Average cost for a family of four to attend an NFL game? $258.50.
Face value of two rinkside tickets to a Stanley Cup finals game
in Denver? $510.
Advance purchase price for two tickets in the back of the first
level at the Delta Center for the Utah Jazz's 15-game playoff
Tab for four season tickets to field-level box seats at home
games of the New York Mets? $18,240.
May 14, 2000
Evening spent at home with the kids, the dish and the clicker?
America's sports teams face a small problem as they enter the
brave new digital world of the 21st century: Joe Fan, that poor
abused sucker who has helped make every second-string point
guard, backup quarterback, lefthanded middle reliever and
third-line right wing rich beyond reason, is being priced right
out of his seat. Ridiculous doesn't begin to describe the
escalation in ticket prices to sports events during the last
decade or so. Bananas, wacko, insane...now we're getting
somewhere. Sometime between the eighth baseball labor action and
the third NBA lockout, between the NFL scab games and the NHL
shutdown, between the publicly financed construction of Chicago's
Comiskey Park and the public implosion of Seattle's Kingdome,
attending sports events went from being affordable family
entertainment to being a corporate perk.
Since 1991 ticket prices for the four major pro sports have
increased an outrageous 80%--four times faster than the Consumer
Price Index. An average NFL ticket, which went for $25.21 in '91,
now goes for $45.63. Same story in the NHL, where, according to
the Chicago-based business publishing and research firm Team
Marketing Report, the average cost for a family of four to attend
a game has risen 31.8% in the past five years, to $254.48--roughly
two weeks' worth of groceries or 30% of an average household's
weekly pay. Not that an average family gets to an NHL arena all
that often. A marketing survey conducted by the league this
season revealed the average household income of fans attending
games was $81,000, which puts them in the top 15% of North
Americans. Bully for them. The other 85%, which includes the
hard-core, leather-lunged blue-collar characters who used to ring
cowbells in the balconies of Chicago Stadium and Boston Garden,
has been left out in the cold.
The They've Got Money Coming Out the Wazoo! Award, however, goes
to the mythical family of four that attends a New York Knicks
game on its own nickel. Or 9,105 nickels. According to Team
Marketing Report, the average cost of that outing during the
1999-2000 season was a staggering $455.26 for parking, four
tickets in midrange seats (an average of $86.82 each), four
sodas, four hot dogs, two beers, two programs and two souvenir
Even major league baseball, which prides itself on being the
least expensive of the four big sports, has raised its average
ticket price 92.7% since 1991, from $8.64 to $16.65. Prices have
soared 11.6% this season alone, and the best seats have risen at
a pace that would make a day-trader blanch. A ticket for a New
York Yankees box seat has climbed 120% in the past five seasons,
from $25 to $55. This year the crosstown Mets jacked up their
best tickets from $30 to $37, an increase of 23%. Same story in
the heartland, where the hapless Milwaukee Brewers will thank the
good citizens of Wisconsin for building them a new ballpark, set
to open next year, by pricing the top seats at about $50 a pop,
$22 more than what the highest-priced ticket goes for now at
Players' salaries have risen even faster, of course, which is one
reason for the runaway ticket prices. In the NHL, which derives a
whopping 60% of its revenues from ticket sales, salaries have
skyrocketed 380% since 1990. In the NBA, which gets about 40% of
its revenues from tickets, the average salary has gone up 289%,
while the average ticket price has risen 108%. Baseball's average
salary has shot up 237%, more than 2 1/2 times the rate of ticket
prices. Same story in football, in which the 81% rise in ticket
prices was more than matched by the 164% surge in the average
But factors other than player costs also have led to the current
state of affairs. In fact, one economist, Andrew Zimbalist of
Smith College in Northampton, Mass., largely discounts player
salaries. "The reason ticket prices have skyrocketed," Zimbalist
says, is "a combination of new facilities and a higher income
among the top 20% of people who are buying the highest-priced
seats." John Siegfried, professor of economics at Vanderbilt,
agrees. "It's not the players' salaries," he says. "These owners
are highly successful businessmen, and the dramatic increase in
pricing comes from some people's willingness to pay. The growth
we've had in this country has been enjoyed by a few at the top.
