What “the premium experience” hath wrought

I’ve posted about Florida’s plans to shrink seating capacity and Alabama’s similar plans.  These aren’t isolated incidents.  They’re part of a larger trend, the general gentrification of live sports.

As sports have become more about efficiently maximizing profit in every way necessary both on and off the field, the idea of an “exclusive” fan experience has become central to every team’s business plan … one that’s more important than selling tickets. After all, in a world where most teams are making most of their money off television and licensing deals, the money you get from those diehards in the nosebleed seats is but a mere drop in the bucket, not worth much investment in the first place. (As anyone who has sat in the upper tier of any stadium in the past few years and been unable to get a beer without missing two full innings can attest.) Those Fan Experience surveys that rate stadiums on how well they cater to the average fan are missing the point: Nobody cares about the average fan. Industry estimates show that 70 to 80 percent of ticket revenue comes from the first 15 to 20 rows, and the industry trend is to limit capacity in order to maximize the money from the premium spots.The rich dudes (and they’re almost always dudes, of course) down low are where the real money is made.

The new Los Angeles football stadium is selling its most exclusive stadium-seat licenses for $100,000 a seat, which gives you access to your own clubhouse that no one else in the stadium can even see inside. The University of Georgia just announced that it will sell alcohol at its football games … but only to fans who give the university $25,000. (Even with that, you can only drink the booze in a specific section that does not have views of the field.) Yankee Stadium was constructed with a concrete moat built in to separate the fat cats from the outer-borough riffraff; the only way to get from the upper deck to those lower-level seats is to jump. The industry term is “social gathering space.” Perhaps inevitably, one team in Australia actually offers the ability to look into a team’s locker room pregame. As Ed Zitron, who sat in the Warriors’ “Mezzanine Club” for Game Four of the finals, a place that costs $22,000 a year just to enter, put it in Deadspin: “It was a sterile, gated-community way to watch a game — a way to be a ‘real fan’ without having to sit next to the proles. It was, to be fair, also a notably nice, relaxed experience; prime rib is delicious. But it was unmistakably a corporate setting. These seats cost about the same as those in the Sideline Club, which made buying these instead akin to saying that you want to be at the NBA Finals, and to say that you were there, without any of the troublesome basketball shit.”

This is inevitably what comes of following the money.  Or, as Leitch puts it,

This is to say, sports stadiums are beginning to look like the rest of American culture: The rich get all the good stuff, and the rest of us get to pay to watch them enjoy it.

Because that’s where the money is.  At some point — and for some, that realization has come faster than for others — the game plan isn’t going to be focusing on finding the next generation of fans to replace the old guard seat for seat as they fade away over time.  It’s going to be to find the sweet spot that maximizes revenues.  If that means shrinking seating capacity by a quarter or more, so be it, as long as it can be more than made up for by (1) raising ticket prices due to a manufactured supply crunch; (2) increasing premium seating; and (3) continuing to ratchet up broadcast revenues.

The math will work as long as we continue to value entertainment as we do.  Them what can afford it will show up for the live event, ever more pampered.  The rest of us will take comfort in our home viewing experience, ironically proclaiming its superiority.  The people selling the product will be just fine with that.

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39 Comments

Filed under It's Just Bidness

39 responses to “What “the premium experience” hath wrought

  1. I’ll hate when that day comes in Athens when the rank and file alum/fan can’t see a game live. It’s one of the reasons I’m not a pro sports fan other than the PGA Tour any longer.

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    • Oh, they’ll be able to see the occasional game, probably because they have a friend who got them a couple of tickets from work.

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      • Right … season tickets are now out of reach for new alumni.

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        • ATL Dawg

          It’s not just new alumni. It’s anyone who hasn’t been buying for a while. The cutoff to get new season tickets this year is $10,420 in lifetime donations. Last year it was $23,900.

          Aside from that, the cheapest nosebleed season tickets cost $760 (donation + ticket price), which averages out to $109 per game. I won’t even detail the astronomical prices on the secondary market.

          That day you’ll hate has already arrived.

