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NFL Blitz: Ticket Prices And the Fan Cost Index

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Everything is just a little bit bigger in Texas.

Except the price of admission to a Dallas Cowboys game. That's a whole lot bigger and almost the entire reason the NFL's average ticket prices rose nearly 4 percent in 2009.

The Cowboys open their new stadium for regular-season play on Sunday night against the New York Giants and this magnificent spectacle of a building may be something the average person sees once in a lifetime, as it requires a lifetime's earnings to do so.

Dallas' average general admission ticket price is $159.65, up nearly 90 percent from its previous level, when the Cowboys labored at the old Texas Stadium.

Team Marketing Report, a Chicago-based publication that annually charts such information, says NFL ticket prices would have moved up only .6 percent without the Cowboys driving numbers skyward.

"I think the NFL teams did a great job collectively holding the line," says David Chavez, president and CEO of Pro Sports MVP, a sports marketing firm in Colorado Springs, Col. "With Dallas opening a new stadium, prices went up. And they'll go up next year with the economy coming back and the new stadium opening in New York."

Twenty-one of 32 teams, including the Washington Redskins, cut prices or kept them the same for general admission, sensitive to strained finances amid a severe recession.

Team Marketing Report compiles a Fan Cost Index (FCI) based on the model of a family attending a game. The FCI includes four average-price tickets, two small draft beers, four small soft drinks, four regular-size hot dogs, parking for one car, two game programs and two of the least-pricey ball caps in calculating a figure representative of the family's dip into the purse.

Hold on to those caps. Dallas' FCI hits $758.58, up a hair more than 74 percent from last year. The Redskins don't even reach the league's top quartile, ranking ninth at $441.43, reflecting no increase. Teams in larger markets (Dallas, New England, Chicago) tend to rank higher while the smaller ones, such as Jacksonville and Buffalo, maintain the lowest cost. Jacksonville has severe problems selling tickets and Buffalo plays a regular-season game in Toronto to broaden its fan base.

The Chicago Bears have the highest parking fee: $46. Four other teams charge $40 or more while the Redskins collect $35.

Beer anyone? Thirsty folks pay a league-high $8.75 in St. Louis. The Redskins charge $7, less than 11 teams and the same as seven others. The Redskins, however, sell a 20-ounce beer, as opposed to others proffering pint-sized pilsners or smaller. Ten teams make fans pay more than the Redskins for the same quantity of beer or less.

Hot dogs? Three teams charge the top-end price of $5.50 and six more are right in line with the Redskins at $5.

The Redskins' average ticket price of $79.13 was a little more than $4 over the NFL's average of $74.99 as computed by Team Marketing Report. The Redskins' nearest neighbor, the Baltimore Ravens, came in substantially higher at $86.92, up a hefty 12.6% this year.

Of the 10 teams with the highest FCI, only Washington's and the New York Jets' FCI did not increase in 2009 and the Jets' figure will surely rise when the club goes into its new stadium (shared with the Giants) in 2010.

Luring new customers remains a priority but now there's more emphasis on retaining the base, even at some cost.

"Not only are sales contracting in some markets, but even in the markets that have seen an uptick clubs have had to add amenities like parking or promotional items," says David Carter, principal of The Sports Group, a Los Angeles-based sports consulting firm. "You don't see the elements of that in the FCI."

The NFL has attempted to show concern for fans by extending television blackout rules. Generally games are not shown in the home market unless sold out 72 hours in advance but the NFL granted three extensions last week and avoided any local blackouts. It has also said it will show blacked-out games on NFL.com in affected markets on a delayed basis.

The San Diego Chargers, with 2,500 tickets left midweek for an attractive matchup with the Baltimore Ravens, were anticipating a blackout and that could happen in Detroit as well. Detroit and San Diego applied for extensions but Jacksonville, with 17,000 tickets remaining, did not and will be blacked out.

Staving off the blackouts was once the province of local television stations and automobile dealers with an interest in showing the game and selling their products but the economy no longer allows them to buy the unsold ticket inventory.

"The regional businesses can't step up," Carter says. "Once the economy rebounds, you may see those blackouts become a thing of the past."

NFL TEAM MARKETING RESEARCH
Team Avg. Ticket Fan Cost Index
Dallas Cowboys $159.65 $758.58
New England Patriots $117.84 $597.25
Chicago Bears $88.33 $501.33
New York Giants $88.63 $483.02
Baltimore Ravens $86.92 $481.69
New York Jets $86.99 $476.26
Indianapolis Colts $82.79 $452.16
Kansas City Chiefs $80.69 $445.76
Washington Redskins $79.13 $441.43
San Diego Chargers $81.39 $436.56
NFL AVERAGE $74.99 $412.64

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