The NFL’s Dirty Little Secret


Pssssst. Wanna buy some football tickets? I got some good deals for you.

Jets and Patriots Thanksgiving night at MetLife? How’s this for a deal? 9,069 tickets available as low as $24.

What’s that, you say? As low as $240? No, as low as $24.

You want Giants-Packers for Sunday night? I got Giants-Packers. 4,593 tickets as low as $41.

How about a game out in the sunny Southwest? I can getcha St. Louis at Arizona for as low as $3. You can take your whole family for one-third what you pay to see James Bond.

Name a team – I got ’em.

The dirty secret of NFL football, one that the league would like to ignore, is that ticket sales are declining at a startling rate and have been over the last several years. The TV ratings are through the roof, but ticket sales are down.

You can argue that it doesn’t matter because the big money is in the
TV contract anyway. But the NFL cares for several reasons, not the
least of which is that the fewer paying customers, the les support for
getting public assistance in building fancy new stadiums with high
revenue-producing luxury boxes.

First, though, why is attendance declining? Commissioner Roger Goodell thinks it’s because if HD televisions. Really, he does. “One of the biggest challenges in the league,” he told a group of Atlanta Falcons fans in Atlanta last week, “is the experience at home. HD is only going to get better.”

Goodell seems to me to be a smart man, so I don’t see how he could
believe anything so dumb. The simple fact is that the overwhelming
number of people who call themselves football fans have never seen a
game in person and never will – a study some years back by baseball’s
Blue Ribbon panel claimed that the number was as high as 95%. Now,
because someone comes along and makes high definition television with
giant screens fans have suddenly discovered the joy of watching football
in their living room, where beer, hot dogs and peanuts are more
reasonably priced and it doesn’t cost $50 to park and there’s no waiting
line for the restroom.

I think every fan has known about the advantages of staying home for
decades, and if they choose to stay home, it isn’t because TV is better,
but because tickets have become ridiculously more expensive.

Any why not, since so many were bought up by corporations for
executives and customers, the latter of which is a cost of doing
business and a tax write-off. The real decline in ticket sales can be
traced to the fallout from the 2008 economic crash, and only this season
have NFL teams wised up and begun to sell blocks of tickets – in the
nosebleed sections, to be sure – priced for working people.

Empty seats can be covered up on TV – the NFL simply instructs the
networks to keep the cameras away from the bare spots in the stands. But
with more and more fans staying home, how does the league make a case
that the cities should spend the fans’ tax dollars to help finance new
stadiums? Like, not coincidentally, fans in Atlanta, where Goodell was
making a pitch for the city to help fund a stadium to replace the
Georgia Dome.

Build a better football stadium, the argument goes, and the fans will
come back. Well, maybe they won’t, because fans are on to the fact that
no mater how much of their tax money goes into the stadium, they’re
never going to get inside those luxury boxes. Or as Yogi Berra famously
put it, “If the fans want to stay away from the ball park how you gonna
make em?”

(BTW, the ticket prices quoted above real – easily available through StubHub.)