Soaring ticket prices are killing football attendance

The average cost for a family of 4 to attend an NFL game is $444. That high-def experience in the living room is suddenly looking very good.

By Bruce Kennedy Dec 13, 2012 5:26PM

Men watching television, holding beers -- Ghislain & Marie David de Lossy, Cultura, Getty ImagesWhat if they held a football game and nobody came?

Sure, professional and college football remain among the most popular sports in the United States, and television ratings for those games continue to rise dramatically.

But the NFL and college football are seeing more and more empty seats at their stadiums as a growing number of fans opt out from the live experience to watch the game at home or in a bar.

Just last month, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell acknowledged that broadcast and Web coverage of football is a real threat to stadium attendance and ticket sales.

"One of our biggest challenges in the league is the experience at home," the New York Post quoted Goodell telling fans in Atlanta. And he noted that, with the rapid growth of large-screen high-definition television, the experience "is only going to get better."

The Wall Street Journal reports NFL ticket sales have declined for the past five years, with average game attendance down 4.5% since 2007.

For decades, the NFL has tried to encourage stadium sales with its TV blackout policy of not showing a game in a local team's market if that game hadn't sold out before kickoff. Earlier this year the league announced it was easing that policy, saying "home teams now will have the option of selling 85% of game tickets to avoid a blackout in their local TV market."

But the rising costs of ticket sales are a constant obstacle to putting more football fans in stadium seats.

According to the latest Team Marketing Report's fan cost index (FCI), the average cost for an NFL ticket is $78.38, up 2.5% from last season.  

And the average FCI number for a family of four attending an NFL game -- including non-premium tickets, a couple of beers, soft drinks, hot dogs, some souvenirs and parking -- is $443.93, a rise of 3.9% from 2011.

"Only this season have NFL teams wised up and begun to sell blocks of tickets -- in the nosebleed sections, to be sure -- priced for working people," blogs Allen Barra in the Village Voice.

"Empty seats can be covered up on TV -- the NFL simply instructs the networks to keep the cameras away from the bare spots in the stands," he writes. "But with more and more fans staying home, how does the league make a case that the cities should spend the fans' tax dollars to help finance new stadiums?"

And college football is sharing some of its pro counterpart's financial headaches.

While 35.3 million people reportedly attended college football games this year, the average attendance at regular-season games in college football's highest level, the Football Bowl Subdivision, dropped to just over 45,000 fans in 2012 -- its lowest average level in nine years.

According to, eight college football powers saw game attendance at their stadiums fall by double digit numbers this year, compared to 2011 -- Kentucky, down 17%, Maryland, down 15%, Stanford, down 13 percent -- with Cincinnati, Wake Forest, Pittsburgh, North Carolina and Colorado all down 10%.

Some schools in the Southeastern Conference, where regular season ticket prices can hover around $100, are trying to lure fans back by offering wireless computer access at their stadiums, so fans can bring their laptops and mobile devices to the games.

The NFL is also hoping to get Wi-Fi into all its stadiums in the near future. In a press conference earlier this year, Goodell said fans at the stadium would then "have access to our RedZone channel, have access to highlights, and be able to engage in social media including Fantasy Football. When you come to our stadiums, we want to make it a great experience."

"We want there to be very little difference between sitting on your couch and being here," Cassie Arner, an Auburn University assistant athletics director, told the Birmingham News. "If we really want to continue to have the strong crowds that we have, then we've got to start being sensitive to making things more convenient for fans, if we can."

More from Money Now

Dec 13, 2012 6:50PM
Big screen TV's aren't killing football, the complete lack of affordability is killing football.

C'mon guys, you're already making money before the first fan steps foot in the door - throw a guy a bone, would'dja?

Dec 13, 2012 7:25PM
$450 for a family of 4?  And that's just "average" seats.  It's NOT big TV's causing attendance problems.  It's ticket prices and the gouging at the food stands. 
Dec 13, 2012 7:41PM

TV has nothing to do with it...I cant afford a big screen TV either...

Both Football and Baseball prices have out paced our family budget several years back..

