SBD/November 14, 2013/Leagues and Governing Bodies

NFL Teams May Claim Games Are Sold Out, But Empty Seats Are Becoming The Norm

Steelers games are averaging the smallest crowds in their time at Heinz Field
NFL teams are at a point where "'sellouts' are the norm but full houses are becoming the exception," and not just where "woeful" teams play, according to Will Graves of the AP. The Steelers through four games at Heinz Field this season are averaging 61,465 people, the "lowest over the same span" since the stadium opened in '01. This is a "trend hitting the league regardless of market size or on-field success." Only five teams in '08 played to stadiums less than 95% full, and that number has "doubled this season at a time when TV ratings are at their best" since '06. The Redskins have "one of the NFL's rising stars" in QB Robert Griffin III but "are playing to just" 88.9% capacity this season. Meanwhile, the "surprising" Jets have the "nation's largest metropolitan area to pull from" and only 93.3% of those with tickets are showing up. The NFL "amended its TV blackout rule last year," allowing teams to sell only 85% of its non-premium tickets to "meet the threshold necessary to have home games broadcast locally." While the decision has "done nothing but goose TV ratings even further, getting folks into the stadium on a regular basis in some cities remains a tough task." The Raiders and Jaguars have "massive drapes that cover entire sections," which "reduces capacity but hasn't exactly increased demand." While the atmosphere has "improved with the Raiders," only 81.4% of ticket holders "make it to their seats." NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell "continues to stress" the in-game fan experience, which was discussed today at the '13 Covington & Burling Sports Media & Technology conference, "remains important to the league." It also "remains important to the bottom lines of owners, if only to fatten their wallets" (AP, 11/14). The Jaguars announced that they have "distributed about 59,000 tickets for their first three home games, but there have been around 10,000 no-shows for each game so there have been about 50,000 fans in the stadium" (FLORIDA TIMES-UNION, 11/14).

MAJORITY RULE: In Seattle, Larry Stone wrote under the header, "Despite All Its Warts, NFL Still Appeals To The Vast Majority." It "seems like nothing can cut into the runaway popularity of the sport, and goodness knows, that perception is being put to a severe test." The NFL "has two secret weapons ensuring its ongoing popularity -- betting and fantasy." They both "exist in baseball and other sports, of course, but nowhere near to the extent of pro football." Those two elements "ensure an ardent interest in even the most seemingly trivial games." However, that is "not to say the NFL will stay blessed forever," as the concussion issue, "in particular, is one that poses a grave threat to its ongoing place in the sports hierarchy" (SEATTLE TIMES, 11/12).
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