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Peak NFL? Revisited

I asked last February if we have passed peak NFL, based on the TV ratings decline of the 2016 season. I figured I would probably revisit the question next winter, once this season’s numbers are in, but this very interesting piece by Rodger Sherman at The Ringer prompted me to return to the topic now.

Sherman examines the Chargers, until recently of San Diego and now, not entirely happily, removed to Los Angeles. They are temporarily playing in a soccer stadium with a mere 27,000 seats: far smaller than any other NFL venue. An internet cottage industry has arisen of showing the sparse crowds, despite the tiny capacity,  or how most of the fans came into town to root for the other team.  Sherman asks, “What if it works? What if the Chargers never develop an enduring fan base, but still prove profitable?”

Does a team actually need fans in the stands to bring in revenue? Absolutely not. The NFL operates on the billionaire socialism plan. Much of its revenue is shared collectively. This includes, inter alia, all its television revenue and 40% of gate receipts. The Green Bay Packers are the only team whose financials are made public, due to its peculiar ownership arrangement (a mistake the NFL will never allow again). We ought not take these numbers as being typical, but they are nonetheless real numbers. For 2014 the Packers brought in a bit under $150 million in local revenue, and a bit over $226 million as their share of the NFL collective trough. It is certainly possible in principle for a team to cut its expenses to the bone, and presumably its local revenue as well, while living off of its share of NFL revenue. The NFL has a minimum team salary cap expressly to block this strategy, but with the minimum at $167 million for 2017 there is still considerable wiggle room.

In practice I strongly suspect that the NFL’s governing documents allow for a forced sale, should some clever owner try fielding a Pee Wee football team and pocketing his league share. But it remains true nonetheless that a team has substantial guaranteed income with no direct connection to anyone watching its games, either live or on TV. Revenue sharing has considerable advantages to a league. The high revenue teams subsidize the low revenue teams, presumably allowing for greater competitive parity over the long term, which in turn presumably makes for a more attractive product, increasing revenues to the benefit of every team in the league. But it does make for a collective action problem, providing a perverse incentive that can be exploited as much as the other owners will allow.

This is, however, not quite what the Chargers are doing. They aren’t sacrificing local revenues. Quite the opposite. There is another set of incentives at play here: luxury suites. Luxury suites aren’t new. They have been around for decades. I saw two Phillies games from a luxury suite at the old Veterans Stadium, when my employer scored the tickets from some corporation higher up the food chain. The suite was nice, but it didn’t knock my socks off. That has changed. The modern stadium luxury suite brings to mind the lovely word “sybaritic.” And the modern football stadium has more of them. Indeed, more and more luxurious luxury suites is the drive behind most modern stadium construction.  This is why owners are demanding new stadiums when you drive a car older than the current place.  It’s not that the place is a dump, but the trend for more and fancier luxury boxes has marched on since the place was built. This is true across the various team sports, but especially so with the NFL. To understand why, recall that 40% of the gate receipts that goes to the league collective. Luxury suites are an exception. That all stays local. Spend money to sell one of the cheap seats and not only is it a cheap seat, but you only get to keep 60%. Spend money to sell a luxury suite and the revenue is all yours.

The results, to the extent that they are public, are impressive. Forbes in 2013 reported that the Cowboys, Washington Redskins and New York Giants all generate at least $75 million annually from club seats and luxury suites. (I am not entirely sure what “club seats” means here, but I take it as not part of the shared revenue. I am happy in the surety that I will be corrected if I am wrong about this.) Think back to those Packers numbers from 2014, where their local revenues were about $150 million.

Thus the business model becomes clear. Selling tickets to Joe Sixpack grows increasingly irrelevant. Yes, he will buy overpriced beer and nachos, and this revenue stays local, so that is good. But sales to rich people can be vastly more overpriced! In this light, the proles in the stands are mere backdrop: part of the spectacle being sold to the people who matter.