We're talking about a tiny fraction of the population."
Thus the rise of the corporate ticket buyer at the expense of the
ordinary fan. A Minnesota Timberwolves marketing survey this year
found that 62% of the season tickets in the lower level of the
Target Center were owned by corporations, whose renewal rate was
97%. The corporate customer is relatively price-insensitive, but
he demands his creature comforts. Tear it down, build it back,
jack 'em up: 50 stadiums and arenas have opened since 1990, each
with more amenities than the last. Those amenities, not
surprisingly, come with a price. "Ticket prices go up an average
of 35% when a team moves into a new facility," says Dennis
Howard, a professor of sports marketing at the University of
Oregon's business school. "A new building's nice in the short
term, but it exacerbates the problems in the long term by
narrowing the market of people who can afford to go to the games
on a regular basis. Sixty percent of season tickets in NBA and
NHL arenas are corporate. Teams have made themselves too
dependent on businesses while distancing themselves from their
traditional fan base."
The corporate fan who has replaced the core fan is a fickle
beast, choosy about which games he'll use his precious free time
to attend. Midweek against the Milwaukee Bucks or the Nashville
Predators? That's a pass. If the suit bothers to give the tickets
away, he's likely to hand them over at the last minute to some
secretary in personnel who might prefer to be home watching Regis
make people sweat. "Corporate customers tend to be more sedate,"
says Zimbalist, "which lessens the home field advantage."
In other words, it deadens the energy in the shiny new
luxury-box-bejeweled building. Picture 16,000 people sitting on
their spreadsheets while rock music blares and hoofers do leg
kicks in an attempt to create an atmosphere of excitement. The
not-so-shocking result is that attendance in all four leagues is
either flat or in decline. Over the past five years the NBA's
average attendance has fallen by about 2%. "Every reputable study
shows that when you raise ticket prices, attendance comes down,"
says Zimbalist. "The rational owner who's trying to maximize
revenue should raise his ticket price in response to demand, not
in response to what he pays in salaries."
That demand for tickets, however, is dwindling. There are
exceptions, of course. Baseball markets such as St. Louis,
Cleveland and Baltimore are still hot. The Detroit Red Wings and
the New York Rangers are among hockey's toughest tickets, as are
basketball teams such as the Los Angeles Lakers and the Indiana
Pacers. But viewed as a whole, from the deserted aisles of Long
Island's Nassau Coliseum to the lonely backwaters of The Pond in
Anaheim, warm bodies have been disappearing from seats faster
than you can say "no-shows in the loge."
Unless it's a playoff game or a particularly compelling
regular-season matchup, season-ticket holders increasingly just
aren't bothering to come. The NFL, whose ticket sales are
generally much stronger than the other leagues', in part because
pro football teams have only eight regular-season home games to
sell, used to require teams to announce no-shows but stopped in
1997 when the numbers became an embarrassment. In '98 the
Carolina Panthers, in just their third year of operation and one
season after playing in the NFC Championship Game, averaged more
than 7,000 no-shows a game. This season the NBA's playoff-bound
Charlotte Hornets sometimes looked as if they were playing under
quarantine. For a game in March the announced attendance at the
23,799-seat Charlotte Coliseum was 15,799, but according to the
Charlotte Coliseum Authority, the turnstile count was 6,800. Bad
night to be a peanut vendor.
The story has been similar in NBA cities such as Detroit, Miami,
Milwaukee, Minneapolis and Orlando, all of which field
playoff-caliber teams that play nightly before thousands of empty
seats. Says Chris Wright, senior vice president and chief
marketing officer of the Timberwolves, "When no one is in that
seat, not only do we lose the value of that ticket [if it wasn't
purchased on a season plan], we lose concession money,
merchandise money, program money. We all should be tearing down
our businesses, analyzing everything we do, then building them
back up. I think there's a core NBA fan who sits in the lower
level and will stay there until he's called to the grave. What
we're all trying to figure out is, Who is the new NBA fan?"
