In two tables within Chapter 3 of my book Football Fortunes, there is some financial information about American sports leagues and their teams. One table contains these leagues’ Fan Cost Index (FCI) and Average Ticket Price (ATP) for 10 years (or seasons) beginning in 1991, while the other table denotes the FCIs of all NFL teams during this period.
A sports marketing publishing company named Team Marketing Report (TMR) prepared and listed this data, which I read online and then copied from the company’s website. To my knowledge, TMR is the only business organization in the world that publishes this type of information each year from surveys of sports leagues and teams, and statistics from media reports.
As developed by TMR, a FCI consists of four average ticket prices, two small draft beers, four small soft drinks, four regular-size hot dogs, parking fee for one car, two game programs, and two least expensive, adult-size adjustable caps. As such, it measures what a family of four sports fans spent for tickets and other items to attend a regular-season game played by professional baseball, basketball, football, and hockey teams of specific leagues.
In the following tables, I list two different types of data: Table 1 provides the FCIs, when calculated and available, of four leagues for alternate sports seasons and these seasons’ averages during the 1990s and early 2000s, and Table 2 indicates costs of seven items in the NFL’s FCIs and their season totals. To be consistent across sports leagues and seasons, amounts in tables appear in rounded even or odd dollars and not fractions of dollars. For example, the NFL’s FCI was $151 per game in 1991 while the costs of two programs for a family of four were equal to $6 or $3 per program. Based on this information, what do these tables reveal about trends and the expenditures of fans at games?
Fan Cost Indexes, by Sports League, Selected Seasons
League 1991 1993 1995 1997 1999 2001 2003 2005 2007 2009 2011
MLB 76 90 97 105 121 145 148 164 176 196 197
NBA 141 168 192 214 266 277 261 267 281 289 NA
NFL 151 173 206 221 258 303 301 329 367 412 427
NHL NA NA 203 228 267 274 256 249 282 300 326
Avg NA NA 174 192 228 249 241 251 276 299 NA
Note: The leagues are Major League Baseball (MLB), the National Basketball Association (NBA), the National Football League (NFL), and the National Hockey League (NHL). Amounts are in nominal (unadjusted for inflation) United States dollars. Avg is the average FCI each season except in 1991, 1993, and 2011. NA means FCIs were not available from TMR for these leagues.
Source: Team Marketing Report, a company based in Wilmette, Illinois, that organizes and reports the FCIs of these sports leagues and their teams.
According to Table 1, the percentage growth in FCIs ranged from a high of 183 percent for the NFL (1991–2011) to a low of 60 percent for the NHL (1995–2011). This large difference in percentages between the leagues indicates, in part, that NFL teams and vendors of beer and other items sold at games had relatively more pricing power and demand for their products from fans than their counterparts did in the other leagues.
Second, MLB’s FCIs increased throughout seasons while the other three leagues had their FCIs decline in 2003 relative to 2001, and the NHL in 2005 relative to 2003. Simply put, these changes occurred primarily during the early 2000s because of an economic recession in America, decreases in consumer confidence and thus spending due to higher unemployment and underemployment in the labor force, and declining prices in stock markets.
Third, differences in their FCIs significantly increased after 1999 between the NFL and other leagues. Indeed, NFL teams in regular-season games and playoffs became increasingly competitive within divisions of conferences, and therefore they were very popular among sports fans and the broadcast and print media. In addition, there were various scandals associated with athletes and other problems in MLB and the NBA, while a player’s strike and owner’s lockout cancelled a season in the NHL. In short, these reasons reveal why FCIs increased in dollars in the NFL more than in other leagues during the 2000s and likely in sports seasons of the 2010s and 2020s.
Total Cost of Items in FCIs, NFL Games, Selected Seasons
Item 1991 1993 1995 1997 1999 2001 2003 2005 2007 2009 2011
Tickets (4) 101 114 136 150 182 215 211 234 268 300 309
Beers (2) 6 7 8 8 9 10 11 12 12 13 14
Drinks (4) 6 7 9 9 9 11 12 13 14 16 17
Hot Dogs (4) 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 17 19
Parking (1) 6 6 7 10 11 14 14 15 17 24 26
Programs (2) 6 7 9 9 10 11 10 10 10 10 9
Caps (2) 19 24 28 25 26 30 30 31 31 32 33
Total 151 173 206 221 258 303 301 329 367 412 427
Note: Like FCIs, prices of items are in nominal (unadjusted for inflation) United States dollars. According to TMR, the average number of items a family of four fans purchased at an NFL regular-season game appears in parentheses.
Source: Team Marketing Report, a company based in Wilmette, Illinois, measures the costs of these items each season for sports leagues and their teams.
Regarding the data listed in Table 2, there were interesting changes among specific items in the NFL’s FCIs. One, football teams’ ATP rose by $208 or more than 200 percent from the 1991 to 2011 season, and as a proportion of their total FCIs, they increased from 66 percent in 1991 to 72 percent in 2011. For sure, NFL franchises charged fans higher ticket prices for general admission to home games but also for premium and club seats, and any seats in skyboxes and suites in their stadium.
Two, there were major changes besides ticket prices in the costs of other items for fans who attended NFL games. From the most to least amounts in 1991 to 2011, they were $20 or 333 percent for parking, $14 or 74 percent for caps, $12 or 171 percent for hot dogs, $11 or 183 percent for drinks, $8 or 133 percent for beers, and $3 or 50 percent for programs. Interestingly, these six items were $50 or 34 percent of the NFL’s FCI in 1991 and $118 or 28 percent in 2011.
If trends in costs continue as they did in the 1990s and early 2000s, a family of four will pay approximately $800 to attend an NFL game in 2031. Of that amount, four tickets to one regular-season game will average $636. In response to these prices, a number of football fans living in such metropolitan areas as Boston, Chicago, Dallas, New York, San Francisco, and Washington D.C. may decide to buy fewer beers and other items when they attend home games while other fans will simply subscribe to the NFL Network and see their teams perform on television or the Internet.