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The city of Cincinnati's business community "came through" in the end on Friday and helped sell out yesterday's Chargers-Bengals NFC Wild Card Game, ensuring local fans could watch the game on TV and sparing the NFL an "embarrassing blackout," according to Josh Pichler of the CINCINNATI ENQUIRER. Kroger and Procter & Gamble "joined other companies and purchased enough tickets on Friday to close the sellout." The final word "didn't come" until P&G announced the sellout just after 3:00pm ET, with the company donating the tickets "to local military families." The Bengals' playoff tickets cost about 20% more "than a regular season ticket, a seemingly reasonable premium given the team’s success." All playoff ticket revenue "goes to the NFL, which also sets the revenue target each team must hit for home playoff games." Bengals VP Troy Blackburn said that the team's "target for Sunday’s ticket gross" was $6.1M. After accounting for season-ticket holders and fans who "bought select game packages, the Bengals calculated the price at which the team had to sell remaining tickets, and established the $86 and $96 price points." Still, last week's "drama," in which the Bengals, Colts and Packers all took until Friday to sell out their Wild Card games, "has potentially far-reaching implications for the NFL" and its TV blackout rules (CINCINNATI ENQUIRER, 1/4). Bengals PR Dir Jack Brennan said, "You’ve got a tough product to sell in a short time because until Sunday night we couldn’t tell people what time and day the game is. ... While I don’t think our tickets are as high priced as in some markets, there are less levers you can pull for a playoff game than during the regular season" (N.Y. TIMES, 1/4).
LAGGING AT LAMBEAU: In Milwaukee, Bill Glauber reports yesterday's 49ers-Packers Wild Card game was "the seventh-coldest game at Lambeau Field." The thermometer at kickoff "hit 5 degrees, a 10-mile-an-hour wind out of the northwest making it feel like 10 below zero." Fans "were dressed for the occasion." Some "lugged in sleeping bags and blankets," while others "laid down bits of carpet and Styrofoam on the concrete." There were "some empty seats in the upper reaches of the stadium" (MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL, 1/6). Packers season-ticket holder Jerry Watson said that one reason the team's Wild Card game did not sell out as quickly as hoped is because the team this season "eliminated the refund option" that allowed fans their money back if they bought playoff tickets early and then the team did not make it. Watson: "I’ve got to pay for season tickets sometime, but I don’t want to have to pay that at the end of December when I can wait for the end of May. The interest isn’t much, but it’s my money, and I want it. They want it, too. So we butt heads. There were seven of us in here talking on Monday, and none of us had sent the money in." In N.Y., Pat Borzi noted another possible reason for the slow sales is the Packers "added about 7,000 seats to Lambeau." Watson: "The dumbest thing that the intelligent people who run that place ever did was add 8,000 seats. We’ve got a bunch of millworkers in this town. People just don’t have the money" (N.Y. TIMES, 1/5). ESPN’s Darren Rovell: “For the first time ever, they said you have to give us a credit-card payment for all of the games, and you cannot get a refund -- it’ll be credited to your 2014 season tickets. In blue-collar Green Bay, that means something.” Former Packers exec and ESPN business analyst Andrew Brandt said of the ticket-refund program, “It does seem (to be) a change. Again, a more business approach than the family approach that Green Bay has been known for. But that’s the NFL right now” ("Outside The Lines," ESPN2, 1/3).
COLTS CITE SHORT WINDOW: In Indianapolis, Bob Kravitz wrote of the three teams struggling to sell out, "It's an embarrassment for the NFL, which continues to handle postseason tickets in a way that makes it too difficult to sell out stadiums for the country's most beloved and popular sport." The NFL "overprices playoff tickets ... and leaves fans with too little time to get themselves together in order to make a purchase." Colts VP/Ticket Operations & Guest Services Larry Hall said, "This is what the league wanted: a 17th week that meant so much to so many teams. The problem is, we didn't know until halftime of the Sunday night game who we were playing and what date and time." Kravitz reported, "One issue I heard from fans is that by Dec. 12, the Colts required season-ticket holders to purchase seats for all possible home playoff games, which in this case" included the Wild Card game and an "unlikely AFC Championship Game." That is "a lot of money to spend before Christmas." Sports have "got to be the only business where the consumer gets blamed for poor sales" (INDIANAPOLIS STAR, 1/4).
