|Thursday, September 4
Sorry, no C.O.D., please
By Darren Rovell
There's no lack of evidence that the NFL is king among American sports. Its national television and DirecTV contracts pull in a record $2.6 billion annually, licensed team sales top $3 billion a year and more than half the league's teams sell out all their games regardless of the opponent each week.
Although many teams have charged for years, the policy garnered national attention in recent weeks when the New York Jets announced that a new $50 annual fee for the right to remain on the team's waiting list would not be applied to the eventual purchase of the tickets. After much fan and media scrutiny, Jets officials later backtracked, announcing that the fee would be credited toward the tickets.
Officials of teams that charge say they don't do it to create yet another revenue stream. Instead, charging the fee allows them to weed out the extent to which a fan on the list is serious about buying season tickets.
"We do this to get a truer sense of who is really interested in getting season tickets, as opposed to who just wants to be on our mailing list," said Scott Hagel, spokesperson for the Chicago Bears, who have been charging $100 per person since July 2001 for the right to be on their waiting list.
"When there is some charge involved, the conversion rate is usually much higher," said Phil Huebner, director of ticket sales for the Minnesota Vikings, which started a waiting list in 1998. "About 80 percent of the people that rise to the top of our list eventually buy season tickets, compared to the teams that don't charge and sometimes have a success rate of under 50 percent."
A fan can wait a long time. With the Jets' waiting list at more than 15,000 people, information on the team's Web site includes the fact that someone who is put on the list for the first time this year -- and pays the required $50 by next week -- likely will be waiting 10 to 15 years for their season tickets. A fan with patience will have deposited between $500 and $750 for the right to eventually get tickets.
The 49ers require a $10 deposit for every seat requested, the Vikings and Detroit Lions charge $25. The Cleveland Browns charge $25 per year, per person, while the New England Patriots -- who, six years ago, began charging fans $25 to be in their list -- now levy a one-time $50 fee per name.
Jets fans, as well as other team fans that pay to wait, usually receive certain perks as a result of being on the waiting list. They receive a Jets yearbook, two newsletters and exclusive access to the team's online ticket resale marketplace. Browns fans on the waiting list get the opportunity to buy two tickets to a home game, at cost of course.
"We see it as buying into a club," said Jamey Rootes, chief sales and marketing officer for the Houston Texans, who have approximately 2,500 fans on their list. For $10 per person, per season, a fan on the list receives a team yearbook and the chance to buy single-game tickets before they go on sale to the general public. "The value of the items we give those on the waiting list easily surpasses $10, but we do it to build the relationship with them."
Unlike the Jets' fee, the Texans' fee is not deducted from the future purchase of season tickets.
"As long as the fan is getting something for their money, the interest that the team is making off getting the money in advance should not be an issue," said sports consultant Marc Ganis, president of Sportscorp Ltd. "With some of these perks, the fan on the waiting list is really paying to get a little closer to their team."
Teams charging are still in the minority -- at least 16 teams in the league have season-ticket waiting lists.
The Denver Broncos, who have thousands of people on their waiting list, have never considered charging, said team spokesman Jim Saccomano. And the Green Bay Packers, who have the league's largest waiting list at 61,000 people, have not discussed the possibility of charging their fans, according to Mark Wagner, director of ticket operations.
"There are two schools of thought," Wagner said. "You can charge people for being on the waiting list and give them something for their money or you don't charge at all."
One of the reasons why the Packers might not have to levy a charge is because the response is so good once a waiting fan arrives at the top of the list. That is, assuming he or she ever does. The typical 20- to 40-year wait on the list has moved at a little faster pace thanks to the renovation of Lambeau Field, which added 11,000 seats in time for this season.
If the Packers did decide to charge a $50 annual fee like the Jets do, some cheeseheads likely will have paid for their first season's ticket by the time they make it to the top. And by that time, who knows if Brett Favre's grandson will be any good.
Darren Rovell, who covers sports business for ESPN.com, can be reached at Darren.Rovell@espn3.com.