New NBA fan? The league had better worry about keeping the fans
it has. "It's boring, expensive, meaningless, just an awful
product," says former Denver Nuggets season-ticket holder Greg
Dallas, an attorney who gave up his two $52 seats before the
'98-99 season after holding them for five years. "The number of
expensive games is 41 out of 41. The number of good games is 10
out of 41. What kind of value is that for your entertainment
dollar? The players want to be paid like entertainers? Well, what
happens when your entertainment value drops? If you were a
headliner in Las Vegas, you'd wind up in a lounge singing for the
two-drink minimum. That's what the NBA is becoming."
Things got so bad at some games this season that NBA commissioner
David Stern sent out a memo asking teams to look into moving fans
from the cheap seats to the lower bowl. Says Stern, "We believe
our product looks best on television when it shows the seats are
A scientific survey of 874 sports fans nationwide conducted for
SI in April by the Peter Harris Research Group revealed that
while high cost was the leading disincentive for fans to attend
games, a number of other factors, ranging from disenchantment
over the comportment of today's players to an inability to get
good seats, also diminished fans' desire to go to events (chart,
page 74). The fans aren't angry, however. This isn't a repeat of
the scene in Network in which citizens stick their heads out
their windows and scream, "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to
take it anymore!" In fact, a majority of fans say they would like
to go to more games but can't afford to (chart, page 76).
Still, they concede that they're less emotionally attached to
teams that once mattered to them. The Harris Group survey showed
that 85% of fans believe owners are more interested in raking in
money than in making it possible for Joe Fan to attend games; 80%
agree that "pro sports are becoming a turnoff because they have
become dominated by big money interests and issues"; 79% think
that today's athletes have less character and integrity than the
athletes of the past; and 67% feel that players and teams move
around so much that it has become more difficult to develop
loyalty to a team. A quarter of the fans surveyed even thought
that increased salaries have lessened the quality of play.
Finally, it doesn't require a survey to determine that too many
headlines in recent years about athletes charged with murder,
sexual assault, drug abuse, drunk driving and other crimes have
turned fans off.
The bottom line? "It's not fun," says Alan, a season-ticket
holder for the Atlanta Braves, Thrashers and Hawks, who didn't
want his last name used. He went to only a third of the
Thrashers' 41 home games this year, didn't attend a Hawks game
after early January and has decided to sell his Braves tickets to
a friend. "The Hawks stink, the Thrashers stink, and the newness
of the Philips Arena [which opened last September] wore off a
long time ago," he says. "I hate it."
The Tampa Bay Lightning had so little success filling the
19,758-seat Ice Palace this year that it gave away 103,834
tickets in the first three months of the season. "Our plan is to
expose as many people as we can to hockey," Lightning president
Ron Campbell explained to The Tampa Tribune. "If you get exposed
to it, you're going to get hooked."
He might as well have been exposing fans to the flu. Even
including the freebies, the Lightning averaged only 13,600 fans a
game, 22% fewer than it drew in 1996-97.
Tampa Bay is a horrible team. More disturbing to the leagues are
the good teams that can't fill new buildings. The Florida
Panthers played their second year in the 19,250-seat National Car
Rental Center after signing one of the most exciting players in
hockey, Pavel Bure, to a $9 million-a-year contract. Bure
responded by leading the NHL in goals, and the Panthers battled
all season for first place in the Southeast Division. South
Florida yawned. The Panthers had exactly one regular-season
sellout, and their average attendance fell 11.4%, to 15,999.
"Plus we had 500 to 600 no-shows a game," says frustrated
Panthers president Bill Torrey. "People who have given up their
season tickets tell us they do so for two reasons: Number 1,
we're playing too often for them to come to every game. Second,
the high prices."
Bruins president Harry Sinden is hearing much the same thing in
Boston, where a 1999 team survey revealed that of season-ticket
holders who didn't plan to renew their seats at the 4
1/2-year-old FleetCenter, 37% cited ticket prices as being too
high. Only 4% said they had lost interest in the team. "Ticket
prices are the biggest problem in the league," Sinden says. "We
don't want to charge this kind of money, but until the teams get
some sort of cost certainty with a salary cap, we don't have any
other place to turn. Our TV deal is great compared with what it
used to be--we get $4 million per team--but it's dwarfed by
other sports' deals. NFL teams get $75 million to start each
season, and they have a salary cap."
Sinden's point is echoed by economist Rick Burton, a hockey fan
and director of the sports marketing program at the Oregon
business school: "The NHL doesn't have much pricing flexibility.
