SBJ/May 30 - June 6, 2011/Leagues and Governing Bodies

NFL ahead of last year's pace for season-ticket sales

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The NFL is ahead of the pace on season-ticket sales compared with this point last year, a counter-intuitive trend given the uncertainty of the league’s 2011 season with a lockout that has now stretched into its 12th week.

Owners were briefed on the sales results last week at their spring meeting in Indianapolis. The gains were ascribed in part to the earlier sales start many teams used this year in anticipation of a potential lockout, which began March 12. The selling season traditionally begins in mid- to late March.

Whether the development deflects from the NFL’s argument that it is losing revenue during the lockout is uncertain. It was also unclear whether the seemingly surprising development might influence any new offer the league makes to the players.

Specific sales numbers and details on the gains compared with last year could not be determined.


Questioned by the media last week about the economic effect of the lockout, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell responded, “The longer it goes, the more damage that’s done to the game, the more revenue is down, the less money to be divided amongst the parties. Obviously, we made this point back in March.”

Before the lockout, the NFL predicted that if it did not have a new labor deal in place before the expiration of the old one, the league would lose $120 million in revenue. The projected revenue loss would increase to $350 million by early August, the league said, and $1 billion if the season did not start on time in September.

The losses are not just in ticket sales, but also from sponsorships, merchandise, licensing and other team activities. The league emphasized to reporters in late January that replacing season tickets is much tougher than simply renewing them.

The league could, of course, begin to fall behind pace if the lockout lasts much longer, but for now, most teams that publicly talked about their sales reported being ahead.

“The good news on the league financials is that everyone seems to be doing well,” said Mike Dee, president of the Miami Dolphins, one of the few teams down somewhat from last year. But Dee described his team’s season-ticket sales as not far off last year’s pace.

“It’s in the same ZIP code,” he said.

One team that does appear to have significant issues at the moment is the Jacksonville Jaguars. Because the club last year employed a significant sales effort following a down year in 2009, the team is having trouble keeping pace this year, said Bill Prescott, Jaguars chief financial officer. The team is about 10 percent off last year’s pace, he said.

Dick Cass, Baltimore Ravens president, said team ticket sales are tied more to market factors than the lockout. He did not comment on his club’s ticket progress.

Under league policy, fans are refunded money for lost games, but the NFL has left the decision to the teams whether fans also should receive interest.

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