The Cincinnati Bengals, which sold out all eight home games last year, are already having trouble filling Paul Brown stadium this season. This on the back of three straight playoff appearances.
Selling out a stadium is critical for a franchise and its fan base, because otherwise the game is blacked out on local television. But the Bengals are accepting a life raft from the NFL in the form of the 85 percent rule.
The Bengals now only need to sell out 85 percent of Paul Brown stadium to avoid a blackout. The downside is that the team must give the visiting team a larger portion of the gate revenue — rather than the usual 40 percent — when beyond 85 percent of the game’s tickets are sold. The benefits of being on local television stations in Cincinnati, Dayton and Lexington areas may outweigh the downside.
The Miami Dolphins, Oakland Raiders, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers are the three other teams who have taken advantage of the 85 percent rule. Using the 85 percent rule worked very well for the Dolphins and Buccaneers in the past. Last season, the Dolphins’ single game ticket sales were up 79 percent and 31.4 percent when compared with sales at the same point last year. The Buccaneer’s have not had a game blacked out since accepting the 85 percent in 2012 and will not have a game blacked out this year. Teams that have continued to struggle with ticket sales have avoided blackouts by reducing stadium capacity. The Raiders have put large tarps over the 10,000 seats on Mount Davis — the comically high and steep nose-bleed seats that block the view of the Oakland Hills.
NFL revenue has increased over the last few years to about $10 billion a year and hopes to increase revenue to $25 billion by 2027. Yet as profits have increased, so has the average fan cost index — the price for a family of four to attend a game — which has risen from $113.57 in 2006 to $459.73 in 2013. This includes the average ticket prices increasing by almost $20 over the same time period, as well as the increase in concession prices. If you are a Chicago Bears Fan then you are paying about 639 percent more for your 16 oz beer at the game than you would at the grocery store.
Even though less teams are facing blackouts this year, the ongoing issue of declining stadium attendance remains. This isn’t due to declining interest in the sport, when you consider that in 2013 the top ten most watched sporting were all NFL games. The problem is that while the NFL’s popularity is sky high, so is the cost of attending an average league game.