The smile plastered on Ted Rogers' face after finalizing the deal to bring NFL football to Toronto has now probably faded to a mere grimace after seeing the results of ticket sales for the series' first game. Rogers and his mega-buck empire wanted to make the "Toronto Series" a money-making venture of epic proportions, which it is, and probably will continue to be. But so far, this experiment up North isn't what people expected.
Since the series was announced in February, there has been tremendous buildup from organizers, making it into a can't-miss event that fans would pay any price to see. Their thinking was that Toronto is a booming, wealthy city and they could charge mind-boggling prices and people would pay them for tickets. Wealthy, they may be, but Torontonians are no morons. Who in their right mind would pay upwards of $180 to see a preseason game?
And that's just the average price for a ticket. Some VIP tickets have a price tag of $350-$575. The cheapest seats, located in the upper-decks, are going for $70-$105, which is $20 dollars more than the typical ticket at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
The game against Pittsburgh last week had an announced crowd of 48,434, which is believed to be somewhat inflated due to the fact that series officials said they had to give away 2,500 tickets on Monday to "sell-out" the game and lift the TV blackout. 2,500 is the number given by organizers, it is believed that the actual number of tickets given away was closer to six times that amount, nearly 15,000 tickets.
What happened to the waiting list of over 180,000 people wanting tickets to the series?
Series organizers were quick to give out that number, and tell us this was going to be a big money, VIP experience for Toronto fans. Well, now it's quite obvious that these prices are far too high and maybe Rogers and Co. would be wise to cut the prices to the remaining games. Isn't this about building fan interest anyways? Well, the fans will be much more interested if they didn't have to take out a second mortgage on their house just to go see a Bills game.
There are still seven more games to be played in Toronto – three of them being actual, regular season games. So it's still far too early to label the Toronto Series a failure. However this is a great sign for Bills fans that want to see the team stay in Buffalo. If organizers are outpricing even the rich in Toronto, how can they generate enough interest and desire to draw the team up North? This could be a statement from Canadian and American fans alike that Toronto doesn't want or need an NFL team.
Again, it's much too early for that kind of talk, but it's something to keep in mind for the remainder of the series.
This could also be a warning sign for other billionaires looking to cash in on the NFL in coming years. Jerry Jones is looking to fetch mondo-dollars for seats in his new stadium for the Cowboys. Season ticket holders there will be looking at even higher prices, with the requirement to buy a Personal Seat License for between $16,000 and $150,000 in addition to the tickets every year. Tickets for the new Giants stadium will most likely have similar pricing, and these teams should be careful not to outprice themselves like they are in Toronto.
It's a real turn-off to fans when they see what the NFL is turning into: a money-making machine that is alienating some fans because of astronomical prices. It's a sad day when even the rich are saying prices are too high and they'd rather watch the game from home. I think it's time the league started finding ways to keep its fans onboard. Only time will tell if the integrity of the NFL can actually withstand the alluring power of the dollar and the downside that comes with it.