Even pro football is feeling the effect of the weak economy

The popularity of Eli Manning and the New York Giants is soaring, but overall NFL attendance has slipped in recent years.
(Bill Kostroun / Associated Press)

You know the economy is sluggish when fewer people show up for a cherished Sunday ritual. Yes, attendance is down at pro football games.

Despite the National Football League’s enormous popularity, attendance has slipped 4.5% in the last five years, including 3.2% last season, according to a new report. Ticket prices are still rising but at a slower rate in inflation-adjusted terms.

The upshot: The stolid economy is taking a toll on upper-income men, who make up a large part of the NFL’s fan base, according to the analysis by New York investment firm CovergEx Group.

“American consumers are less and less comfortable shelling out hundreds of bucks for nothing other than a few hours of fun, especially when the 50-inch flat screen in the family room lets you see the game at no additional expense,” researcher Beth Reed wrote in the report.

ConvergEx did the report in part to assess the spending patterns of the so-called mass affluent, which are typically hard to track. Citing data from another research firm, 28% of NFL fans earn more than $100,000 a year, while just 14% earn less than $40,000, the report said.


Everything is relative, of course. Although down from a record high of 67,738 in 2007, attendance at an average NFL game last year was still a very healthy 64,706.

And ticket prices remain high for winning teams. A ticket to tonight’s season-opening game in New York between the Super Bowl champion Giants and their archrival Dallas Cowboys was going for $465 on the secondary market, according to a survey by ticket seller TiqIQ.

Not every team is so lucky. A ticket in New York this Sunday for the Jets’ season opener against the Buffalo Bills can be had for just $65. (As a long-suffering Jets fan, I’d say the lowly price sounds about right, given that the team’s most exciting storyline this season is the rivalry between quarterbacks Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow).

Seven teams lowered ticket prices this year while 15 kept them flat, according to ConvergEx. Only 10 teams, including the New England Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers, raised prices.

“Even the nation’s most popular sport is struggling to grow attendance and is beholden to macroeconomic forces which have lingered for years,” according to the report. “Growth will come, but it will take time.”


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