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Mike Vandermause column: Must Packers keep raising ticket prices?

Feb. 11, 2012
 
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The gravy train keeps rolling for the Green Bay Packers.

Their stock sale has generated a mind-boggling $65 million in a two-month span.

Their share of the NFL’s new network television contract will be far in excess of $100 million per year and, when added to other league-generated revenue, that figure will approach $200 million per year.

Their most recent sales and marketing revenue totaled $57 million. Throw in money from private suites, concessions, parking and other miscellaneous sources, and you come up with another $27 million.

Clearly, the Packers aren’t hurting for money, so was it really necessary to raise ticket prices for the third consecutive year?

The Packers on Thursday announced a price hike of $3 to $5 per ticket for the 2012 season. An end zone ticket that in 1992 cost $23 has more than tripled in price to $72.

In the last three years, in the midst of an economic downturn when many have faced layoffs, wage freezes and furloughs, the cost of that end zone seat has jumped 22%.

There are numerous arguments that support the Packers’ decision to raise their prices again.

They have boasted a highly successful, entertaining team in recent seasons, Lambeau Field offers one of the best game-day experiences in the NFL, and their season-ticket waiting list stands at a staggering 96,000.

“There’s an awful lot of unsatiated pent up demand for their product,” said Kevin Quinn, a St. Norbert College professor of economics and associate academic dean. “Even though we’d all like to pay a little bit less to go to the game, the fact is the Packers could probably charge quite a bit more and still sell out.”

Or to put it another way, if you don’t like the Packers’ modest price hikes every year, sit down and shut up because there are tens of thousands of fans that would gladly plunk down their hard-earned money for your tickets.

“Nobody likes price increases,” said Dennis Garrity, president of Packer Fan Tours. “We’re hearing from people saying, ‘Oh gosh, how can the common man afford tickets?’ And yet there’s always premium value to Packers tickets because of their stature in the sports community and the entertainment value they provide. I don’t think it’s unreasonable.”

From a business standpoint, the Packers aren’t being unreasonable with their pricing policies. One only has to look west toward Minnesota, home of the last-place Vikings, to find an example of an NFL team charging more money than the Packers for a worse product.

But every time the Packers increase ticket prices, they fall back on the familiar refrain that they are merely trying to stay in the middle of the NFL pack. In a prepared statement released by the team on Thursday, Packers president Mark Murphy said: “This increase maintains our position near the league average.”

Would it be so bad if the Packers, as a community-owned team, reached out to fans in a unique way and defied conventional wisdom by offering some of the lowest ticket prices in the league?

“Would it be bad? I mean it would be great,” Quinn said. “I think the difference in ticket prices between the bottom and middle is about 25 bucks a ticket on average. The only thing that would be bad is the Packers would be giving up some money.”

For a few million dollars, which seems like a pittance in the grand scheme of things, the Packers could foster tremendous goodwill and send a strong message to their fan base as well as the entire NFL.

The bean counters who care first and foremost about the bottom line would scoff at such a notion, and the Packers would no doubt receive pressure from other NFL teams to keep their prices in line.

When the league talks about wanting to enhance the game-day experience, it should know that the best way to do that is by keeping the price of tickets affordable.

“If it becomes a little too evident that the only thing that matters is how much money they make, fans will get annoyed by that and they’ll lose a little bit of their attachment for the team,” Quinn said.

“Teams have to be careful not to get in the short run all the money they can get because there’s another generation of fans coming all the time.”

While many have suffered in the midst of a tough economy, business is booming in the NFL. But it would be a mistake for the league to take its fans for granted.

“You don’t want to alienate a generation of fans who can’t go to the game because it was too pricey,” Quinn said.

“There’s nothing written on stone tablets that says the NFL has to be the king of the hill forever.”

Even the wildly popular Packers should take heed. There won’t always be Super Bowl championship years.

There even was a limit on how much fans wanted to spend for tickets during their most recent 15-1 regular season, according to Green Bay Ticket King manager Josh Anderson. There were tickets being resold for less than $100 for November and December games against Minnesota, Tampa Bay and Oakland, Anderson said, and tickets for the Jan. 1 regular-season finale against Detroit were selling for less than face value.

When the Packers inevitably experience a losing season and there are 7,000 additional tickets available due to the upcoming stadium expansion, demand will decline. Yet the long waiting list for season tickets suggests the Packers will always sell out, and they know it. But just because the Packers can charge more for tickets doesn’t mean they have to.

“When they say they’re not trying to make profits for profits’ sake, I actually believe them,” Quinn said of the Packers. “I think they are trying to make sure they are on the soundest possible financial ground, which means having a big pile of money in the bank.”

No one is suggesting the Packers are greedy or gouging their fans. But why not reduce the size of that big pile of money just a little bit in the interest of ticket buyers?

Instead of bowing to the wishes of fellow owners and bottom-line businessmen, the Packers should take a radical stand in favor of their fans and stop raising prices every year.

mvandermause@greenbaypressgazette.com and follow him on Twitter @MikeVandermause

What's your take on the Packers Family Night change?

Retrieving results.
Watching practice is fine.(Your vote)
15%
573 votes
I'd rather watch a scrimmage.(Your vote)
23%
855 votes
I don't want to pay to watch practice.(Your vote)
27%
1013 votes
It doesn't matter to me.(Your vote)
34%
1270 votes

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