But are they are a necessary part? The luxury box sales are to corporations, who in turn use them to shmooze customers and generally as conspicuous consumption: a corporate potlatch. The Chargers moved from San Diego to Los Angeles because the mere fact of the new location increased the franchise value–in Forbes’ estimation by 36% overnight, and this is expected to grow. Los Angeles has a vastly larger pool of corporate cash sloshing around looking for a place to be spent. But does a luxury box overlooking a sparse crowd hold the same cachet? Is the knowledge of a luxurious experience while the little people sweat in the sun important, or are the little people beneath notice? I don’t know. I am kind of fascinated to find out.

A couple of other points to touch on: Empty seats are not the same thing as unsold tickets. The new 49er’s stadium, two counties down from San Francisco, is also an enthusiastic target of empty seat porn.  Yet its games officially are sold out. It is likely that the Chargers games are as well, or nearly so. What’s going on here is that many many tickets are bought up by brokers for resale on the secondary market. This only works if the market price is higher than the face price. The brokers have structural incentives to stay in the game even while losing money, if they think matters will reverse themselves later, but if people continue to stay away in droves this bubble will burst eventually. My take is that this is secondary so far as the teams are concerned. While it is lovely to get revenue for empty seats as long as they can string it out, the real action is in the luxury boxes.

Another point is that these empty seat stories all come, at least so far, from the west coast: the Chargers and 49ers especially, and to a lesser extent the Rams. The NFL has always been something of an awkward fit for the west coast. Those 1:00 starts on the east coast are 10:00 a.m. starts on the west. Who is even out of bed yet at that hour? (Well, me: much to my surprise I have turned into a morning person in my senility. “Sleeping in” means getting up at 6:30. But that’s just me. I am no one’s target market.) Also, the Chargers and 49ers both suck. So this may be a local phenomenon with no broader implications.  Or it may be that this is a wider phenomenon, but the coastal media results in selection bias.  I don’t know.

Finally, bringing this back to the title topic, what, if anything, does this mean for the Peak NFL hypothesis? That hypothesis emerged from falling television ratings. It is too soon to know anything definitive about this year’s ratings, but so far they are not great. Not disastrous, but not good. How does l’affaire Charger fit into this, if at all? It’s hard to say. It may be nothing: a mere blip. And really, the NFL business model has for the last half century marginalized actual attendance. Most of the revenue comes from fans who rarely if ever go to the stadium. But it certainly can’t be good. The most precious commodity of the NFL, or any professional sports league, is the collective fiction that it matters. The greatest threat to the NFL is that people will drift away. It doesn’t matter whether this is due to concern about head trauma or due to outrage over players taking a knee during the anthem or due to reaching a breaking point of too many commercials. The danger is that once they skip a few games, they find that they still have something to talk about over the water cooler on Monday, while now having their Sunday afternoons back. The sight of vast swaths of empty seats can only reinforce the growing sense that this stuff doesn’t matter, or at least is optional.

Returning to Rodger Sherman’s question “What if the Chargers never develop an enduring fan base…” What if? I wrote back in February that “I am not predicting a collapse. I’m not sure I am even predicting a long, slow decline.” That there is decisiveness to be proud of, and I am fearlessly sticking to it! If this long, slow decline comes to pass, we will look back at the Chargers move as the slope getting ever so slightly steeper.

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Richard Hershberger is a paralegal working in Maryland. When he isn't doing whatever it is that paralegals do, or taking his daughters to Girl Scouts, he is dedicated to the collection and analysis of useless and unremunerative information.

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104 thoughts on “Peak NFL? Revisited

  1. Is there maybe something about football that makes it no longer fit all that well with our culture and lives? Is it something more than we can’t be bothered to attend live events, we just want to catch it on Netflix later?

    I have no answers.

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    • I don’t think so. Look at LGM, they are clearly to the left of many Americans. They will criticize the NFL a lot. They are likely to take the concussion stories seriously but they still are major sports fans and their criticisms seem to come from a place of love and loving to watch football.

      But I think the rise of soccer is partially because many parents don’t want their young children to get concussions and head injuries.

      Though movies are clearly suffering because of Netflix and cable. There are a lot of people who see going to the movies as a waste of time and hassle and they just will wait until it is available for streaming and watch on their HD TVs from the comfort of their own home.

