NFL coaches Bill Belichick and John Harbaugh are saying joint practices are better for their teams than preseason games, which is an increasingly shared sentiment making joint team practices more prevalent than ever. Fans seem to be taking notice as well; a joint practice between the Patriots and Eagles drew more than 25,000 fans. The Cowboys and Raiders practice Wednesday was similar, with fans packing the stands on two separate fields. While coaches sing the praises of joint practices, there may be unintended business consequences.
Most training camps have free entry for fans. The teams receive revenue from parking, concessions and merchandise. Preseason games, on the other hand, have full-priced tickets, expansive parking, more expensive in-stadium concessions, and merchandise. Fans have already complained about paying full price for what they feel is an inferior product. This has led to discussions about a potential 18-game regular-season schedule and/or a reduced preseason schedule.
Without joint practices, fans are limited to seeing their team’s offense go against their own team’s defense. For players, those repetitive practices don’t bring the same intensity as competing against an opponent wearing a different color jersey. Practice ultimately becomes . . . boring.
That is not the case with joint practices. Fans get to see stars compete against each other. Fans may even get to see a fight (or in the case of Dallas and Oakland, several fights). Why pay $70 to see Tom Brady play the Redskins’ at FedEx Field if you can see it for free at the practice facility? Now imagine learning that Brady, and most of the Patriots’ starters, don’t even play in the preseason game . . . which happened.
Preseason is essentially free money for owners. Players’ salaries are paid with 16 game checks. If joint practices continue as a trend, the fan could forgo buying those preseason tickets for a nice day out on the practice field. Coaches may be happy with the gains the team makes, but owners won’t be happy with decreased preseason revenue.
Michael Colangelo is Assistant Director at the USC Sports Business Institute and Senior Editor of The Fields of Green.