Is the NFL becoming the No Fan League?
By Michael R. Shannon
web posted January 6, 2014
The result of NFL's experiment in negative market dynamics has just come in and the news is not good for Commissioner Roger Goodell. Last September the NFL greatly increased the irritation factor of attending games when the league banned women's purses that were larger than a pack of cigarettes for ‘security' reasons. (Complete details here.)
This development was added to the existing $10 hotdog, $10 beer, $40 parking place, pauses in the action for commercials you mercifully can't see, wildly expensive ticket prices and the owner prancing around on the sidelines.
It's enough to make you want to dedicate your life to eradicating ‘income inequality.'
I wondered how long it would take the descending curve of a fan's desire to attend an increasingly expensive NFL game to cross the rising nuisance curve of pettifogging NFL rules. Well now we know: It took four months.
As this is written three of the four first–round NFL playoff games have failed to sell out even though the deadlines for all three have been extended. Even in Green Bay — home of put the baby on the waiting list for season tickets — still has seats available. The important point about a playoff game failing to sell out for the fan base is not the dent in the owner's bottom line. It's the fact the game will be blacked out in the local viewing area.
This has not happened since 2002 when the Dolphins – Ravens game in Miami failed to sell out.
So why does the unrest surface now? Because this is the first time season ticket holders have been asked to make an additional ticket purchase since the new ‘security' rules took effect. Up until now season tickets were already paid for and not using them would be like throwing money away. Or buying a Redskin's ticket.
Many are finding the extraordinary cost of attending the game when added to the degrading, increasingly TSA–like experience of entering the stadium is simply too much. It's easier, warmer and the seats are better when one watches the game at home. Assuming the rest of the sheep in your locale continue buying enough tickets to fill the stadium.
I realize the TV commentary can be annoying, but so are the observations of nearby drunks in the stadium and there's always the off chance they may hurl on you. (Something that never happens at home. Although I've been known to get a touch of indigestion following Pam Oliver's inane sideline commentary.)
Since I'm part owner of the Packers, let's look at that situation in detail. It may be as cold as 4 below at game time Sunday, but that's not keeping the fans away. In 1967 the Ice Bowl between the Packers and the Cowboys was even more frigid, yet the stadium was full. The difference? In 1967 fans weren't strip searched before they were seated. Now I can only imagine the lines of parka–clad fans extending outside Lambeau Field waiting for their carefully selected layering to be explored in detail by suspicious ‘security' fingers.
And how exactly does the ‘no purse large than a pack of Marlboros' work when both of the pockets on my parka are the size of dinner plates? I've seen kangaroos with smaller pouches. Are you required to stuff large pockets with cardboard to reduce carrying capacity? Or is it one of the dreaded case–by–case safety decisions?
And how about the fan that uses battery-powered gloves and boots to keep warm? He's going to be treated like a suicide bomber when guards get a load of his power pack and the jumble of wires connecting. At the Ice Bowl you could have brought a Duraflame log into the stadium, today they confiscate your matches.
As a result there were 8,500 seats still unsold last Wednesday. This represents almost 12 percent of stadium capacity in Green Bay. In Cincinnati there were 5,000 to 6,000 unsold tickets and in Indianapolis the number was 3,000.
If these tickets were unsold in the summer for an exhibition game no one would notice. But playoff games are for all the marbles and should be of peak interest to fans. The Packers have sold out every regular season game since 1959, a string of 55 years, and for part of that time the team played in two different cities. Alienating 12 percent of the base is a significant insult that does not bode well for the future.
(UPDATE: Green Bay has sold out and so have the other sites. But this does not negate my conclusion. In the Packer's case the tickets were purchased in bulk by civic–minded businesses so the game would be televised. This only encourages long-term erosion in stadium attendance. In addition, the seats will now be given away, which means the cost portion of cost/annoyance ratio is significantly reduced, so the fans will probably attend. But the market had already spoken beforehand when 12 percent were unsold.)
Most of the commentary regarding the unsold seats focuses on the cost of attending games, which is high. But I think the straw that crippled this camel is the arrogance of the NFL owners and the constant annoyance of ‘security theatre' drama before you get to your seat.
For fat cats like the Redskins' Dan Snyder, fans are slightly overweight ATM machines that need to be milked regularly. If people object to being treated like cattle then let them buy their own football team. But the cattle are getting restless and the beginning of a slow motion stampede for the exits may have begun this year.
Michael R. Shannon is a public relations and advertising consultant with corporate, government and political experience around the globe. He is a dynamic and entertaining keynote speaker. He can be reached at mandate.mmpr (at) gmail.com. He is also the author of the forthcoming book: "Funny Conservative" Is Not an Oxymoron. (Or any other type of moron).