      What’s interesting is that this seems to be a death spiral. One of my biggest pet peeves about movies is how they bombard you with ads these days and endless previews. Sundance used to charge a slightly higher price but be very silent before the movie. The ads were stills on the screen for local businesses. But then they sold to AMC and now it is all the loud stuff. I complained about this once on facebook and Hanley chimed in with the “but AMC is making more money defense.”

      This seems to be the problem. People dislike the ads, so they stay home, and then the chains just increase the ads.

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      • It is trivially easy to find sites with a leftward lean that are also into sports, sometimes specifically so, including the NFL. I don’t know where anybody ever got the idea that being a sports fan is a peculiarly righty thing. OK, I’ve give you NASCAR. But other than that…

        I think it is too early to tie soccer to concussions. The rise of soccer, to the extent that it is a thing (and it certainly is a thing, but to what extent is not entirely clear) is a longer trend than concern about concussions. But I see some anecdotal evidence that youth football is being affected. If this is real, it cannot help but have long term repercussions.

        I almost never go to the movies anymore. It is not a cheap night out, even just to get in the door. Then the experience is not that great. The seats aren’t really all that comfortable, the volume is likely to be far too loud, and yes, those damned ads. If I went more often I would have it timed when to actually show up versus the posted time, but since I can go for two years at a spell without setting foot inside, I don’t know how late to get there. And on top of this is the knowledge that I will be able to stream the film in a year or two. All in all, I need to be very motivated. I seriously considered going to see Dunkirk, but never did.

        On a related note, I used to read thought pieces from cinemaphiles about the collective experience of seeing a film in the theater and how much this added. I haven’t seen this piece is a while. Have they thrown in the towel?

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        • There have always been left-wing sports fans. My college roommate had a grandfather who wrote about sports for the Daily Worker. I wonder if some sports teams were always known for having left-wing fans and others were known for having right-wing fans. This seems to be a thing in soccer abroad.

          There are movie theatres like Alamo Drafthouse and Landmark and others that are making going to the movies more pleasant and adult-like including serving beer and better food but this just raises the price of tickets. It is a price I am willing to pay.

          I personally do think there is something about the collective experience of watching a movie or performance but I might be a minority on this one.

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          • Yep. I’ve stopped going to theaters that don’t serve food. (And preferably beer.). It’s honestly not that much more expensive, given how ridiculous theater concession prices are, and you get movie AND a dinner.

            Plus the seats are more comfortable, you don’t have to miss any of the movie to get a refill, and the places I’ve gone the food is good. A real kitchen with real food, as opposed to popcorn flavored butter and candy.

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    • I think this is a huge part of the upcoming Day of Reckoning for televised sports. From back when we struggled to program our VCRs to our modern age of streaming, live sports have always been the bulwark for the traditional television business model. If what we are seeing today is people deciding they can do without live sports, then a whole lot of businesses are in trouble.

      This, however, is different from people schlepping out to games. Or at least I think it is different. Do kids nowadays find weird the idea of planning a recreational activity ahead of time? I don’t think so, but this wouldn’t be the first time I have been out of touch with kids nowadays. I will have to ask them, before I yell at them to get off my lawn.

      Should it turn out that the NFL has indeed peaked, this Chargers no-fan strategy will, in retrospect, be recognized as a harbinger.

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    • Attending live professional sports is expensive and football is more expensive than most. At a federal office building I frequent, I overheard a conversation where somebody said they spent a little over 1000 to attend a Pittsburgh Stealers game in Pittsburgh. Granted it seemed to be a special seat but attending sports live used to be a lot cheaper.

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      • attending sports live used to be a lot cheaper.

        Back in the 1880s a basic ticket to get into a National League baseball game was fifty cents. This might or might not include a seat. If you wanted a good seat, i.e. in the grandstand behind home, it was another twenty-five cents. Most people got to the park by some sort of public transit. This varied, but another twenty cents for the round trip seems to have been roughly typical. (Chicago had a leg up in the early NL because its park was just a couple of blocks from the main business district. It was otherwise a crappy park, but its convenience made it an easy sell.) Refreshments of various sorts were sold at the park. The stereotype of the cheap beer was a nickel. Putting this together and we can reasonably say it cost about a buck to go to the game.

