Journalism may be dead and all, but the Atlanta Journal-Constitution is still giving it the old college try, today by publishing the results of their latest public records request into how many Atlanta Falcons season ticket holders are defaulting on their personal seat licenses, eating the payments they made already to avoid having to make any more. And the answer is a whole heck of a lot:
About 7,000 Falcons season-ticket account holders have defaulted on their seat licenses since 2016, records show, with the vast majority of those accounts representing two or more seats. About 650 of the account holders who defaulted later returned as PSL owners.
Records show that seat-license purchases made before the 71,000-seat stadium opened in August 2017 totaled $299.1 million, including interest added to accounts annually. Of that, $196.5 million had been paid as of June 30, and after the $42.9 million in defaults, $59.7 million remains outstanding (plus future interest).
The total “default write-off balance” of $42,933,454 as of June 30 was up from $32,001,679 as of one year earlier.
That’s a lot of numbers, so let’s break them down a bit. When the Falcons built their new stadium — with the help of more than half a billion dollars in taxpayer money — they forced fans to plunk down anywhere between $500 and $45,000 for the right to buy tickets to sit beneath the glory of Megatron’s Butthole. The magic of PSLs, though, was that if fans decided they didn’t want the tickets, they could sell their ticket rights to someone else.
At least 7,000 Falcons fans, representing perhaps double that in total seats, have instead decided over the past four years to just walk away from their seat rights, which the AJC notes “apparently reflect[s] the difficulty in finding buyers.” It probably doesn’t help that the Falcons have been aggressively mediocre the last couple of years, but they made the Super Bowl as recently as 2017, and anyway, no team is very good or very bad for long in today’s NFL. (Okay, no non-Cleveland Browns team.) And while the pandemic undoubtedly isn’t helping, the $10 million in defaults from July 2019 to June 2020 are right on pace with the previous three years.
The bigger issue appears to be something we’ve already seen in other NFL cities, which is that PSLs are kind of a scam. Despite the promise that they’re an investment, not an added cost on top of your actual ticket fees, way too often their resale value plummets soon after purchase, to the point where even finding a buyer may seem like less trouble than just stopping annual payments and eating what you’ve spent so far. Some fans appear to be catching on — the Los Angeles Chargers had to massively downgrade their expected PSL sales after it turned out no one really wanted to buy them (or just that there are no Los Angeles Chargers fans), and even the Falcons had more trouble selling them than they’d hoped. But even if they don’t always raise as much as team owners hope, PSLs are still worth it, since they’re essentially free money: Making a waitlist of fans for season tickets never used to generate any revenue until Max Muhleman accidentally invented them.
None of this is illegal, obviously, and in a “let the buyer beware” sense, it’s not even unethical, since you’re only scamming people who fail to understand that sale price doesn’t necessarily reflect actual market value. (And PSL money has enabled team owners to put up more capital toward stadium expenses, though as we saw with the Falcons, it hasn’t stopped them from demanding plenty of public cash as well.) Still, you have to wonder how long NFL owners will be able to keep on charging fans twice for the same product, especially as people get more used to sitting at home and watching TV, something that started before Covid but is only likely to accelerate now. Time for team owners to start demanding new stadiums with smaller capacity, you think? As with the PSL racket, you can’t get if you don’t ask.