Is the NFL Phasing Out Fans?

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When the NFLPA decertified and the owners locked the players out on March 11th both sides alienated a fan base that made the league the most profitable sports franchise in the country. When the lockout officially ended on July 25th both sides assumed all was well and good with its loyal followers and it appeared as though it was. NFL fans seemed overjoyed that the longest lockout in league history was finally over and their favorite players and teams had returned to work.

In the month of August there is plenty to look forward to in terms of football. Preseason, although not a top draw amongst most football fans, begins and the faithful get their first glimpse at what their home team will look like as the season approaches. Fantasy football (which is like a religion to many) kicks off with the formation of leagues, draft dates being set and good old-fashioned rivalries amongst friends being reignited.

What the majority of fans look forward to most however, is the season’s first kick-off and the beginning of a new football year. With the lockout now in the rearview and most pigskin enthusiasts getting over four months of collective bargaining proceedings, it would seem that fan morale would be back to normal. This should be the case in every NFL city but a trend which started with the passing of Roger Goodell’s “Fan Code of Conduct” initiative in 2008, has become progressively more restrictive in the average NFL fan’s game-day experience.

The Buffalo Bills announced more tailgating restrictions Tuesday which are supposedly designed to make it easier for more fans to enter and leave Ralph Stadium more quickly and efficiently. These restrictions implemented a “Disney-style parking” system which will require each person entering the parking lot to park directly next to the car preceding them. The process will eliminate a person’s ability to choose where they park and will prohibit individuals from saving spaces for their friends and fellow tailgaters. In fact, the process will altogether eliminate many people’s ability to even tailgate in their normal fashion by laying out tables, grills and games across multiple parking spaces. Instead fans will now be forced to move their game-day rituals in front of their cars or in the general alleyway areas.

This initiative is by no means a brand new concept as some teams around the league have begun to start this process as well. In an article written in the Buffalo News Tuesday, Russ Brandon explains the logic behind the idea as “…taking the friction points out of the equation,” and added that “Oakland implemented this last year with great success.” Now it should be noted that only lots 2 and 3 will be piloting the new program and there are surely readers out there reiterating this fact, but it’s foolish not to assume that this will become the standard for the remaining lots in the near future.

Over the past three-plus years since Goodell came down with his conduct decree, tailgating and game-day activities have been increasingly constrained around the league. In an article written on aolnews.com in 2009, Matt Snyder details how Washington Redskins fan tailgating was limited to “the last few rows of each lot,” with the practice being completely prohibited in the Redskins “Platinum Lots.” Snyder also explains how the Redskins front office implemented the same policy the Bills did yesterday, forcing fans to park in assigned spots and eliminating “first-come, first-served” parking.

The Houston Texans took a similar approach in 2010 but added their own spin to it. In an article written on the Houston Chronicle website David Barron explains how the Texans limited tailgating inside Reliant Stadium parking lots to only those with tickets to the game. According to the Texans’ front office more than 20,000 fans without tickets attended the Texans vs. Cowboys game last September and it led them to develop a policy to turn these fans away. The Texans didn’t completely neglect all of their fans who couldn’t afford a ticket however. The team released 2,000 “tailgating tickets” that could be purchased by those who did not have tickets to the game, giving them the right to enter the stadium parking lots and tailgate with those who were fortunate enough to have tickets.

It’s no surprise that more-and-more fans are unable or unwilling to purchase tickets and attend games with the steady increase of ticket prices on a yearly basis almost across the league. Upstart teams like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers struggled mightily last year trying to sell out any of their home games and the league in general set a six-year high in blackouts last season. The increase in game-day restrictions can be seen as a major contributor to this but the increase in ticket cost to coincide with the economy in a recession may be the largest factor.

According to an article written on bleacherreport.com last September, the average ticket price to attend a NFL game in 2010 was $252. In a report from fansnap.com it shows that six teams raised their prices over 100% from 2009 to 2010. The Saints led the way with an increase of 264%, increasing the average ticket price from $111 to $404. Other notable teams over the 100% mark included the Jets, Colts, Eagles and even the Lions. The team with the highest average ticket price in the NFL last year was the New York Giants, which should come as no surprise considering the exorbitant amount of money they require their fans to spend for personal seat licenses.

Personal seat licenses or PSLs allow a person to reserve the right to purchase season tickets. No it’s not a deposit or a down-payment on season tickets, it’s an amount a fan must pay in order to even have the right to purchase said tickets. On Thursday, March 3rd, one week and one day before the NFL officially locked out, the Giants put PSLs on sale in three sections for as much as $20,000. The price per game, per seat for the actual season ticket in that section was $700. In other words a fan could have to pay as much as $27,000 to watch an entire season of football at Giants Stadium (and that’s not even including the Jets games). These aren’t for luxury suites either; these are for regular, albeit great tickets in the general seating area. What about those fans who can’t afford to pay the 20 G’s for the rights to buy tickets in these premium seating areas? No problem. They can pay $1,000 on top of the $850 it costs for season seats in the nosebleeds.

The Giants aren’t the only team gauging their fans for seating licenses. The Dallas Cowboys are without a doubt the worst offenders. In the cathedral of football that Jerry Jones spent over $1 billion building in Austin, Texas he makes his faithful followers pay as much as $50,000 for the right to purchase season tickets on the 50 yard-line, while charging them $3,400 to enjoy ten games of football (including two games of preseason). For those fans who don’t want to put a second mortgage on their houses or sacrifice junior’s college fund for premium seating, they can sit in the rafters for a nominal fee of $2,000 for the PSLs and $790 for the actual season tickets.

Price gauging by the owners to line their already incomprehensibly deep pockets and tailgating restrictions set forth by the league to “curb unruly fan behavior” are slowly but surely eliminating the common blue collar fan. Even in small markets like Buffalo, where ticket prices are reasonable, the limitations implemented by the league and the Bills front office to deter extra-curricular activities prior to game time will undoubtedly result in a hit to game attendance and contribute to more local blackouts. The common middle class fan who works a 40 hour week and spends a quarter or half-weeks salary to buy tickets and pay for parking will now have to follow a semi-socialized game day experience with limitations never seen before on a fall Sunday morning in Orchard Park. To those out there who say the best seat in the house is the one in front of your television screen at home, expect more company from those former die-hard, passionate tailgaters who are having their rights as football fans taken away one parking spot at a time.

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2 Responses to “Is the NFL Phasing Out Fans?”

  1. Ben Says:

    Good article!

  2. Fred Says:

    Not only will fans decide to not pay for the outrageous ticket prices but corporations have pulled back on this as well. Anyone you talk to these days who is involved in buying these has either reduce the number of seats bought for the games or decided not to buy at all. The ticket sales people have to be hurting real bad over there.

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