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."

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Dec 15, 2012 1:23PM

I used to watch tons of football.I stopped when I heard all the drugs,sterroids,

the illegiemate kids,the gun crimes,the earrings,the 4 grade education

these guys have I started doing other things.

Dec 15, 2012 12:03PM
I ticket prices are one issue the other are the people attending the games. If I wanted to go to the fights I would buy a boxing match ticket.
Dec 15, 2012 11:43AM

I haven't been to a live football game since high school. By the time I graduated (1964), I had already figured out that (even in a high school stadium) it is impossible to see through the mass of bodies on the field well enough to figure out what is happening down there. Couple this with cold fall and winter weather and TV's ability to show me the action, I have never seriously considered paying the ludicrous stadium prices (admission, concession stands, etc.) since then to see any football game, HS, college, or pro.


Watch it on the jumbotron (ie, TV) while sitting in the cold, while paying those prices? Don't be ridiculous!

Dec 15, 2012 11:15AM
I wouldn't waste my money on any sport. People wake up you have to get up every  morning and work  hard for your money. And in they end does a win or a loss make any difference in your life. Stop supporting these ungreatful lot.
Dec 15, 2012 10:27AM
IF ITs AFFORDABLE,they will Come! yea,Right!
Dec 15, 2012 10:25AM
Dec 15, 2012 10:25AM
Tickets are cheap if you live in the kansas city area
Dec 15, 2012 9:54AM
nfl charges full price for preseason games, the biggest ripoff in sports!
Dec 15, 2012 9:32AM
T.v.s causing low attendance?????? Your kidding me right! Roger Goodell is a genius isn't he?
How about the fact that the average price for a family of 4 is over $400 for family of 4. Not only are ticket prices crazy, but they want you to dish out about $40 just to park my car. Then for that price I still have to watch the jumbotron to see most of the game because my $400 plus parking only bought nose bleed seats and I can barely make out the players on the field without looking up at the screen. 

Come to think of it, he does have a point.....I can see things way better on my 55in HD T.V. sounds good to me!

Dec 15, 2012 8:42AM

I think NFL is equally as interesting as the Wonderful World Of Wrestling  and should enjoy an equal future. This is part of the American fabric.


Dec 15, 2012 8:20AM
What about the outrageous saleries the players and coaches are getting!!!!  Who could be worth that much money....more than our top government officials get.  I suppose football witll soon become a pay for view venue.
Dec 15, 2012 8:14AM
College/Pros pricing themselves out of range for average fan. Start pay for view and people will just wait to read about game after it's over. Ever hear of the TV show " American Greed"?
Dec 15, 2012 8:12AM

aside from all the high prices i went to a kc chiefs game (2009) and the weather was - 20 with the wind chill factor. blowing snow, seats were wet and frozen. i went to the consession stand to buy hot chocolate by the time y got to my seat it was cold. the team stunked it up, how does this sound like a fun day?i wouldnt go back if they paid me!!!


Dec 15, 2012 7:53AM
This won't be an issue much longer here in Kansas City. Another year like this one and Arrowhead's only use will be as a flea market.
Dec 15, 2012 7:44AM
"We want very little difference between sitting on the couch and being there."  For $400 there better be some differences........otherwise I'm spending money for nothing.
Dec 15, 2012 2:34AM
The NFL wants to make going to a game be "very little difference between sitting on the couch and being here"??? Count me out. I want a unique experience if I am expected to dish out $400+. I think they have it all backwards. It wont be long before they loose me as a fan.
Dec 14, 2012 8:58PM
Season tickets are no longer an item I am interested in, since Tennessee started requiring at first, $200 dollars for the right to renew my season tickets. That was at least ten years ago, and now I am reading that some season tickets for prime sections require up to $2,000 for that right to purchase the ticket. I took a little pleasure in seeing only 60,000 fans in a 102,000 seat stadium this year, and now those right to buy numbers are sinking rapidly after the football program is running a six million dollar deficit .  Sounds like Obama has taken over the U of Tennessee football operations, like he has taken over GM's operation, and it is looking like he is getting the same results.
Dec 14, 2012 6:14PM

In less than one month, we could build every NFL team a stadium as nice or nicer than Cowboys Stadium...solely with the interest that accumulates on the national debt over that time.



Dec 14, 2012 4:56PM
 We are being thrown a bone. Unfortunately the teams are charging us by the inch.
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. 
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