Cheap food prices won't help Falcons' fans who can't afford PSLs

When it comes to a business’ most important areas, marketing and sales, the Falcons understand they are in a position of leverage. They have the best product in the Atlanta sports market. They’re moving into a new stadium with a roof seemingly imagined in an Isaac Asimov novel. They’re expected to be Super Bowl contenders again, notwithstanding a lingering hangover from the last one.

But the leverage the Falcons hold is leading to a completely new way of doing business in the Atlanta marketplace. While they’ve gone to great lengths to promote the cheap-eats menu at the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium, punctuated by $2 hot dogs, they’re mandating fans purchase season tickets and accompanying personal seat licenses (PSLs) that range from $500 to $45,000 per seat to get into that building, on top of the cost of admission ($55 to $385 per ticket).

There will be no sale of single-game tickets. This has been the Falcons’ public stance all along, but it never seemed realistic until now. They’ve sold approximately 55,000 of 61,000 available PSLs and they’re confident the final 6,000 will go in the next eight weeks.

So if you can’t afford PSLs and higher ticket prices, or prefer not to take out a home equity loan, or choose not to cut off a limb to pay for tickets on the secondary market, enjoy watching from home.

I understand this is a business. I'm not oblivious to the No. 1 rule of economics: supply and demand. The Falcons are the second-toughest ticket in the area, immediately behind Georgia football. But I'm struggling to understand the mindset of an image-conscious owner like Arthur Blank, who won’t hold back even 1,000 tickets per home game in a 71,000-seat stadium for sale to the general public.

Several fans have contacted me over recent months to complain about the Falcons’ intended policy. My response was consistent: Calm down, they won't follow through because this market won't support 61,000 PSL sales. But the response has been greater than I anticipated, presumably boosted by last year’s run to the Super Bowl. So point for Blank.

But how Blank and his minions can spend so much time saying they sympathize with fans’ struggling to pay high concession prices, then mandate they buy PSLs, pay increased ticket prices and presumably more expensive parking, seems contradictory.

Sherri Davis, a long-time fan from Covington, researched ticket prices on the secondary market and said, “What difference does it make if it’s $2 for a hot dog? If I’m going to pay $1,000 for two tickets, I should get the hot dog for free.”

Blank needs to recoup his investment in the $1.5 billion stadium. The PSL sales amount to more than $250 million. This will be on top of the $200 million for construction costs he received from an Atlanta hotel-motel tax.

But while the Braves' stadium deal has dominated attention for the past two years, it's worth repeating that the public investment into the Falcons' stadium goes far beyond $200 million. There is expected to be another several hundred million dollars in tax money that will be used to service the debt over 30 years, and pay for maintenance and stadium operations.

It’s also worth noting that while this technically is a public facility, Blank will receive all revenue from events in the stadium, beyond Falcons and Atlanta United games.

So let’s go easy on applause for $3 peanuts.

Davis attended two games in the Georgia Dome last season. She said she spent less than $200 per ticket for the season opener against Tampa Bay and over $200 for the Seattle playoff game on the first level. “If I paid the same for ticket now on Ticketmaster Ticket Exchange, I’m in the nosebleed seats,” she said.

“I was really looking forward to this season. I was all hyped about the new stadium and the video board and the cheap food. But if I can’t afford to get in, what good is it? I just can’t believe the average fan will be able to afford to get in any more. I’m disappointed. I guess I’ll just have to watch the games from my sofa.”

Michael Drake, who oversees Falcons' PSL sales as senior vice president and chief revenue officer for Blank’s AMB Sports and Entertainment, also handled ticket licensing for new stadiums for the Cowboys and the 49ers. Neither had a public sale of tickets. He said the 49ers sold individual game tickets in the second season, but only to PSL holders.

The New York Giants maintained there would be no single-game sales in their new stadium, but pulled back three weeks before the 2010 season and made a limited number of tickets available. Drake said the Falcons won’t do the same, “because at the end of the day, I’m not sure what we’re accomplishing by putting tickets out there. … It’s essentially what the secondary market does.”

He said the team has no interest in “managing” that business. That excuse rings hollow. More accurate is that the Falcons have backed themselves into a corner. If they have single-game sales now, they will anger people who bought season tickets in the belief it was the only way to get into the building.

Drake said people are free to purchase season tickets, then keep only one or two games and sell the rest. But that doesn’t satisfy the individual who can’t afford the up-front investment.

He understands why many fans are upset.

“It’s hard to satisfy everybody. If I had the ability to do that, it would be wonderful. But I’m not sure the single game offer satisfies everybody.”

Tickets for the Falcons’ home opener against Green Bay on Sept. 17 are predictably high on the secondary market: about $200 for upper-level end zone to several thousand dollars for prime seats on the first level. If the Falcons held back a limited number of tickets for individual games, it would not have a profound impact on the secondary market. But it would be a worthy gesture for a fan base that has suffered through more bad years than good ones.

Davis referenced the prices on Ticket Exchange, saying, “I get that people want to sell their tickets and make money. Scalping used to be illegal, but I guess the NFL is OK with that.”

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About the Author

Jeff Schultz
Jeff Schultz
Jeff Schultz is a general sports columnist and blogger who isn't afraid to share his opinion, which may not necessarily jibe with yours.