          Liked by 1 person

    • PTC DAWG

      Yet, it will be fairly easy to get tickets to home games this year other than ND, and possibly aTm….they will be for sale everywhere, at less than face.

      Only once in my life have I not gotten into a game in Athens that I didn’t already have tickets to, and that was Bama in 1976….tickets on the street were just too much for my Dad to swing at the .

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      • Mayor

        I went to that game hoping to score tickets outside the stadium and didn’t get in. One of the greatest Georgia victories of all time.

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        • PTC DAWG

          I ended up climbing up that big Magnolia tree near the bridge, I could see about 60 yards of the field. It was glorious for a 13 year old. Probably hooked me on UGA football for life.

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          • ugat

            I watched it from the bridge. Man Athens was electric that night! Milledge was completely closed down! One huge party in the streets!

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      • Tony Barnfart

        We’ve curtailed actually watching from the bridge, correct (notwithstanding the limited view) ?

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  2. ATL Dawg

    Great article and great post Senator. I wish more people would pay attention to this kind of stuff.

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  3. 79Dawg

    Breathe (a little easier) Dawg fans. The construction and layout of Sanford Stadium will make it extremely difficult to implement! It would be extremely costly and extremely disruptive to try and remake any portion of the lower bowl into premium seating areas. No way anyone is paying “premium” to sit squnched up on the bleachers – to install seats, they would have to demo pretty much the entire seating area and totally rebuild it, significantly reducing capacity. And while they could do that, it would have to be done in stages and would probably take at least 3 or 4 springs and summers of work to do. Any “club” area for those premium seats would either have to be dug into the side of the hill and be below ground (doesn’t sound very “clubby”) or they would, like Yankee Stadium, have to figure out how to “dig a moat” to keep the plebes out of the Reed Alley.
    Unlike pro teams, I don’t see the City of Athens swooping in to give the University tons of money to build a new stadium, and the General Assembly sure is not gonna do it!
    Given the cost, reduction in capacity, and disruption, I just can’t see there being a very good ROI on a project like that (please, hold your jokes on whether Greg knows what ROI means!).

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  4. PTC DAWG

    Seems like a lot of wealth envy in that article.

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  5. Faltering Memory

    In time, the only cheering and eyeballs on the game will be from the student section.

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  6. “the game plan isn’t going to be focusing on finding the next generation of fans to replace the old guard seat for seat as they fade away over time.”
    The thing is for every fan that shows up there are many more in their circle of influence that become fans. Fans that buy shirt’s and hats, lawn chairs coolers, and other products in support of their team. You start losing those and you start losing support from people they may not ever write a $10,000 check. But may spend that over the course of a few years. Lump several of those together and you have a considerable sum. Not to mention a shrinking fan base can effect whether are not you are in a playoff or the quality of bowl you are selected for.

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    • With playoff expansion looming, the bowls are doomed. They’re already in the process of being reduced to broadcast fodder for ESPN, which owns many of them outright. Fan base size is becoming irrelevant.

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  7. Classic City Canine

    More evidence of the growing gap between the rich/upper middle class and everyone else.

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  8. Castleberry

    Seems like a pretty easy formula in Sanford. Double the minimum donation requirement per seat (which forces some out), put in “luxury“ stadium style seats versus bleachers, and repeat.. until you’ve cut capacity and multiplied your revenue.

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  9. W Cobb Dawg

    I’m not forecasting, but I do have some thoughts on the issue. This works if the school’s market has a sufficient number of fat cats. I suppose one of the next steps is to cut out the schools that can’t compete on the higher level and limit the product – a la major league sports. That would be a sizable batch of schools from all the P-5 conferences that don’t have a large, affluent alumni base. One, or a limited number of coorporate sponsors, like NIKE at Oregon or T Boone Pickens at OSU, probably isn’t going to justify re-organizing the stadium. Although I’m sure they’d pay for their own luxury suites.

    Are luxury boxes gonna get supposedly affluent gtu alums to pony up and attend? Have they ever in modern history? So even a team in a major market might not make the cut.