        How does this translate? It is hard to meaningfully talk about rate of inflation over such a time span. If we are talking about the price of breakfast, we get one rate. A month’s rent, we get another. Cell phone plans? The question breaks down. That being said, and taking the throat as having been cleared, my rule of thumb is a multiplier of twenty to thirty, depending on what exactly is being discussed. Split the difference and the price of that 1880s ball game is about 25 bucks.

        Can you do that today? Hell, yeah. When I go to an Orioles game I budget about forty dollars. This is for a seat at the front of the upper deck, directly behind home plate. You certainly can get cheaper than that. I park at my church and walk to the park, so that is not a significant factor. The Orioles let you bring in outside food. The streets around the park have many vendors eager to sell you ballpark food, but not at ballpark prices. I certainly could do the whole thing for $25, in a pinch. Then if we bring in minor league games, I budget $25 for a good ticket and food.

        The difference today is that you can spend upwards of that $25, going as high as you want to go. The club will be happy to take your money. This only affects my life in that it makes it prohibitive to get a great seat for a major league game. On the other hand, modern ballparks are well designed. The middling seats are actually pretty good, and often better than what you would have gotten in the 1880s. Also, 1880s ballpark restroom facilities are probably left uncontemplated.

        I routinely push back at the claim that baseball is too expensive for regular people to attend. You can spend as much as you want to, but that doesn’t mean you have to.

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          • The NFL as a whole has seen the average ticket prices jump a full third since 2006 alone.

            And 2006 was pricey as hell compared to 1985.

            The NFL is basically pricing the middle class out of games.

            Season tickets used to be affordable to blue-collar workers. Not cheap, but affordable. Now? Assuming you can get them, you could use that money for a few trips to Europe.

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          • I’ve always wondered about, but have always been too lazy to research, regional differences. In the last 30 years, the Denver metro area’s population has grown by >50%. Metro Cleveland, OTOH, has shrunk slightly over the same period (the cities proper have gone from almost the same size to Denver being 75% bigger). At least theoretically, the Broncos should have been able to increase prices quite a bit more than the Browns.

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            • The Broncos have increased their ticket prices. Tickets, parking, etc, make going to a game pretty pricey. I have a friend coming for the Chiefs game on New Years Eve and we’re staying downtown. That’s costing a bit, but we haven’t been to a game for a few years, so that’s okay.

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  2. Re club seats… It’s not that the seats are that much better, but there’s a club-level portion of the stadium interior. The club level at the stadium where I had such tickets* was heated (it was November), had real bars, lounges with massive TVs showing the game, a restaurant, an expanded concession menu (including better beers), all limited to the people with club-level tickets. And the lines at the restrooms were much shorter.

    * An equipment vendor provided the tickets, and I won the lottery at the departmental picnic. The face price on them was scary.

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    • The luxury box seats I had at the old Vet ran from mediocre to terrible, if the point was to watch the game. They had an outdoor block of typical stadium-style seats in front, then a climate-controlled interior area. The front couple of rows of the outdoor seats were OK, but the club level was so narrow that past the front few rows the overhang was so low that you could watch fly balls. Rich guys who wanted to see the game, or to be seen to be watching the game, would get field-level box seats behind home plate. The game was incidental to the luxury box experience. Your description suggests, unsurprisingly, that this trend has continued apace. You can go to a lounge with a massive TV showing the game without going to the stadium, but being at the stadium adds to the conspicuous consumption.

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      • At least the viewing problem had been dealt with at this stadium: all of the club-level seats had an unobstructed view of the full field. I’m not sure that there is such a thing as a great seat at any new NFL stadium these days, given the size and the setback from the field before seating starts.

        The biggest difference I noticed between the stadium and TV experiences was the huge amount of dead time at the stadium. Lots of points when the players were just sort of standing around — not lining up, not huddling up, not talking to coaches, just standing there (presumably waiting for something happening on TV).

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        • Monumentally inefficient. Say what you will about minor league baseball, but there is precious little dead time. Even when the teams swap position on the field, there’s a short, catchy, audience interactive ad that keeps everybody engaged during the downtime.

          Football needs a Phillie Phanatic.

