The NFL has a conundrum on their hands.
Without a doubt, it’s the country’s most popular sport. So popular, in fact, that the true fans can’t go to games.
With the rise of fantasy football, television ratings continue to increase – so too have ticket prices.
In recent years, the at-home NFL experience has surpassed that of the in-stadium one to some, resulting in an array of empty seats in football stadiums across the country.
Of course, that’s not the case in die-hard NFL cities like Green Bay, Washington and Denver.
In the Mile High City, every game has been sold out since 1970, 343 games in a row.
And even though the Broncos have been the hottest ticket in town since the 70s, for many years there were affordable tickets for fans.
At Mile High Stadium, the South Stands were rugged, and so were the fans that called them home. Those South Stands had little in terms of accommodations; they were bench seats, with nary enough room to fit the blue-collar people’s big behinds, while there were far too few bathrooms underneath the behemoth self-supporting structure.
But South Standers loved to call it home.
Those blue-collar people – the ones that the brutal game was intended for – were priced out of the game when “New” Mile High Stadium was completed in 2001.
What were $20 seats in the South Stands became $50 seats in the North upper deck nearly overnight.
Those true-blue fans – the ones that dress up in orange and blue, face paint too – were the focus of attention, they’ve been moved away from the field and the cameras.
They were an intimidating group that yelled loud and proud at opposing teams, even throwing snowballs at times; the South Stands gave Mile High Stadium a bit of an intimidation factor, that’s gone now.
Broncos fans whined the “wine and cheese” crowd would move in, and that’s certainly the case on the club level, where “fans” regularly either leave during halftime or don’t show up at all.
And, while there are still some $60 tickets to be found in the nose-bleed seats at Sports Authority Field at Mile High Stadium, average ticket prices have soared since the stadium’s creation.
According to SeatCrunch.com, in 2011, average ticket prices to Denver Broncos games were $204. That number jumped to $262 per ticket this season, after the Broncos attained the services of all-time great Peyton Manning, became legitimate Super Bowl contenders and simultaneously became an even hotter ticket.
When the team made the playoffs, ticket prices were 25 percent more expensive than the regular season averages; $257 in January of 2012 and a whopping $320 in 2013.
After getting somewhat lucky to find tickets, I personally paid $90 per ticket to the Broncos – Steelers Wildcard playoff game last year, and while it was one of the best experiences I’ve had at a game, I knowingly had to pay $60 extra combined.
For me, a blue-collar Denverite, they were the most expensive tickets I’ve ever purchased and the extra money spent on parking, food and drinks pushed the total to well over $200.
Of course, it was a beautifully crisp Colorado day, warm and sunny; nothing compared to this year’s home playoff game in which fans had to withstand -20 degree windchill weather and a Broncos heartbreaking loss.
And still, the fact of the matter is that the NFL is so well-produced on television that the experience beats that of going to a game in the eyes of many fans these days.
They can stay home, and stay warm where the beers are $6 a six pack instead of $6 each. They can watch not only their team’s game, but NFL Red Zone as well, all while checking on their fantasy team’s progress throughout the day.
The NFL has a conundrum on their hands; their money-grabbing owners have out-priced the intended audience in blue-collar football fans, leaving their modern day coliseums less than full for the national television broadcasts.
Lower ticket prices back down to a respectable level, where fans don’t have to choose between football or paying the bills, and bring back the true fans that make football fun.
Rich Kurtzman is a freelance journalist. You can follow Rich on twitter or facebook for his unique perspectives on the NFL and sports in general.