Hockey teams pay out $1.33 in salaries for every $1 in revenues.
I worry most about baseball and hockey because they're not
propped up by TV. The NFL and the NBA have kept salaries in line
with television revenues."
Baseball's cheap seats are still a good deal by almost any
standard. You can buy a season ticket to the upper-deck
grandstand for the Minnesota Twins for $99, or $1.22 a game.
People don't. This year the Twins have sold 1,458 such packages,
compared with more than 4,000 last year. In the first week of
this season the Toronto Blue Jays drew the smallest crowd since
they moved into the SkyDome in 1989. The Florida Marlins made
history twice, setting a franchise low-water mark in the third
game of the season and eclipsing it the next day, when just 7,741
went to Pro Player Stadium to witness a game against the San
"The consumer has an awful lot of choice," says Burton. "In April
the NBA and NHL playoffs are in full blow, baseball is starting,
plus you're in the middle of a digital revolution, with 57 TV
channels, five million Web sites, VCRs, video games, movies.
There's an entertainment glut. It's hard for any league to grow
its business in that environment. Twenty to 30 years ago there
was very little choice."
Nowhere are those choices more tempting than in South Florida,
where the sunshine, the surf, a surfeit of teams and rising
ticket prices have conspired to make Miami the toughest market in
sports. Only the Dolphins consistently sell out. With Dan Marino
retired and unproven new coach Dave Wannstedt taking over, there
is already talk that the Dolphins, too, might suffer a drop-off
in attendance--although the season-ticket renewal rate is in line
with last year's. Much like the Panthers, the Heat is a
contending team with a marquee player in a new building, which
sold out only about a third of the time in the regular season. In
each if its first two playoff games, against the Detroit Pistons,
Miami drew 16,500, which was a capacity crowd only because the
almost 3,000 seats in the upper balconies had been closed off.
The Marlins, two seasons after their World Series triumph,
outdrew only the Twins and the Montreal Expos last year.
"There are too many things to do down here," says Mark Summers, a
dentist in Plantation, Fla., who dropped his Panthers season
tickets this year. "I'd rather participate in a sport like golf
or tennis. You spend $55 to $65 for a seat, then there's parking
and getting something to eat. We're not getting our money's
worth. And face it, almost all the games are on TV."
Back home, in the den, satellite dish on the roof, clicker in
hand, Joe Fan can be everywhere at once. No traffic, no $4.50
beer. And any game is available in his city. What should concern
the four sports leagues is whether Miami is the canary in the
mine shaft of a nationwide trend. "I stayed home on a Tuesday,
and there were eight hockey games on my dish, including ours,"
says the Bruins' Sinden. "We've televised every game of ours
since 1966, and we think it's helped us. The expansion teams all
ask us about that, and our advice is, get on TV."
It's another source of revenue, after all. But as the cocooning
of America continues and every home becomes its own high-tech
entertainment center, fans' willingness to pay obscene prices to
suffer through indifferent regular-season games will diminish,
maybe even disappear, unless the costs go down. Fans seated in
the upper levels of the new buildings spend half the time
watching the Jumbotron anyway. They might as well watch the new
HDTV at home. "The seats teams are having trouble selling aren't
the expensive ones," says Burton. "They're the nosebleed seats.
If you put the old Boston Garden inside the new building, 47% of
the FleetCenter seats would be outside the Garden walls."
That's mighty far from the action. Small wonder that in the
Bruins' marketing study, only 42% of respondents said they were
"very satisfied" with both the atmosphere in the building and the
"overall FleetCenter experience." Moderately satisfied--which is
how 57% responded--doesn't send you racing back to buy $77 seats,
the top ticket price in the loge.
Boston isn't alone. The FleetCenter is just one of 29 arenas that
the NBA and NHL have added since 1990, and in nearly every one
the luxury suites that encircle the center of the building put
the fan in the cheaper seats that much farther from the action.
"You can't see from up there, and just as bad, you can't hear the
sounds of the game," says Carl Hanson of Woburn, Mass., a Boston
fan who no longer goes to the games, preferring to watch them on
television. "It's like looking at stick figures."
