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 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 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 7:31PM

I await the day when attendance falls to zero and they tear down all the taxpayer built stadiums like they did the Berlin wall. Football is an empty, boring ridiculous brutal waste of humanity and time. You can actually feel your life being sucked right out of you as you watch. They put it all over TV because it's easy and takes no effort to produce. All they need is a couple of blabbing airhead jocks in suits and a camera man.

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 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 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.
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