Why the NFL Stadium Experience Is Dying

Amelia AhlgrenContributor IIIMay 22, 2012

ARLINGTON, TX - NOVEMBER 01: Aerial view of Cowboys Stadium on November 1, 2010 in flight over Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Darren Carroll/Getty Images)
Darren Carroll/Getty Images

While the NFL stadium experience is evolving under the guise of getting bigger and better, the average fan is getting priced out of the equation entirely.

The once pleasantly rowdy atmosphere that defined stadium life has been overrun with a more refined and indifferent corporate culture. Further, alternatives to the stadium experience have grown more enticing.

Here are four reasons the game-day experience has changed.


The Rise of Luxury Suites

Though stadium suites were initially invented to make the nosebleed section more attractive, luxury boxes are now one of the driving sources of revenue for NFL teams.

CNBC.com notes that annual suite prices can stretch anywhere from $80,000 per box (the lowest price you'll pay at Indianapolis' Lucas Oil Stadium) to more than $900,000.

You don't even need to do the math to understand that in many cases, suite owners are paying multiple times the price of a regular ticket for each seat in their luxury box.

It's unsurprising then that luxury suites are taking over.

According to the executive director of the Association of Luxury Suite Directors per The Business of Sports by Brad R. Humphreys and Dennis R. Howard, "'Ten years ago, only about 3% of the seating in stadiums and arenas was designated as premium and club seating. Now that figure is approaching 20%.'”

Corporations are a major consumer of luxury seating, using sports events as opportunities to impress potential clients and close business deals.

But though corporations are more loyal with their wallets, they lack devotion with their hearts—and it's taking a toll on the NFL stadium experience.

Game day is becoming more stuffy and corporate with the focus shifting from football.

The NFL is about top-shelf liquor and market banter to CEOs who spend Sundays sheltered in their boxes where only a compelling third-and-inches-on-the-goal-line scenario may avert attention away from Blackberry screens.


The Personal Seat License

Personal seat licenses (PSLs) have created another hurdle of affordability that's pricing the average football fan out of the stands.

A PSL essentially guarantees the rights to a particular seat in a stadium, and owning one is a prerequisite for buying season tickets at almost half of NFL stadiums.

Personal seat licenses were invented so that teams could quickly generate capital for projects like building new stadiums.

As you can imagine, PSLs are expensive.

The Sports Business Daily reports that the right to buy season tickets at Cowboys Stadium could set you back $150,000, and prices are not relenting.

At Heinz Field, the cost of seat licenses has increased, on average, by 736.35 percent from the stadium's inaugural football game in 2001 through November 2011.

So while average NFL fans struggle to navigate a sputtering economy, the economic elite are driving the cost of watching live football higher than the nosebleed section.



Teams have also started packing their stadiums with revenue-generating gimmicks that detract from the traditional game-day experience.

Buff guys slinging Bud Light are rivaled by sleek bars reminiscent of upscale Manhattan nightclubs.

Chicken-fingers-and-fries stands are now matched with full-blown restaurants.

These features allow stadiums to mark up concession prices higher than their already astronomical rates, burning a deeper hole in fan wallets.



High-definition television emerged almost in tandem with skyrocketing ticket prices, and it has provided an affordable alternative to live football.

To some, the living room viewing experience is superior to the stadium.

HD provides a crystal-clear picture of the action, and DVR allows control over instant replay.

In contrast, the stadium experience often involves squinting down at the field from cloud level and repeating, "Wait, what just happened?"

Further, stadium traffic is a nightmare and fans can easily spend more time in the parking lot than they spend in the actual stadium (tailgates excluded, of course).

With technology facilitating a comprehensive home-viewing experience, stadium-going is simply becoming less enticing by comparison.