*I wish it weren’t so, but facts are facts.
**Although, seriously, kudos to Meijer and Kroger for stepping up.
I mean, seriously, when three out of four of your playoff sites are seriously flirting with a blackout, there is a huge issue. Now, I do firmly believe that the blackout is outdated and should be eliminated, and I’ve written about it here before. It no longer protects the teams in the same way, and besides, with all the friendly tax breaks and the like, it seems distasteful (if not downright illegal) to withhold a televised broadcast from the same taxpayers that make your building and operation possible. That said, there really should not be a question about whether or not you can sell out a playoff game in Indianapolis or, my goodness, Green freaking Bay given the immense popularity of the NFL.
There are some excuses to be made here, but most of them come back to a broken system. The weather is not one of those excuses, though one I’m sure plays a part. Things have gotten bitterly cold in the midwest, accompanied with around a foot of snow in some places. The forecast is calling for another round of deep snow this weekend, bringing solidly subzero temperatures with it. And that’s not accounting for windchill. Would you like to be sitting out in those conditions for four hours? Probably not. Now, that part isn’t really a concern in Indianapolis thanks to the roof, but still, do you want to drive in that if you can help it? Probably not. In the Packers’ case, there is also an issue of not knowing if you were even going to be in the playoffs until the eleventh hour, coupled with only having a winning record by virtue of a tie and a fairly overwhelming opponent. That means nobody has a chance to plan to make the trip to the game, and you’re likely going to be a little reticent to drop the kind of money it takes to buy playoff tickets when most are fairly certain you are going to lose.
Although, that starts to bring us back to the systemic problems here.
For one, prices to attend NFL games are flat outrageous. I can tell you that the face value for one of my dad’s Colts season tickets is $88. Those are for 400 level, endzone seats. Not a bad view, but certainly not primo seating. For a “gold” game at Wrigley Field, I can pay $96 for a ticket and sit almost directly behind home plate. For a weekday game for the Pacers, you can spend $90 and get a nice club seat. For a “gold” game for the Blues, you can spend less than $100 and still get 100-level seats for a single game. And, yes, those prices are all for single game tickets, which are higher than the rate you would get a for a season ticket.
And these are playoff tickets, so of course, they’re going to be more expensive. After checking the website, the cheapest seats available (so presumably way up in the nosebleeds of the 600 level) are $63. If you’re looking to break out of the five or six hundred level, though, you’re going to be spending almost double that. The cheapest seat I could find in at least a 400 level was $112. You’re looking at over $300 if you want to get to 300 or better. And how many people just buy one ticket? The big part about going to a game is going with somebody, and if that somebody happens to be your kid or significant other, they probably aren’t paying their own way. So take whatever it is you’re looking at and at least double it. If not quadruple it.
Watching your big-ass HD TV from your comfy couch starts sounding much more appealing when you’re talking about those prices.
Then there’s how these tickets get sold in the first place. You have to make your decision early on if you’re a season ticket holder about whether you’re putting down your deposit for playoff tickets or not. That makes it awfully tough to plan, since you don’t know what that game will be. Saturday or Sunday? What time? Will we have a prayer? Will we even have a home one? If you’re a Chiefs fan, you probably feel pretty good about snagging a home playoff game at 9-0. That didn’t really work out, did it? And not only are you on the road, but now you’re facing a team that just beat you two weeks ago fairly soundly? I hope you didn’t bank too hard on getting those tickets.*
*This isn’t to say the Chiefs can’t beat the Colts. They certainly can. But Kansas City probably doesn’t feel as good about that now as they did after week nine.
And that’s just talking about getting a seat. That makes no mention of what happens if you want a souvenir, something to eat or drink, or what to do about parking your car (assuming you don’t live within walking distance of the stadium or are taking public transit). A trip to an NFL game is just outrageously expensive. And when you do get to the stadium, frankly, the in-house product simply isn’t as good as watching at home. Big, HDTVs are pretty common these days. If you don’t own one yourself, you probably know somebody who does. The technology that comes along with watching the games at home (first down line, an actual line of scrimmage, etc.) along with a crystal clear, close-up view of the game just beats what any stadium can really offer once you get beyond the first few rows. Not to mention you have much greater freedom of movement and comfort at home. And, if the particular game you’re watching gets out of hand, it’s no big deal to flip over to another game or just decide to do something else. When you’ve got as much skin in the game as you typically do going to an NFL game, it is much harder to cut your losses and walk away.
I don’t know if there’s much that can be done to fix this particular problem for the NFL. The HD cat is out of the bag. There’s no putting that back in. With attendance routinely falling, it seems owners will have no choice but to drop ticket prices, at least somewhat. That won’t be as big a deal to owners, either, I wouldn’t think. Given how TV revenues keep climbing, it seems more important for teams to do whatever they can do to ensure they keep that money coming in, as opposed to pricing out many fans. This is already in the works to some degree. The blackout rules seem to be coming to an end. Owners are looking into variable ticket prices, though admittedly that means you’re going to be paying a lot more to see the Broncos or Seahawks than you are the Jaguars or Raiders. Still, it’s a step that certainly seems to say that ticket sales aren’t the lifeblood of an NFL team the way they used to be. At least the NFL can admit that much when faced with scenes like what we saw in Washington this year.
Changes are coming to a football team near you. There is no denying this, and they aren’t all necessarily coming from head trauma. Though, admittedly, the NFL has been a bit behind there, too.