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      • Maybe. Denver is blessed/cursed with two stadiums of about the same age, one for MLB and one for the NFL. I’ve had a chance to walk through the “nice” parts of both. The baseball park has a lot less volume to work with, so the luxury areas tend to be smaller, but there are some really nice restricted areas. My perception is that the ball park provides a better range of food and drink for general ticket holders than the football stadium.

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  3. The WWE is really, really, really trying to get a handle on the whole injury thing at the same time that it’s trying to overcome its carnie roots and ur-carnie locker room culture.

    The carnie roots contribute via the whole “hey, my money is my money, the gate is my money, the concessions are my money, everything is my money, and the only money that is yours is the money that I absolutely positively need to give you to show up and wrestle. Hey, I’ll give you 10 cheap seat tickets for you to tell to your friends, family, and the people who you interact with at your day job.”

    Getting promoters to pay for health care? PAH! You know why we know, instead of merely strongly suspecting, that pro wrestling is fake? Because Vince McMahon testified in court that it was fake because he didn’t want to pay for a ringside doctor as the law demanded of sporting events. “It’s not a sporting event. It’s fake. I shouldn’t have to pay for a ringside doctor.”, he testified (paraphrased).

    As for the locker room culture, hey, I was hazed. You have to be hazed. I worked with a couple of broken ribs. Hey, Mick Foley’s *EAR* was cut off. Vader’s eye popped out. And you know what? The match continued.

    SO DON’T FREAKING TELL ME THAT YOU CAN’T WORK BECAUSE YOU’VE GOT A SMALL HEADACHE

    Anyway, they’re trying to overcome those two things in order to provide a great product that provides the audience with violence, narrative, and spectacle.

    And even the ability to say “hey, no biggie… it’s fake” after the show. All of the sugar. None of the guilt.

    The NFL, in trying to become up-to-date and modern, is finding out that one of the things it was selling was “authenticity”.

    And if they can’t fake authenticity anymore… well, why wouldn’t you go somewhere else for your weekly dose of violence, narrative, and spectacle?

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      • I kinda think that they need to have two lockerrooms with two seasons. Half the year leading up to WrestleMania, and come up with a show about six months after that becomes the “other” WrestleMania. Both lockerrooms work both WrestleManias but one lockerroom has all of their storylines wrap up at WrestleMania while the other half has all their storylines kick off there.

        And vice versa six months later.

        And each lockerroom gets six months off to heal, work out, eat right, exercise every other day, *NOT TRAVEL*, so on and so forth.

        But money is money. And the crowd standing and shouting like thunder? Go without that for six months?

        And there’s always one more 20 year old who has been dreaming about this since the first time he saw it and he would lie, cheat, and steal to get a dark match on your show… you going to give up your match?

        And so on.

        But I still think they should take a half year off.

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  4. Peak NFL probably was 10 minutes before college ball adopted a playoff system. College and the pros have an odd relationship: they’re complimentary goods if you follow players’ careers from college to the NFL, but they’re competitive goods if a person has to choose between his Saturdays and Sundays.

    Most people find the college game to be superior. There’s more action. The defensive linemen are younger, meaning they’re smaller and have less training for elaborate schemes.

    Another thing that might be affecting NFL team loyalty is the explosion of legal fantasy sites. If “your” team is playing across 10 different games each weekend, you feel less obligation to watch them and root them on.

    ETA: Oh, and a lot of people are awake Sunday at 10am. They’re just not back home from church yet.

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  5. I suspect that what is going on in the NFL is like Jaybird states above is about continuing socio-economic trends and trying to adopt in different directions while staying true to your roots.

    There are clearly lots of sports fans with left of center politics but for the longest time, the NFL seemed to pride itself as the sport of “red/real America.” The fans were supposed to be white men with right-leaning to outright right-wing politics. After all, the NFL did briefly think it was a good idea to make Rush Limbaugh a color commentator in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

    But the best NFL players are black and it turns out that they care about BLM and aren’t going to be silent about it. It also turns out that younger sports fans (or at least a good chunk of them) are rather left in their politics and not going to be silent about it either.

