NFL Braces For Biggest Attendance Drop Since ‘98

This week a high-ranking NFL executive predicted that average league attendance would drop for a third consecutive year, falling to levels last seen in 1998.

AllTel Stadium Ad Over Seats In Jacksonville

(Attendance so bad in Jax that Jags regularly sell tarps over seats as ad space)

Michael McCarthy of USA TODAY reports executive vice president of NFL Ventures and Business Operations Eric Grubman attributed the downtown to the struggling economy and the improved home-viewing experience - but not ticket prices.

NFL ticket sales are projected to drop 1% to 2% this season with season ticket sales getting hit the hardest, losing 5%. Though single-game ticket sales, partial season ticket plans and online ticket brokering is expected to make up some of the shortfall.

That downtrend probably isn’t coincidence considering that while the national unemployment rate nears 10%, Team Marketing Report recently noted that the NFL’s average ticket price rose 4% to $75 last season.

But while average in-game attendance is falling off, television viewership is taking off.  USA Today:

For the 2009 season, the league drew its biggest audiences in 20 years. Regular season games were watched by an average 16.6 million viewers, up 2 million from the season before, and the highest number since the pre-Internet days of 1990.

But fans are often caught in a Catch-22 with the league’s blackout policy. If an NFL team’s game isn’t sold out, the NFL blocks the network telecast from airing in the corresponding city.

That cruel cycle resulted in 22 blackouts last season - more than double the number (8) from the 2008 season.

As the home-viewing experience becomes more sophisticated - and lucrative - for the league, one wonders if a rollback of the NFL’s long-held blackout policy might gain consideration in future years.

Though most owners would probably still scoff at the notion, if in-game attendance is really that integral to the NFL’s business plan, why isn’t the league rolling back ticket prices in a proactive effort to bring fans back to the stadiums?