Dec 13, 2012 6:49PM
Maybe, just maybe it's the price of the ticket.....I love going to a live game. It's definitly not the same as TV viewing, but TV's a hell of a lot cheaper.
Dec 13, 2012 8:12PM
Prices are outrageous , the quality poor , the beer warm and eat at your own risk . 
The price gouging is so obvious it's insulting . I'm a season ticket holder in New England and only buy  water because I don't trust anything else  . 
BTW 40-50 bucks to park ??
Dec 13, 2012 8:27PM
not only the overall price to attend a game, more and more tax payers are really upset by being blackmailed into building billion dollar stadiums for billionaires and then being blacked out if there not sold out
Dec 13, 2012 8:07PM
gee-----the majority of new jobs are low pay with no benefits----few of those people are going to spring for a 500 dollar day for the family at a pro game
Dec 13, 2012 8:34PM
My health insurance for my family is now $1,300 a MONTH.  Who the heck has $444 to spend each week to watch a game?  
Dec 14, 2012 2:33PM
I had season ticket to the Jets for 18 years.  I gave them up when they moved to the new (unnecessary) stadium.  When I started, tickets were $25 with no mandatory pre season games.  When I quit, they wanted $105 and you had to buy all 10 games.  I was in section 306.  Not great seats.  People who had ticket since Shea Stadium in the lower level in between the 40 yard lines had to pay $700 per game plus a $10,000 PSL just to keep the seats they had for 40 years.  Add in $40 to park and silly prices for everything else, I finally realized how little they care about the fans.  I miss going to the games, but I'm not an idiot.
Dec 14, 2012 12:26AM
the NFL is its own worst enemy! ridiculous prices, ridiculous game rules, gargantuan stadiums where you can only see the game on the jumbo tron, parking fees, traffic.....why fuc*ing bother....
Dec 13, 2012 10:38PM
It's not just the ticket price killing attendance, it's the payroll that the players are getting. For me it's just unbelivable that any one is worth the kind of money that the get for playing a game. I think that a person can live a great life on a lot less money. I'm on soc. sec. and can't afford a hot dog at a stadium, much less a ticket. It's not about the game anymore, it's how much can I make. A penny, I'm changing teams. ( just my thought )
Dec 13, 2012 8:52PM
I've been to Bears games, I'd rather watch on TV, then I wouldn't have to put up with the Neanderthals in the stands, amazingly, some of the worst behind me were the women.
Dec 14, 2012 4:23PM

Some mention needs to be made of the drunken idiots at the games who spoil the 'experience' for everyone near them.
Dec 14, 2012 4:35PM
Football owners are nutty as a fruitcake if they think people are going to continue to finance their big stadiums and multi milion dollar players. 
Dec 14, 2012 7:13AM
Buy a tv for $500(or far less ) allowing me to NOT have to drive thru winter,pay $20  to park-IT IS GAME DAY, PAY UP!!!!!!!, sit on ice-cold stadium seats, munch my own snacks, enjoy my favorite beverage,Pepsi/Coke, or Bud/Miller/Coors never a choice at a stadium, My mind is kinda made up. And sadly,miss the whole experience. NOT! I
Dec 14, 2012 8:39AM
Give me a break aww the poor NFL, so sad.  $450 is for CRAPPY seats in most cities.  Better add another $200 - $300 for parking, food and incedentals.  My god did Goodell tell you to write this story.  Big TV's killing fan attendence, quit drinking the Kool-Aid!!!  hahahaha
Dec 14, 2012 12:26PM
I've been to only one Falcon's game since moving to the Atlanta area in '96.

Several reasons:
1. 2.5 hours spent in traffic
2. Cost of ticket
3. Cost of parking
4. Cost of food and beverages
5. Race (Black) oriented 100%
Dec 13, 2012 9:12PM
the stadium experience is something that we can afford less and less and thats just to bad,for most of us.
Dec 13, 2012 10:59PM
It was free to go to the arena in "Roman days." Bread and Circus, guys. Make games free. ;-)
Dec 13, 2012 11:15PM

I still don't get the $10+ for a beer at pro events. Thats over 1000% profit per drink. If theres price gouging laws with gasoline there should be on everything else too. If these stadiums had it their way they would make you drop your pants before entry bend over and take a big black **** in your ***.  

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