    Mike Ditka just released another bone-headed comment where he said that there hasn’t been any oppression in the last 100 year. For decades, the NFL just catered to guys who looked and thought like Mike Ditka and did really well. But now they are getting screamed at for only catering to the Mike Ditka’s of the world.

    There is also rising income and wealth inequality and a cheap seat is still a cheap seat. A 24,000 dollar per a game luxury box (sans food and drink as you write) is worth much more than a 1000-2000 twenty dollar seats. Plus I suspect that a lot of NFL teams put up with tailgating but would rather not encourage it. Tailgating with meat and beer from Costco or Walmart means less money spent at concession stands.

    I’m not a sports guy but a similar thing is happening in the performing arts world. It shouldn’t be a surprise that the audience for performing arts (classical music, theatre, dance, etc) is largely older. A lot of theatres including vibrant and avant-garde ones are struggling to find ways to get younger audience members. Video game night works for the symphonies but only as a one-off. Theatre doesn’t really know what to do. A lot of friends in the business (who are largely on the edges) scream that you need to make the tickets cheaper and the theatres say that they can’t.

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      • I don’t think displays of patriotism per se are partisan today, but how they manifest can be. If it is with conspicuous militarism, that is another matter. Or consider the difference at the seventh inning stretch between “God Bless America” and “This Land is Your Land.” I think most on the left consider the current taking of knees to itself be a patriotic display, or at least consistent with it.

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        • Displays of patriotism are taken as partisan today in a way they didn’t used to be. Ditto displays of support for the military. Maybe Saul has always considered them partisan, but the vast majority of the country wouldn’t have thought in those terms until the last few years.

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            • I disagree. Professions of support for the military, with accompanying flag-waving, is associated with the right. But support for, e.g., mental health care for veterans is not. I would submit that the latter is far more substantive support than the former.

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              • This is where I find that Haidt’s Moral Foundations are helpful. Loyalty itself is a core value for people on the right but not for those on the left (broadly speaking). At the point that you’re talking about veterans’ health care, that falls more on the Care-Harm foundation (which left and right share) than the Loyalty foundation.

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              • There’s really not an anti-military party in the US and hasn’t been since, oh, Bush the Elder was President at the latest.

                The closest the Democrats come (in terms of having any real support in the party) is a belief that our military is much too big and we keep deploying it in places we shouldn’t. Getting people, including our own soldiers, killed needlessly.

                Since there really is no anti-military animus (that is, no influential group “hates the troops” — everyone’s pretty supportive of the role they’ve chosen to play and the service they perform), that makes the US military a fairly popular group.

                Which has led to, shall we say, some really shameless pandering from some quarters in an attempt to get that magic popularity to rub off. It’s particularly noxious when paired with the uptick in jingoism since 9/11. “We love you guys so much, we’re your number 1 fans, now go die pointlessly so I can get a boost in my poll numbers!” is a pretty bitter pill to swallow.

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    • “A lot of theatres including vibrant and avant-garde ones are struggling to find ways to get younger audience members.”

      Well based upon some of the Fringe theatre programs I’ve seen, I’d rather not waste my money on a “risky” avante garde show that’s highly likely to be crap. My tolerance goes up substantially the less I pay.

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      • There is plenty of avant-garde that is pricey to. The nosebleed section at BAM can cost 60 dollars a seat plus service fees.

        I wasn’t trying to make avant-garde synonymous with bad but theatre is an expensive medium whether it is a big Broadway show/crowd-pleaser to a small 4 person play in a walk-up.

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  6. The open seat porn of the chargers and niners won’t be a real issue until it embarrasses the league. That could be on a monday night game with a quarter full stadium. That is not the face the league wants fans to see since it would make them look like unpopular and like unsuccessful losers. Or if one of those teams actually gets good and still can’t fill their stadiums. Until then it is bad PR and unfortunate but they aren’t going to be too publicly worried. Most NFL owners are sleazy but i’m guessing even they saw how poorly the move out of San Diego went that situation is expected.

    They may not need the money from the cheap seats but empty stadiums don’t’ generate enthusiasm or loud cheering. Full stadiums and crazy crowds are part of the game experience. They will want those seats filled at some point.

