It’s Super Bowl week in Minneapolis, and the focus is on one thing: Money. Oh sure, there’s an actual game on Sunday. But in many respects, the weeklong event represents more a football-themed celebration of affluence than a true focus on sport.
For examples, look no further than the Super Bowl Experience, a fan-fest held every year in the Super Bowl host city. Designed to make the sport accessible for the common fan (i.e., those who can’t afford Super Bowl tickets), it features autograph sessions with current and former players, and interactive games for fans (e.g., punt, pass, and kick, etc.)
But consider the Super Bowl Experience’s admission fee: $35 for adults, and $25 for kids. The adult admission costs 350 percent more than the $10 the NCAA charges for a similar college basketball fan fest held at the Final Four in April. Admission costs $120 for the proverbial family of four—a sizable sum for many families, before even accounting for downtown parking fees, food and beverages, or souvenirs.
In case you were wondering, the NFL expects you to buy souvenirs. The NFL Shop consumes an entire cavernous hall of the convention center, with 45 separate checkout lines. Memorabilia collectors also offer autographed and specialized souvenirs that range from the hundreds to thousands of dollars.
Among the lots in a Saturday morning auction: A pylon from Super Bowl XLV (current bid: $1,477), an NFL Films jacket formerly owned by legendary sportscaster Harry Kalas (current bid: $420), and one of the game balls used by Tom Brady and the New England Patriots’ offense during last year’s Super Bowl (current bid: $40,000). No word on whether that last item is fully inflated.
Money, Money, Money
In other words, opportunities to spend money abound at the Super Bowl. For those undaunted by the $35 “regular” admission fee to the Super Bowl Experience, the NFL also offers a “SBXTRA” upgrade for an additional $55 per person. The package includes “priority access to [fans’] favorite Super Bowl Experience attractions”—in other words, a FastPass allowing people to jump the long lines to take a picture with the Vince Lombardi trophy, or play the interactive games.
If a family of four selects the “SBXTRA” package, they’ll pay a total of $340 just for tickets to the Super Bowl Experience. That’s a pretty price to pay to enter what often resembles a glorified marketing pitch for NFL sponsors.
Few booths at the Super Bowl Experience lack some marketing hook or product promotion. The “locker room” features replica lockers for the most prominent players on each of the 32 NFL teams. But in addition to the jerseys and equipment, all of the lockers happen to have Snickers bars, Skittles, and Gatorade products strategically placed within. If you think those product placements are unintentional—or, for that matter, an actual depiction of players’ real lockers—I’ve got news for you.
Then there’s the sponsor of the Super Bowl Experience: Genesis, Hyundai’s luxury car brand. All manner of gleaming cars litter the floor of the convention center. But with the lowest-priced Genesis model retailing for $41,750—more than many families make in a year—how many typical American households could afford to buy what the National Football League is selling?
In a word, not many. Check out the most recent (as of Thursday evening) prices quoted on StubHub (including StubHub’s ticketing fees, of course) for some of the events held during Super Bowl week:
- Friday night’s Rolling Stone party: $482.50 for general admission, $812.50 for VIP standing room (which seems a contradiction in terms), and $902.50 for a seat at a VIP table
- Friday night’s Leather and Laces party: $464.50 for general admission, $926.50 for VIP admission, or $33,002.50 for a VIP cabana that seats 20
- Saturday night’s Taste of the NFL event: $700
- Saturday night’s Maxim party: $974.50
- Saturday night’s party at the Playboy Club with Snoop Dogg: $662.50 for general admission, or $1,442.50 for a seat at a shared table
- Sunday’s Players Tailgate with celebrity chef Guy Fieri: $902.50
Base tickets to all these events come to $4,186.50. Add in a flight and hotel—rooms run at least $350 per night—and you’re talking roughly $10,000 in expenses for a single person, all without tickets to the game. (Speaking of which, game tickets were selling for roughly $3,700 for a single seat in the nosebleed section as of Thursday night.) It’s enough to make anyone’s head spin, and I’m lucky enough to have more financial means than most. But if I sought to attend every event listed above, I’d soon need to go on another game show to pay the bill.
This Alienates a Huge Number of Potential Fans
The controversy over players kneeling for the National Anthem has loomed large throughout this NFL season. Commentators have spent countless hours analyzing the political, social, and yes, racial implications of both the player protests and the reactions to them.
But putting aside issues of politics and race, a lingering class undercurrent also lurks. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist, or a socialist in the mold of Bernie Sanders, to recognize that ever-rising player salaries and out-of-reach ticket prices alienate working-class families, many of whom can’t afford to attend games, and who may earn less in a lifetime than most players make in a single season. These trends served as the kindling that helped spark the anthem controversy, before a single player ever took a knee.
So a suggestion for the NFL, on the heels of its $3.3 billion contract with Fox to televise 55 Thursday night football games over the next five seasons—a nice, round $1 million per minute of televised football. Do yourself a favor and take some steps to make the experience more welcoming to working-class families. As an obvious example, offer a few thousand seats at $20 per game. It will cause a short-term revenue hit, to be certain, but will engender some positive feedback from fans who still comprise the lifeblood of the sport—indeed, any sport.
Despite the $3.3 billion Fox contract signed just this week, declining ratings this football season have led some to start questioning the NFL’s continued dominance of the sports world. This week’s Super Bowl spectacle, while showcasing the league’s best, also provides with a potential roadmap to its undoing.
If and when football becomes seen as an exclusive property of the rich, ratings will fall. And when the ratings go, the money will go with it. As the old marketing expression notes, it costs far less to keep a current customer than to find a new one. After seeing the way in which money drives the Super Bowl, it’s a lesson the National Football League should take to heart.
Mr. Jacobs is founder and CEO of Juniper Research Group, a policy consulting firm. He is on Twitter: @chrisjacobsHC.