During the Great Recession (2007-2009) it became commonplace to walk into many sports venues across the country and find attendance below what had become normal. NASCAR, which had seen a huge boom in popularity, was regularly seeing half empty grandstands and some tracks even lost races because of it. Season ticket waiting lists shrank or disappeared altogether and some organizations, removed and continue to remove seats from their stadiums to avoid television blackouts in their local markets. The biggest example of which has to be the Washington Redskins.
Looking back over old ticket stubs from NFL games I’ve attended during my lifetime, it was easy to see why this was happening. Face value for a single game ticket in 1986 was $15. Two years later, it was up to $25 and more recently, I can find a single stub with a face value less than $90. In fact, it can cost a family of four upwards of $600 to attend an NFL game today.
When you consider that high-definition television, surround sound and many other technological improvements have made it easier, more comfortable, and more cost effective to watch the game from home, it is no surprise that despite the recession being over for several years, seats that were taken out of stadiums haven’t been put back in and season ticket waiting lists still aren’t as long as they used to be.
Earlier this year, executives at Fox Sports were touting the Copa America Centenario tournament as an event that was going to be a great showcase for soccer in the United States. With the Summer Olympics right around the corner, this tournament would seem to have been in prime position to take advantage of the buildup (especially in the United States) and rack up some pretty good attendance and revenue figures, but high ticket prices, kept that from happening. And even though MLS matches are doing ok, high ticket prices and low attendance don’t appear to be anything new when it comes to U.S. soccer matches played on friendly soil.
At the collegiate level, some schools, such as the University of Maine, are feeling the impact of high ticket prices, while others, like the University of Nevada are not. The U of Maine Black Bears used to be one of the hottest college hockey tickets around. But as the once powerhouse program has struggled in recent years, the school has had to slash prices in an attempt to increase attendance. Conversely, at Nevada, despite having to increase the cost of football tickets to pay the piper, sales are as robust as they’ve ever been.
Similarly, attendance remains just as high as the ticket prices in the four major professional sports (football, basketball, baseball and hockey). So what does it all mean? In short, despite the recession being long in the rear view mirror, ticket prices still matter to a point. That period of economic uncertainty that lead to higher unemployment and lighter wallets (along with the fear that it could happen again) caused people to re-evaluate how they spend their resources for entertainment purposes.
The excitement of winning and the draw of seeing superstars you may not otherwise be able to get close to, will still lead to opening the wallet and letting the money fly, but if the team is losing or the sport lacks a specific hook to draw fans in, the cost of the ticket will remain a major factor in deciding whether or not to attend.