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    • I’ve hardly watched any NFL games this year, but I’ve been an avid consumer in the past. If you watch games that are sparsely attended, you’ll notice that crowd shots are actively avoided by the TV cameras. This league has been in the TV business for years. They know how to angle the shots.

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      • Yeah but they also love the “crowd is going wild shots” and talking about “THE NOISE”. If your crowd isn’t cheering louder than the sounds of nacho chips crunching that does change the ambiance of the event. In marquee games that would be embarrassing and terrible TV. Loud crowds are part of spectacle and communicate the thrill of the event. The lack of them would be very noticeable at big games. For a few home games with crappy teams it’s just a joke.

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        • The big games aren’t the problem. They’ll always have a big crowd. The problem is the Chargers against whomever they’re playing.

          That said, it doesn’t take a whole bunch of people to make a fair bit of noise. Watch a mid-season baseball game with 2 teams clearly out of the race. Attendance will be down, but even at 50% capacity it can get loud when the home team does something worth cheering for.

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          • It’s not a big issue because of the clusterfish the chargers move was. It’s a bad image to have so few fans in the seats. Turning up the volume would be irrelevant and epically mocked if it ever happened at a big event. Having a half full stadium at a big event, which is highly unlikely, would present a terrible image.

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            • They can deal the way that pro wrestling deals with it. Tell the people at the top tiers to move to the lower tiers (hey, better seats for FREE!), tell the cameras and the producers to DO NOT LOOK ABOVE A PARTICULAR LINE, then turn up the sensitivity of the mics above the crowds.

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            • I’m not sure about this, but I expect there is a rule against pipe noise in while a play is going on. Otherwise, they would do this whenever the visiting offense was one the field, with no “twelfth man” talk.

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              • Just add the desired level of noise to the TV signal based on particular shots. It’s all computers these days, so that’s trivial. Of course, the viewers at home will figure it out when the color commentator says, “The noise here is incredible!” and the visiting QB is obviously calling an audible by voice rather than hand signals.

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            • The Chargers move to L.A. is one of the more mysterious doings of the NFL. There’s a reason the Rams moved to St. Louis for a bit, and it wasn’t because of overwhelming fan support. Now they think it can support 2 teams?

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              • Part of the thinking was that LA can support two teams more easily than one. Think of a stadium as an apartment that’s bigger than you can afford, and the other team as a roommate. I’m not saying it’s going to work – there are plenty of people who’ve tried it and got into trouble – but it was part of their thinking.

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                • When I was double-checking Richard’s claim that he can budget a baseball ticket for $40, the Dodgers and Angels were listed on a site as having the cheapest average tickets in the MLB (around $10). There is something odd about the doubling-down on sports franchises in a city that doesn’t support them at the attendance levels that one would expect without massive discounting. (And if it’s not clear, I’m viewing cheap tickets as caused by low demand, they are number 1 and 7 in attendance this year)

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  7. The NFL and their sponsors became rah rah military during Gulf War 1, but that went away when that war was over. It was pretty much just that Super bowl with Whitney Houston and such.

    They got again rah rah military right after 9/11 and that never went away because the war(s) never went away and the DoD was paying the NFL cash money to be rah rah military.

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  8. The whole middle level of FedEx field is ‘club level’, and addition to what everyone else has said, unsold ‘club level’ and equivalent don’t count against your required sellout percentage numbers for TV blackout rules. Though the blackout rules have long been enforced laxly and may be scrapped entirely by now, because as the post says, they really don’t need to ‘force’ people into the stands to make money.

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    • The NFL blackout rules are still on the books, but have been “suspended” for the past few years. I suspect that this will continue until they are quietly abolished.

      Professional sports have a long and hilarious history of fearing anything that they imagine will keep fans away from the stadium. This goes back to having a telegraph operator send inning-by-inning scores to a newspaper office, which would post them in its front window. The blackout rules are a vestige of this. The difference is that it is really obvious in the case of the NFL that television is the real money, followed by luxury boxes. Fans in the upper deck are not quite irrelevant, but pretty close, apart from the optics. In this understanding, cutting off the television feed because not enough Joe Sixpacks are showing up is simply insane.

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