For the time being, the U.S. economy is humming. What happens
when there's a downturn? Further along, what happens when the
so-called Echo Boomers, kids of the Baby Boomers, become the
ticket buyers? "You drive around and see all the empty basketball
courts on the playgrounds, all the empty baseball fields, and you
wonder," says Burton. "I tell my students my kid would rather be
Kobe Bryant than see Kobe Bryant. He can play him in a video
game. Baseball had eight strikes or lockouts between 1972 and
'94. It kept interrupting its seasons and raising its prices.
What's the residual effect of that for someone who's 25 years
Sports A.D.D.? "This new, hip generation that we've got to figure
out is all multitaskers," says the Timberwolves' Wright. "These
are guys who are working on the computer and watching the game
and have two telephones going. We've got to find a way to get
that person engrossed in Timberwolves basketball."
Good luck. If television ratings are any indication, the verdict
is in, and the four major sports finish way behind the World
Wrestling Federation with young fans. When the Harris Research
pollsters asked fans how they viewed players who "act out, cause
a commotion or get into fights," a majority of fans 35 and older
said such behavior made them less likely to attend games, and
only 11% said it made them more inclined to attend. By contrast,
35% of fans 18 to 24 said such behavior made them more likely to
attend (chart, page 81). Among males 12 to 24, the WWF's Raw Is
War series on cable outdrew Monday Night Football last year by a
staggering 47%. You don't want to know how it fared against
ESPN's baseball game of the week.
"Children begin to form alliances with sports leagues at a very
young age," says Oregon's Howard. "The jury's still out on
whether it's too late for these pro leagues to win over the kids.
It's unclear to what degree denying young fans a chance to see
games firsthand affects their development as fans, but my gut
says it has an effect."
Howard and Burton published an article last year in the journal
Marketing Management in which they considered whether, from a
marketing perspective, the four major pro sports "have reached
the late maturity, or decline, phase of the product life cycle."
They concluded that the current attendance trends aren't a
short-term blip. They wrote, "It is highly plausible to suggest
we are seeing the start of a long-term erosion scenario."
"These leagues are mature products," Burton says. "They aren't
new and shiny. The NBA is the youngest of the four leagues, and
it's more than 50 years old. Major league baseball has been
around since 1901. In all that time, what has changed? The
designated hitter and interleague play."
The new ballparks and arenas? In many cases they're nothing more
than expensive new packaging, not unlike the NEW! and IMPROVED!
lettering on a box of detergent. It works for a while, but as
owners are beginning to discover, the novelty of moving into a
new venue can be perilously short. Arizona Diamondbacks owner
Jerry Colangelo, having seen season-ticket renewals drop 20%
after the team's first year (1998) at Bank One Ballpark,
remarked, "Honeymoons don't last as long as they used to."
About a season. That's what the modern fan, weaned on instant
gratification, gives a team that moves into a new facility. "It's
our hope that Year One will be a honeymoon--new team, new arena,
new logo," says Bill Robertson, vice president of communications
for the NHL expansion Minnesota Wild, which will begin play in
St. Paul next season. "Year Two we'd better improve on the ice,
and Year Three we'd better contend for the playoffs. This is a
Maybe. More important, it's a skeptical market. The Twins have
been lobbying for a new stadium for years, but last November a
referendum on a citywide sales tax that would have paid for one
third of a $325 million stadium in St. Paul was defeated 58% to
42%. "The Twins moan and complain," says 42-year-old Hal Tiffany
of New Brighton, Minn., who owns an insurance agency. "They
wouldn't play outside because there were too many rainouts. So we
built them a dome. Now they say it's the wrong atmosphere. You
can't win with them. I'm not going to pay tax dollars so
billionaires and millionaires can split up our money."
Citizens are wising up. Fool us once, shame on you. Fool us
twice, shame on us. It's not the fans who are clamoring for these
new buildings, it's the owners. Some fans fought to save the old
palaces that, in their quirky ways, added so much to the
experience of going to a game: Boston Garden, Chicago Stadium,
old Comiskey Park, the Montreal Forum, Tiger Stadium. When those
relics were abandoned, the emotional attachment they engendered
died. Gone too was much of the loyalty that fans felt for the
teams, further diminished by the indignity of being priced into
the far reaches of new buildings. Are there really Chicago Cubs
fans out there? Get serious. The Cubs have played bad baseball
for most of the last 75 years. But there are Wrigley Field fans
whose loyalty to the team will live only as long as the park
"The fans' avidity may have shifted from team loyalty to player
loyalty and moment loyalty," says Burton. "The excrement will hit
the wall when the owners can't sell their franchises for what
they paid for them. That's when you'll see a market correction.
