SBJ/20091012/This Week's News

Slight gate revenue drop seen for NFL

Editor's note: This story is revised from the print edition.

Gate revenue at NFL games is projected to fall by a low-single-digit percent this season from the 2008 campaign, according to figures in briefing books sent to teams last week in preparation for this week’s league meeting in Boston, sources said.

It’s unclear whether the damage likely would have been greater if not for the opening of the new Dallas Cowboys stadium, or whether the low percent decline factors out the new, revenue-gushing venue.

The book sent to the teams also shows that national league revenue, which includes TV and sponsorships, will be up 6 percent in 2009 over 2008.

“Our performance is consistent with the projections we made before the season,” a league spokesman said, declining to comment on specifics.

If the gate revenue has dipped, it is unsurprising given the tough economy, league observers said

“A reduction in gate receipts is entirely understandable in the face of the significant recession and economic uncertainty,” said sports consultant Marc Ganis, who has advised several NFL teams, including the St. Louis Rams. “Particularly in certain markets that either were especially hard hit, like Detroit, or were more vulnerable due to their limited demographics, like Jacksonville.”

Also, 22 teams did not raise ticket prices, a further lid on revenue gains. That has had some effect, though, with only four out of the first 62 games of the NFL season not selling out, a 6.5 percent clip, far below the league’s worst-case scenario of 20 percent. The nearly completed Week 5 also was expected to be a complete sellout, bringing the number down to nearly 5 percent. That said, many teams performing poorly on the field may find it tougher to sell out as the season progresses.

Some, like the Minnesota Vikings, seen in the early summer as a top candidate to have tickets left for some games, have been buoyed by a solid start and the addition of star quarterback Brett Favre. The team, which has sold out so far, is still not sold out for the season, but it is ahead of ticket projections, said Mark Wilf, the Vikings’ president.

The San Francisco 49ers, another team that was a question mark heading into the season, are now projecting to sell out all of their games. The 49ers’ chief operating officer, Andy Dolich, credited the development to a beefed-up sales staff, as well as a strong on-field performance.

But in other locales the situation is clearly more dire. The Jacksonville Jaguars have already said all eight of their home games will not sell out. And the reeling Oakland Raiders already have had one game not sell out.

Of the league’s approximately $8 billion in revenue, about $4.7 billion is national, with the rest coming locally. If gate revenue is down, local revenue, which also includes team sponsorship, a hard-hit category, will likely be down this year, as well.

In addition to the budget update, teams at the fall meeting will get a stadium security presentation, sources said, as well as a briefing on where the league’s collective-bargaining talks stand. Also, several limited partnerships in teams will be voted on, including for the Miami Dolphins, who have been adding a slew of celebrity minority investors.

John Mara, co-owner of the New York Giants, also said he expected some discussion of the University of Michigan’s study on the effects of concussions on former NFL players.

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