its lowest level since 1998.

While the media have been quick to blame easy access to big-screen TVs, there’s another factor that just might be at work here: The average price of an NFL ticket is now $252. With prices like that — and economic figures like these — you might expect increasing numbers of fans to stay home even if the alternative were listening to the game broadcast on their crystal radio sets.

With sellouts diminishing, Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) has asked the NFL to reconsider its rules blacking out games with unsold tickets, but so far his plea has fallen on deaf ears. Instead, the NFL has focused on making going to a game more like watching on TV. Only with an extra $252 price tag. Sign me up!

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10 comments on “Sports bubble watch: NFL fans would rather watch on TV

  1. endless timeouts, over priced tix and seat locations further from the action all add up to – let’s watch it at home/bar etc.

  2. I was watching the Jets game on TV yesterday and noticed that all the crowd shots were carefully framed so as to not show any empty seats.

  3. I don’t think the NFL will modify it’s blackout rules to address the lack of ticket sales. They might lift blackouts for occasional home games even though tickets are still available (that way it can be portrayed as the NFL being ‘the good guy’ rather than as the sky is falling and panic ensuing), however.

    Alternately, and I believe we’ve seen this in the past, owners will simply remove seats (either notionally – cover them with advertising tarps – or really take them out, by creating special zones {for what I’ve no idea… beer gardens in the stands, anyone?} where the seats used to be).

    The NFL has been very good at masking it’s problems historically (come on admit it… like me, you thought Jerry Jones was insane to spend $200M to buy the Cowboys, didn’t you?). I don’t quite know why no-one challenges them on the emperor having no clothes (other than tortuous contractual broadcasting agreements), but in some markets, they are in significant trouble. I assume this will continue, as the NFL tall foreheads seem to be significantly smarter than those who might challenge them.

  4. I think this is why we’re going to have a long lock-out, the owners are going to wait to pillage the players from their money and in the end if things get nasty, the NFL has a full season lost then you will see fan backlash and possible contraction in the NFL. The NFL needs to rethink the way to make money, they make the most from television, internet and media not the actual stadium ticket sales.

  5. An interesting point, kombayn. Several pundits have opined over the years that the NFL will, ultimately, transform itself into a “TV only” event. Some believe they are there already, with the advent of HD tvs and 40 camera broadcasts.

    Will the next generation of NFL stadia contain only the corporate and club seats? Will the majority of the clubs revenues be skewed even more toward the tv dollar than is now the case? It’s possible, I guess. Who will be the first owner to build a 25,000 (all club) seat stadium with 350 suites and be on the crest of the subscription home viewer wave? It’s my understanding that club seat & suite revenue do not form part of the league’s pooled revenue fund…

    Presumably, the NFL would be reluctant to offer ‘individual’ team packages (with net revenue going to the team in question) through the Sunday ticket program, given that much of the success of the league is due to pooled tv revenue. I suspect the league would be under huge pressure to resist such a move from it’s heavy hitters in ownership – most of whom have taken on huge debt (and saddled the public with same) to build their new palaces.

    I can’t see the Maras or Jones’ warming to the idea of a 25,000 seat Charger stadium when they will get no revenue from it, for example, and have to adjust the split of the Sunday ticket package. But if some of the 80-90,000 seat stadia are only 2/3rds full (which they aren’t, at present), perhaps that option will be the only one for owners unlucky (or fortunate?) enough to not have a new mega stadium built recently?

    Interesting times for the NFL. I still believe they will continue to outsmart both the networks and local gov’ts. But their business is on the verge of great change. Of that there seems little question.

  6. I still say the NFL should just go all-in for TV viewers and televise Madden 2011 games instead of bothering with real players. Sure, you’d have to install field-sized HDTV screens for the fans at the game, but think of what you’d save on player salaries, not to mention concussion lawsuits…

  7. The problem with the all-box seat model is that part of the thrill of suites is looking down on the masses, and part of the fun of going to games is experiencing a noisy crowd. What I could see happening is that teams consider “fans” an asset. Thus, they lower ticket prices, and sell them at places like college campuses- meanwhile they raise corporate box rates and start charging for TV. The young fans make a better TV product. Something similar to this was done for the Superbowl half-time shows in order to get fans on the field in front of the entertainment.

  8. Tom;

    Don’t think for a minute that the ultra elite who purchase suites won’t look down on the rich (yet not quite so rich) patrons in the club seats. So long as there is a heirarchy, the incredibly wealthy will be able to look down on others. It’s one of the natural laws of the world…

    The moderately wealthy look down on the poor.
    The rich look down on the moderately wealthy.
    The multimillionaires look down on the rich.
    And the billionaires look down on MM’s as well.

    In my view, the NFL will never consider fans an asset. They consider them a resource. The new stadia are about farming that resource to the maximum, without actually killing it. It’s something they do very, very well.

  9. Are you sure about those tix prices? Sounds like they’re including things like PSLs and luxury boxes in that average, which of course no mortal man can ever attain…

  10. Tom;

    I think you underestimate the secondary market to keep ticket prices high. If teams were willing to sell tickets really, really cheap all in the name of getting real fans into the building a number of non-fans would surely buy these tickets and resell them to the highest bidder. Once teams realize what people are really willing to pay for games they’ll surely figure out some way to still seem altruistic and cash in. Perhaps they’ll hold back a number of these tickets for real fans and sell them incognito on the resale sites and cash in that way.

    Went to NY for a wedding, saw a Yanks-Mets game that cost 50$ above face value at Stubhub. The seller? The Mets.

    The good news is in downtimes the secondary market is a great place to find deals.

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