We're going to see those values level off. The finances are
getting pretty scary. Crunch the numbers on the $800 million the
Redskins sold for, and that's going to take a long time to pay
off. You're seeing an early version of it with the NHL teams in
Canada [which tried to get the government to bail them out]."
What, if anything, can be done to reverse the decline and
rekindle fan passion and loyalty? Desaturating large markets and
moving to smaller markets might be a start. How many more years
will it take the NHL to admit that the New York City area can't
support three hockey clubs? The New York Islanders, a bad team in
a bad building, averaged a league-low 9,748 fans last season. The
New Jersey Devils, a good team in a decent building, spent most
of the year leading the Eastern Conference but drew only 15,130
fans per game to 19,140-seat Continental Airlines Arena.
Meanwhile, the Nashville Predators, who in their second year were
just as bad as the Islanders, averaged 16,587 fans in a
nontraditional hockey market. Their attendance went up 3% from
their inaugural year. Significantly, Nashville has only one other
major league team, the Titans. Fewer options translate into more
interest, even in a losing club. "Nashville hadn't had major
league sports," notes Predators general manager David Poile.
"People think, This is our city, our team."
The Green Bay Packers have one of the longest season-ticket
waiting lists in sports while playing in the smallest market.
Conversely, the second-largest market, Los Angeles, doesn't have
an NFL team and doesn't want one. According to a 1998 Los
Angeles Times poll, nearly 60% of the respondents don't give a
hoot if the NFL ever moves a team back there. In the NBA the
Portland Trail Blazers sold out every game this season and the
Sacramento Kings sold out all but three games; each is the only
major league team in its market.
While attendance has flagged in the major leagues, minor league
baseball, basketball and hockey are booming. Prices are lower,
facilities are smaller, and the fan is treated like a king.
George Beal, a 46-year-old financial adviser in Boston, recently
took 17 people to see the Lowell Spinners, a Class A baseball
team, for less than the price of a single Bruins loge ticket.
"All had a much better time," he says.
"Minor leagues are now viable family entertainment," says Howard.
"Minor league baseball in St. Paul has done phenomenally at the
gate, whereas the Twins' unsold inventory must be about 70%. It's
a factor of price. That's why some hockey and basketball teams
are starting to make their top couple of rows available for $10."
Asked if the Timberwolves' ticket prices still had room for
growth, marketing director Wright answered, "Yes, but probably
only in the lower level of our building, where there's incredible
demand. We've reached a plateau in the upper levels, and I
believe that's true across the league. The person we need to be
concerned about is the casual fan who comes into our building
four or five times a year. If we're not careful, that will be
reduced to once or twice. We've got to be creative in bringing
that fan in as many times as possible."
Some clubs are taking a page from the minor league books, holding
wacky promotions such as Twins Night and Salute to Duct Tape
Night--both dreamed up last year by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.
Attendance still fell nearly one million from the 2.5 million the
Devil Rays drew in the previous season (their first), even though
they fielded a better team.
"At about half our games we give away something," says Gerry
Helper, the Predators' vice president of communications. "Water
bottles, kids' savings banks and hockey sticks. One game we gave
away 4,000 bicycles for kids 10 and under with the help of a
supplier. People were overwhelmed."
To reward return customers, some teams, including the Predators,
have a Fan Card that works like a frequent flyer program. The
spectator swipes the card through a machine as he enters the
arena and receives points that can be redeemed for free drinks,
souvenirs or admission to practice.
On a larger scale, the NBA is looking into using electronic
ticketing to facilitate the exchange of season tickets that have
already been sold. "We think not using those tickets is
wasteful," says Stern, omitting that it's also costly to the
bottom line. "We're focusing on two issues to address that waste:
technology and making the game experience better for the fan. The
Internet will have a very positive impact on our attendance by
helping the guy who doesn't want to use his two tickets for
tonight's game but wants to exchange them for four tickets on
Thursday. This will happen within 18 months."
