Ticket prices are exhibition of NFL greed

August 29, 1999|By John Steadman

There's no more disgraceful imposition in all of sports comparable to what the NFL continues to do: permitting teams to exploit, or mug, ticket buyers by forcing them to pay regular-season prices for exhibition games. It's a longtime complaint, but only if the public rebels by staying away will the practice be terminated.

The league, by its actions, no longer cares about demonstrating any sense of decency or fair play. Fans are being violated. Too bad. It's arrogance in the first degree.

This being said, let's hasten to point out that an advertisement appeared in The Sun that was, in a sense, attention-getting for fans. Almost startling. It read:


Panthers, 8/28

Giants 9/3, only $10


Could this be some kind of a tease, a lure to attract a buyer with a hidden agenda and deceitful sales pitch? No, not that at all.

In the past, according to co-owner Min C. Der of Live Sports Tours, with offices in Timonium, he and his partner, Barry Tiedeman, had to eat the exhibition tickets, which led to acute financial indigestion. They gave some away to youth groups, out of the goodness of their hearts, but otherwise took a sizable hit.

Being practical entrepreneurs, they decided to offer half-price seats instead of having a bushel of them going stale in inventory. It's called cutting your losses, which is what they've done.

Imagine an NFL ticket being sold for $10. That's also $10 under face value. Maybe it'll be a lesson for the NFL that could be copied in other places when it is faced with slow business for meaningless exhibitions.

Players aren't happy about having to play them. Some coaches are anti-exhibition, and Art Modell, owner of the Ravens, has long been an advocate of playing merely two a year. But anytime the NFL can do a job by extracting money from the fans, it doesn't hesitate to take advantage of their loyalty. It constitutes legal robbery.

You might believe the NFL would be embarrassed by utilizing such strong-arm tactics against a constituency that made it what it is today. But avarice has no shame.

We responded to the intriguing Sun advertisement, bought a $10 ticket and talked with co-owners of the agency, Messrs. Der and Tiedeman, who is the son of a former Baltimore Oriole of International League vintage. The ticket was located at a high altitude. specifically Seat 6, Row 12, Section 535, but such a faraway perch was anticipated.

"The $10 ticket has created interest in the Ravens and also our company," said Der, who obviously knows something about public relations and how to sell a bad product -- an NFL exhibition game.

Live Sports Tours not only bought the tickets from the Ravens, but also paid in advance the permanent seat license fees. "A lot of people buy from us because we paid the PSL, something they objected to and don't have to be bothered with. We made the investment."

Der and Tiedeman try to recover their expenses by brokering regular-season tickets at a marked-up figure. But what they need first is for a demand to be created, meaning a natural attraction or a winning Ravens team.

"We sell mostly to individuals out-of-town, not groups," Der said. "We stepped up when the team came here, when others weren't stepping up, and gave the Ravens a check for a quarter of a million dollars. Nobody else stepped up and bought that many PSLs and season tickets. Art Modell has been fair with us. We represented 800 tickets at the start; now it's 600."

What game so far has created the most attention? "Pittsburgh every year," Der answered. "A lot of Steeler fans are in Baltimore. Last year, with the game sold out, we moved a $20 ticket for $179. But, strangely enough, playing the Indianapolis Colts wasn't as big as we anticipated."

This year, out of concern for their exhibition ticket buyers who paid the full price before it was decided to hold a sale, Der and Tiedeman said they offered to either give them half their money back or provide an extra ticket. Fair enough. Everything, success or failure, is based on demand. That's the key word in their world of selling tickets. And demand occurs after a stadium is sold out.

Der said the company "hasn't made a dime in four years." But then why is he still pounding away? "When the Ravens start winning, they'll be all right and then we'll be all right."

Exhibitions, 90 percent of the time, offer a poor variety of football. Generally, the crowds show little enthusiasm. Last Saturday at the Georgia Dome, offering a capacity of 71,228, the attendance for the Ravens and Atlanta Falcons was 44,843. Earlier, in Philadelphia at Veterans Stadium, which accommodates 65,352, the Ravens and Eagles played before a gathering of 43,552.

Der, in the course of accommodating ticket buyers, has heard how the public feels regarding exhibitions. It puts him in a position to make a recommendation for the future -- specifically to cut the exhibition season to two games, one at home, one on the road, and add two regular-season games to the official schedule. He said it would be a worthwhile move by the NFL if the teams then "gave away the exhibitions," meaning there'd be no charge at all, a free admission.

Why doesn't the NFL do right by its audience and stop charging regular-season prices for exhibitions? It's a sham and a shame. Der and Tiedeman, having a feel for what the public prefers, could show the NFL how to proceed if it needs guidance.

With all deference to getting a $10 ticket, which meant it was reduced 50 percent, the exhibition wasn't even worth that -- which means, under the circumstances, it was overpriced. The scoreboard result counted for absolutely nothing.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.