Welcome To The New Money Pit

By Mike Florio
Updated: July 4, 2008

NEW YORK – Forget the surveys, ratings, polls and all other metrics for gauging the NFL’s dominant position in the American sports landscape. The best evidence of the league’s stature is the continuing viability of the “personal seat license” (PSL).

A more accurate title might be “personal sucker license.” Eventually, the concept could contribute to a dramatic change in the demographics of NFL fans.

The PSL is cooked up by the powers-that-be to squeeze more dollars out of fans’ pockets. And the fans are all too eager to oblige. The logic is simple: You can buy the tickets, but if you want to actually sit in the chair, well, that’ll cost ya.

What’s next? An individual breathing permit? An on-field viewing fee? A per-game urinal lease?

All sound ridiculous, but none are any different from the concept of a phony sitting fee fans gladly pay so they can attend NFL games. Why not just increase the price of tickets?

The New York Giants plan to implement PSLs at their new stadium. They will entail a one-time payment ranging from $1,000 to $20,000. But the team could raise the same amount of money simply by increasing the face value of the seats.

From a supply-and-demand standpoint, it makes perfect sense to charge more for tickets. There’s a booming resale market thanks to high-tech scalping companies whose proprietors don’t have to spend time holding an “I need tickets” placard or risk getting arrested on the street.

Most NFL teams could increase the ticket prices significantly and still sell them in droves. Besides, a more direct approach wouldn’t insult the intelligence of the folks writing the checks.

Bloomberg.com reports that at least 10 NFL teams have used the PSL concept, typically in connection with the construction of a new stadium. It’s unknown whether the Jets will sell PSLs for the new stadium they’ll share with the Giants.

From a business standpoint, there’s nothing improper or unethical about charging folks money for essentially nothing. The success of the procedure ultimately will be judged by whether people choose to pay.

And pay they will.

These days, people like Miami Dolphins owner Wayne Huizenga are wondering whether the economy will prevent fans from digging a little deeper to finance their football fix. Wayne need not fret.

The money always will be there for the NFL, one way or another.

But a real problem will arise if and when blue-collar fans who form the heart and soul of so many NFL franchises must yield to the polo and caviar crowd. This is especially true in towns like Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Buffalo and Philadelphia, where the local football team forms such an important part of the city’s identity and spirit.

Whether it happens through PSLs, increased ticket prices or both, the same tax bracket that now ends up with all the Super Bowl tickets eventually might take over the regular season games, as well.

That’s the real shame of this. In a large market like New York, there always will be 70,000 people who can afford to go to a game. But extra charges like PSLs at some point will strip the sport of what made it great: Accessibility to the average fan.

Of course, they’ll still be able to watch the games at home — as long as the local team doesn’t come up with a way to impose an additional fee for sitting on your own couch.