Packers fire a CBA-related shot

I wanted to save discussion of this story until Saturday so that it wasn’t lost (too much) in the shuffle of the NFC Championship Game.

In a press release Friday, Green Bay overtly connected its hike in ticket prices to the economic uncertainty caused by the NFL’s upcoming labor talks. I thought that was unusual and begs further interpretation.

We could be two months away from the end of the salary cap and a year away from a lockout of players. Owners want the NFL Players Association to accept a smaller portion of its revenue pie, and raising ticket prices is one way to demonstrate the owner claims of continuing financial peril.

First, let’s look at part of a letter released by Green Bay president/CEO Mark Murphy, who also happens to be a member of the NFL’s powerful Management Council Executive Committee. In part, Murphy wrote:

“With the future landscape regarding the Collective Bargaining Agreement unknown, teams will be even more competitive in terms of generating revenue. The increased revenue will allow us to focus financial resources on supporting a successful football team, our No. 1 goal.”

We should be clear about the Packers’ previous prices. According to Team Marketing Report (TMR), an independent group that analyzes the economics of professional sports, the Packers’ average ticket price was $63.39 last season. That ranked No. 24 of the NFL’s 32 teams. So even at a time when most teams have frozen their prices, the Packers without question had some room to grow.

Their average ticket will go up $9, according to a news release. That’s about 14 percent, based on TMR’s numbers, but it would still leave the Packers below the NFL average for 2009 ($74.99).

So this isn’t about the Packers gouging their customers. To me, it’s very clearly an early shot in the public relations war we’re about to witness between NFL owners and their players.

I’ve seen dozens of press releases about higher ticket prices over the years. Never have I seen one with the headline Green Bay used Friday: “PACKERS TO RAISE TICKET PRICES FOR 2010 SEASON.”

There’s a reason you don’t normally see businesses emphasizing higher prices. Ever go to Macy’s and see a banner that reads: “FULL PRICE TODAY ONLY!” Of course not. Usually, such messages are crafted by smart marketers who make it difficult to catch the change. Typically, the headline would be a more neutral: “PACKERS ANNOUNCE TICKET PRICES FOR 2010 SEASON.”

You might think I’m reading too much into this, and I suppose it’s possible my brain is completely fried after NFC Championship Game week.

But it seems obvious to me, at least, that Murphy and the Packers wanted the hike -- and the reasons for it -- to be perfectly clear. Connecting customer prices with player intake is a surefire way to influence the public debate on an issue that so far has yet to generate much interest.