The struggle to sell playoff tickets in three playoff markets last week dominated media coverage over the last few days. Here’s a sampling of industry reaction:
LOVING THE AT HOME EXPERIENCE: In Boston, Ben Volin wrote the NFL has "made the television viewing experience too good, and the cost of attending a game too pricey and inconvenient." Either costs "need to come down - tickets, parking, concessions, souvenirs -- or the blackout rule needs to be eliminated" (BOSTON GLOBE, 1/5). ESPN BOSTON's Mike Reiss wrote, "As neat as it was to hear about the businesses and corporate partners who bought the remaining tickets, you’d think the NFL has great concern about this." Reiss: "Hopefully this is a wake-up call to the league about the possibility of an 18-game regular season. If they are having trouble with this issue in the wild-card round of the playoffs, just imagine if we were currently in the last two weeks of an expanded regular season" (ESPNBOSTON.com, 1/5). In Pittsburgh, Alan Robinson wrote, "For the NFL, the embarrassment wouldn't have been just empty seats inside stadiums for important games,” as it could impact other issues, including the league’s blackout policy. In addition, the "unpredictability of the NFL regular season also is an issue," because while the league "loves parity and down-to-the-wire playoff finishes ... those all-important Week 17 games leave precious little time to sell tickets for a game being played in mere days" (PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW, 1/5). The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Clark & Clegg wrote, "The league has never been a more popular viewing option," but there is "just one problem: Fewer people want to actually attend the games." CBS Sports Network's Amy Trask said, "Really the attention should be focused on what can make the in-stadium experience more attractive so people want to come" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 1/4). SPORTS ON EARTH's Will Leitch wrote the "main reason" the three teams had trouble selling out the games "clearly is television." Leitch wrote, "Football is a sport that is more fun to watch on television than it is in person, and I'm not even sure it's all that close." Football -- both the NFL and college -- "has given itself over so completely to television that attending the games makes you feel like a chump" (SPORTSONEARTH.com, 1/6).
TV HAS IMPACT: The N.Y. Daily News’ Bob Raissman noted the issue of fans wanting to stay at home is not new, but said of the spotlight put on it during the playoffs, "You’re seeing what I call, 'A tiny erosion,' but it comes at a big time." SNY’s Jonas Schwartz said, "It’s not just the cost (of going to games). It’s how teams do it. The fact that they require you to send the money early, the fact that it’s hard to get a refund or they put it towards next year’s season tickets. All of that really affects people" ("Daily News Live," SNY, 1/3). ESPN NFL business analyst Andrew Brandt said of the struggle to sell playoff tickets, “This is an anomaly. I don’t see it happening again, but the fact that it happened at all is cause for discussion -- if not concern -- that how could this happen and, in all places, Green Bay, Wisconsin” ("Outside The Lines," ESPN2, 1/3). ESPN’s Cris Carter said, "The NFL shouldn’t expand (the playoff format). The 12-team playoff system, right now, is just perfect. If we have more playoff games, it would be less people wanting to come" (“Sunday NFL Countdown,” ESPN, 1/4). ESPN’s Bob Ley said, "The fact is, huge home HDTVs and the second screens of the NFL Network ‘Red Zone’ or the DirecTV package, leaves the current in-stadium experience a distant second, and we’ve not even gotten to PSLs, $100 nosebleeds, $30 parking, $8 beers and the loutish behavior of nearby seatmates. Billions and billions in TV money ensure that before any NFL team sells a single ticket, it’s essentially covered its player payroll. Perhaps fans have figured this out: They do add atmosphere to games, and the hovering anvil of a blackout means they better buy tickets. But those bundled-up customers today in Cincy and Green Bay are essentially movie extras for the drama we’ll enjoy curled up in front of the 60-inch set. Pass the guacamole” (“SportsCenter,” ESPN, 1/5).
LEY HAS NO LOVE FOR METLIFE: Ley spent Friday’s “Outside The Lines” on the topic and brought up his experience of attending a game at MetLife Stadium, “They spent a billion dollars at the Meadowlands, and I’ll speak as somebody who goes there maybe two or three times a year to watch a football game: If you don’t sit in a premium seat, it is a quantum step back in value for your dollar and ease as a fan. They whiffed with that stadium, in my opinion" (“Outside The Lines,” ESPN2, 1/3).
MLB will hold its third annual Diversity Business Summit in N.Y. with the Yankees serving as the host club. The summit will be held April 14-15, designed to run along with the league's celebration of Jackie Robinson Day instead of its previous June scheduling. Commissioner Bud Selig will deliver a keynote address, and the event will again involve execs from all 30 clubs, MLBAM, MLB Network and Minor League Baseball. The first two league Diversity Business Summits were held in Chicago and Houston. Attendees of this year's Summit will be welcomed at Yankee Stadium for the Jackie Robinson Day game between the Yankees and Cubs, which will feature the dedication of a new plaque in Monument Park honoring the late Nelson Mandela.