Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

High Cost of Pro-Sports Fandom May Ease ; Attendance at Most Major Events Drops - and Ticket Prices Are Expected to Follow

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

High Cost of Pro-Sports Fandom May Ease ; Attendance at Most Major Events Drops - and Ticket Prices Are Expected to Follow

Article excerpt

Sports fans nostalgic for the days when they could go watch a professional game without emptying their wallets often hearken back to a simpler time.

Just 10 years ago, a fan paid $44 for an average-price pro- football ticket, a hot dog, soda, and parking. Today, that same outing runs $75.

The price increase spans each of the major pro-sports leagues. Compared with 1991, basketball boosters now shell out an additional $35 per game, and baseball fans pay an extra $15.

Hockey fans drop $20 more than they did seven years ago, according to Team Marketing Report (TMR), a sports-marketing firm based in Chicago.

As was the case with most entertainment options, professional sports events became much more expensive during the 1990s, with ticket prices going up about 10 percent every year.

The uptick in turnstile fees significantly outpaced inflation. That $44 dollars spent at a football game in 1991, adjusted for inflation, would be worth $58 today - just enough to cover the average football ticket.

The costs of taking in a pro game also surpassed price hikes at other venues, from movie theaters to amusement parks, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Until recently, fans have taken the price hikes in stride.

Yet, with recession looming - or already here - and consumers hoarding cash, some observers suggest the high cost of taking a family to the ballpark could prompt thousands of fans to take in the game from an increasingly familiar seat: the living room couch. That means the price peak may have been reached. The leagues will need to placate fans.

"There has definitely been some disaffection among hard-core fans, and fans in general, because of rising ticket prices," says Don Hinchey, director of creative services for the Bonham Group, a Denver-based sports marketing firm.

The growing fan backlash stems largely from a decade of gentrification in major league sports, with teams pursuing an increasingly sophisticated and well-heeled breed of fans to help finance posh stadiums and bankroll bulging payrolls.

First built in the early 1990s, stadiums such as Toronto's SkyDome, Baltimore' Camden Yards, and Chicago's United Center sparkled with plexiglass-encased luxury suites and skyboxes. The additions were designed for an elite business class looking to wine and dine clients.

Teams boosted mid-level ticket prices, too, as rising incomes enabled a younger, urban population to pursue season-ticket packages and center-court seats.

"Targeting the high-income fan has driven the economics of these sports teams," says Daniel Rascher, assistant professor of sports economics at the University of San Francisco.

Except in baseball, where average ticket prices have not yet eclipsed $50, the majority of ticket holders at sporting events now have annual household incomes of at least $80,000, according to Dennis Howard, a professor of sports marketing at the University of Oregon in Eugene. …

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