While the NFL is the most popular sport in the United States, they have made some interesting decisions with their ticket structure that has had a significant effect on the attendance at the stadiums around the league. In the recent years the NFL has seen only a hand full of teams actually raise their percent of tickets sold. Owners used the lack of ticket sales as a reason for change in the last Collective Bargaining Agreement, but many owners have not done much to help make the game going experience easier for the majority of people that are interested in the sport. They have put such a premium on selling season ticket packages that the average person that wants to attend a game on a selective Sunday with their family is declining all over the league. The NFL has also seen a rise in the TV ratings due to people choosing to watch the game in HD at home on their sofa rather than attending games in person.
Dec 23, 2012; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys fans holds a sign prior to the game against the New Orleans Saints at Cowboys Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
Attending sporting events in person is one of the greatest experiences I have had in all my days from attending baseaball games as a child with my family, to making trips to see random teams play when tickets are available. Being from Connecticut and having no professional teams within my state limits, I have had to make concessions and deal with seeing teams play when I go on vacation or planning a trip around a sporting event. Recently I planned a trip to visit a close friend of mine in San Diego, California. When I looked at possible dates I was so excited when I saw that my beloved Cowboys would be visiting San Diego at the same time as my trip. So as a fan of football and a lover of attending sports in person I attempted to purchase tickets to the game in San Diego. That is where the problems arose for a fan like myself. According to the San Diego Chargers website and the NFL ticket purchasing website, the only way to purchase tickets to the Dallas Cowboys versus the San Diego Chargers would be to buy a 4 game pass costing me a total of 175 dollars total for the cheapest seats available. Since I am not from San Diego and only visiting for a week, that option is far too ridiculous for me to spend my money on. This caused me to try the secondary market for tickets, and what I found was even more alarming. The cheapest seats I could find available were again 150 dollars per ticket for a game. That is an outrageous sum, especially when I can watch the game on TV and have basically the same experience. I am sure that with more searching and more effort I can try and find an affordable alternative, but the effort I have to spend to try and find that is too much for me to put in at the moment.
This ticket buying experience is what sparked my interest in the ticket procedures of the National Football League. Doing various forms of research I found that only 10 out of 32 teams have an average attendance rate of 100% or more, while 12 teams have lower than 95% of their seats sold per home game. The rest of the teams are stuck in the middle. With so much popularity in the NFL I was intrigued to try and find out what the biggest problems were in attending football games.
The first problem with attendance is exactly the problem I described. Teams want more season tickets to be sold rather than individual games. This is a problem for people because they may only have 1 or 2 Sundays out of the season to spend at an NFL event. Even the cost of the games is outrageous for a family of four at the stadium I looked at it would cost over 200 dollars just for tickets alone, then add in parking and refreshments and you are looking at almost 300 dollars for one outing. Some teams even force fans to pay for Personal Seat Licenses (PSL) which causes a fan to pay just for the opportunity to purchase tickets. This adds to the overall cost of attending a game.
The second problem with the NFL attendance is the improvements in the game watching experiences on television. With HD televisions and the increase in Fantasy Football, the stadium experience has been declined. Fans can get a better experience watching the game on their TV at home with constant replays, and commentary during the down times of the game. Fans also get constant updates on their fantasy players and are able to keep an eye on all the games being played around the league instead of just the game in front of them at the ball park. In recent years the NFL has tried to upgrade the game experience by showing the replays to the fans on the jumbo screens and they are going to experiment with providing fantasy updates in the stadiums. All of this is to try and make the experience of going to the games better than sitting at home and viewing the product.
The third problem with the game going experience is the safety of the fans in attendance. Every year we hear horror stories of how people are treated at games, especially if you are a fan of a road team attending a game in hostile territory. The teams and even the media always praises fans for being enthusiastic about their team performance, and the truth is that 99% of the fans that attend games are civil, the problem is the 1% of fans that get too rowdy and make the experience a nightmare for certain folks. Again going back to the family of four analogy, it is most likely that people are bringing their children and their spouses to the games for a family occasion. If family members are harassed or have to deal with vulgar language during the course of an event, it can take away from the joy of the experience.
The NFL makes most of their money from their TV contracts with Fox, CBS, NBC and ESPN. They make millions of dollars off the advertisers, broadcasts and ratings of the televised games. At the same time that the NFL is making money off the television product, teams constantly complain about the attendance at games. The television properties that own the rights to show the NFL to fans have been making improvements in their production of the games to make the experience better to draw more viewers. They try to make things better for the fan and give them the most information possible with score updates, player updates and even showing the biggest plays as they happen rather than having to hear about them later on. All of these updates have taken away from the game going experience.
While this ticket purchasing experience has had a significant impact on my own ability to go to a game, I am still a big proponent of seeing the game live and in person. As the popularity of the NFL has grown and grown, only a few teams have seen their attendance rise, and most have seen it fall in recent years. Teams are focusing more on getting high profile seats sold, and as the “little guy” has been hit with more economic troubles, the price to attend a game has not and has in most cases increased. Due to this families have to tighten their belt and unfortunately that means many miss out of the game going experience. The television entities have made the experience of watching the game at home or in a local sports bar so much better for fans to make up for the millions of dollars they spend to broadcast the games. For the fans that actually attend the games, safety is a very real threat. In recent years we have all heard horror stories of physical altercations and verbal harassment of people attending a game. If the NFL does not get their ticket structure and game experience under control, the advancements in the television production of the game may just make the NFL a studio game rather than a true fan experience.