    For institutions that generally don’t know wtf they are doing I don’t see how this ends well. You’re gonna have to issue some mighty big checks to lesser schools, or they’ll be bitching about the have’s vs. have nots all the time.

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    • Tony Barnfart

      I can’t predict exactly how it’s going to unfold, but i see a future where all the “earners” congregate together similar to, say, a certain 32 team league. At some point, things that Alabama and Georgia are trying to do in pushing their product even further are going to be hampered by a revenue sharing agreement that will increasingly be seen as a subsidy to schools like Mississippi State.

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  10. Erskine

    Senator great article/commentary on the slippery slope of fandom of college football. The atmosphere and the game I grew up loving will become stale and sterile. Home field advantage, engagement of the fans will deteriorate while the coach will beg for rabid fan participating. Typically the fat cat luxury box owners do not show for common events so selling the program will have to take a new direction. I hope to never see a big third down stop or critical 1st down, receive a smattering of appluase. The Munson quote “the stadium is worse than bonkers” is truly fading fast. But at least the powers that be will glorify the money grab which is the only significant factor.

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    • 79Dawg

      It’s already getting “stale and sterile” – you sat through a TV timeout in the stands lately and had to sit through the BS karaoke, etc???

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  11. Good post. May can add that although Georgia fan support of Georgia Sports has been incredible it has created a market demand skyrocketing prices. Impress out-of-towners. Now you got a factor in travel Hotel. It’s a vacation price for just one Saturday.

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  12. illini84

    I guess it was a good plan to work an extra year for my last go-around of f/s tickets. Even thought I’ll be 70 I hoped to keep going just to get up and walk over there but it ain’t happenin. When I first moved here and worked at rec sports in Memorial Hall I could see into the stadium from my office. AMF.

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    • Tony Barnfart

      The views in and out of that single-level stadium in a valley are a sight to behold. I have one as my desktop background, post Gillis bridge but pre-upper deck, even though it was double decked like 15yrs before i was born.

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  13. whb209

    A strange call from the UGa ticket office last Friday. They asked if I would like
    to exchange 4 of my tickets to the GA-Fl game for 4 Club level seats. Has the game lost interest or are people and Corps. just not buying the expensive
    Club level tickets (maybe the same thing). When the Gator bowl was repaired in 1996 (I think that was the year), I was in the Club level for 2 years and was then kicked out because I would not pay a dumbass amount to remain in club seats and now they are calling me asking if I would please go back to that level without an increase in payment.. Interesting…

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    • That is weird. No reason given for the offer, I presume.

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      • whb209

        I did not have time to talk and also did not really want to split my 6 tickets up. I think I will call the ticket office tomorrow and see if I can find out more.

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        • whb209

          I called the ticket office and they called me back today (6/14/19). This was there statement: We have cut the number of Club tickets to each person or corp. from 8 to 4. This gives more Club tickets that can go to a greater number of people, therefore if you have 60,000+ points you are given the opportunity to purchase 4 Club tickets for $40.00 per ticket when you exchange 4 of your off club tickets. The total number of tickets (club + off club) is set at 8. Only 4 maybe on club.
          I have a hard time believing this is exactly true because I am sure that a few individuals and a few Corps. have paid a shit load of money and they will not be bothered by this new 4 Club limit. This is still what they told me and it is all I know about the new GA-FL Club seat deal.
          (no one will probably see this reply because it is so old, but I told you I would call and they just now got back to me)

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          • Interesting. That’s the opposite approach to what they did with Notre Dame tickets in 2017, when they allowed the MS donors to load up.

            I wonder what’s going on at B-M.

            I might do a post about this.

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  14. Cynical Dawg

    It will never be like this again. I don’t like the Sanford Stadium of today. It seems claustrophobic and artificial. If the PTB ever reduced Sanford to this size again, I might come back.

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  15. Cojones

    Let’s see: If the lowered seat numbers and higher prices for live venues continue, I see a stadium of around 20k sitting there in all their finery drinking from hip flasks…..wait a minute, don’t I remember seeing a photo of this with everyone wearing fine fur coats and little pennants in their hands, circa 1910-20?

    Like

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