Others envision a time when teams use the Internet to auction
unsold tickets to the highest bidder. "Would you rather not sell
a ticket for $40, or sell it for $15?" asks one entrepreneur
who's seeking financing for his electronic ticket software
package. "Every person who comes in the building spends between
$5 and $9, not counting parking, so it's a way for clubs to
optimize their yields. As it stands, the actual fannies in the
seats of an average NHL game are in the 70% range, and the NBA's
is even lower."
It seems safe to predict that some sort of E-ticketing will be
the norm before the end of the decade, allowing season-ticket
holders to trade, possibly even to resell their seats. Whether
this will help stem the rising tide of fan indifference remains
to be seen, because the times, they are a-changin'. Pro sports
can change with them, or they can follow the path of outdated
"This is a subject that should be entitled Not Taking Your
Customer for Granted," says Stern. "Could we lower ticket prices
and increase attendance? We're going to do consumer research on
that. We have to find ways to sell tickets better."
He'd better not wait too long.
How much are fans paying to attend big league games around the
country? For a complete breakdown by team, city and sport, go to
SI commissioned the Peter Harris Research Group to conduct a
scientific national survey of sports fans on issues related to
attendance at major league baseball, NBA, NFL and NHL games. The
874 fans polled attended an average of 10.3 pro events or college
basketball or football games in the past year and 39.5 games in
the past five years. Here are the top 10 reasons, with
percentages of fans citing them, that make respondents less
likely to fill a seat at a sporting event today.
Total cost to attend 57%
Comfort of watching at home 41%
Players' behavior during games 41%
Traffic and parking 38%
Increase in sports on TV 35%
Lateness of games 26%
TV replay and analysis 22%
Unlikelihood of getting good seats 19%
Change in how local team is doing 14%
Change in family's interest in game 13%
Priced Out Of the Market
In three of the four major pro sports--hockey is the happy
exception--fans surveyed say that they're attending fewer games
than they did five years ago. It's not that they aren't
interested in going; in fact, 61% of those polled said they
would like to attend more NFL games. Here are the findings, in
ATTEND NOW VS.
ATTENDED A GAME FIVE YEARS AGO WANT TO ATTEND
IN PAST YEAR MORE LESS MORE OFTEN
Baseball 51 18 20 50
NBA 28 11 20 41
NFL 30 12 24 61
NHL 20 11 9 32
The History of a Seat
Aisle 7, Row F, Seat 1. When Dodger Stadium opened in 1962, this
field-level box seat behind home plate went for $3.50 a game.
The price remained unchanged until 1976, but since then it has
been jacked up 14 times, to $31 this season, for a total
increase of 785.7%.
Mixing It Up: A Mixed Message
Who wants to see a fight? That depends on who's watching.
Overall, 41% of fans surveyed said that the prospect of seeing
players act up or get into scuffles makes them less likely to
attend games. But a large chunk of the 18-to-24 crowd will tell
you that the possibility of untoward behavior by players makes
them more likely to attend games. Here's a breakdown, in
percentages, by age group and marital status.
OVERALL 18-24 25-34 35-49 50+ MARRIED KIDS SINGLE
More likely 16 35 22 11 4 12 18 28
Less likely 41 17 36 46 56 45 43 25
No effect 43 48 42 43 40 43 39 47
In Living Color
With all the sports available on TV, you still can't beat being
at a game in person--unless it's pro football. Here's how the
Harris Group poll respondents said they prefer to watch pro
BASEBALL NBA NFL NHL
In person 66% 48% 46% 46%
On TV 24% 36% 48% 23%
In nearly every one of the arenas built since 1990, the luxury
suites put the fan in the cheaper seats even farther from the
"The number of expensive games is 41 of 41; the number of good
games is 10 of 41," says a former NBA season-ticket holder.
"What kind of value is that?"
If TV ratings are any guide, the four major sports finish way
behind the WWF with young fans.
Since 1991 ticket prices for the four major sports have risen an
outrageous 80%--four times faster than the CPI--squeezing the