SBD/January 6, 2014/Leagues and Governing Bodies

Industry Reaction: What Is The Long-Term Lesson From Wild Card Ticket Sales Struggles?

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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).
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