Variable Pricing Comes with Promise, Hurdles

The Packers are among the NFL teams considering setting ticket prices based on the quality of the matchup.

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Many NFL teams are following the leads of other sports — dropping prices for less desirable games while jacking up costs for the biggest matchups.

"The reality is not every game is created equal," said Jennifer Ferron, senior vice president of marketing and brand development for the New England Patriots.

In cold-weather cities, games in December may be less attractive than those in early fall. Weeknight games pose more of a challenge to fans who must work the next morning. It's tougher to sell or re-sell tickets to games between bad teams where no rivalry is involved.

Variable pricing already is used in Major League Baseball, the NBA and NHL. After several years of study, half the NFL clubs are making the move this season, particularly with preseason games.

"The advantage to the league is we have season ticket members that are more satisfied with their NFL experience. That's clearly our priority," said Brian Lafemina, the NFL's senior vice president for club business development.

Seven teams use variable pricing for season tickets and single-game tickets — Arizona, Buffalo, Detroit, New England, Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Seattle.

Nine use it only for single-game tickets — Atlanta, Jacksonville, Kansas City, Miami, Minnesota, the New York Jets, St. Louis, San Diego, and Tennessee

How are they doing?

"Anecdotally, it has certainly been seen as a positive from season ticket members," Lafemina said. "There really haven't been any negative implications yet and I don't think there will be."

The Green Bay Packers are one of the teams looking into variable pricing and likely will use it next season.

"Over the evolution of the game and the preseason, preseason games are just a lot different than they were 15-20 years ago," Packers President Mark Murphy said. "Starters play fewer minutes. The feedback that I've gotten from fans is, with the face value as high as it is, for preseason it's hard for them to re-sell them.

"I think if we lowered the price for preseason it would help fans."

With NFL ticket buyers now exposed to the plans, it could become easier for them to be satisfied with future increases for games in one price tier while others remain unchanged.

For now, "I don't think you can infer that any pricing increase was due to variable pricing," Lafemina said.

The Patriots charged $117 for each of 10 games for certain seats last season. Now those seats cost $57 for each of two preseason games, $117 for four regular-season games and $147 for the other four. The total cost, $1,170, is unchanged.

For the Chargers, "the varying of single-game prices provides an opportunity to more closely align face value and market value, which should improve sales," chief executive officer A.G. Spanos said.

The Bills have three regular-season tiers for their most expensive seats — $130 for the "gold" level against New England and Miami, $112 for "silver" games against San Diego, Minnesota, the Jets and Green Bay and $99 for "bronze" games against Cleveland and Kansas City. The top price for those seats for each regular-season game last year was $102.

"So far so good," Bills chief marketing officer Marc Honan said. "We're seeing the games we thought would move are moving well."

In Miami, it costs $80 to $165 in section 430 in the upper deck to watch the season opener against the Patriots. If you wait to see the Chargers on Nov. 2, that cost would range from $41 to $71.

Tom Garfinkel took over as the Dolphins' chief executive officer last summer and made it a priority to increase attendance in a stadium that has had more than 10,000 empty seats in recent years.

The Packers don't have trouble selling seats, with people waiting years to get season tickets. The added challenge is that the team has a separate season package for Milwaukee-area residents, who make a two-hour trip north to get to games.

They typically get the second and fifth games of the season, no matter the opponent. But in a variable pricing structure, the strength of an opponent would have more weight.

Would that package cost more if the opponents were the division-rival Bears and Vikings? Would it cost less if the two opponents were less desirable, non-conference teams?

"A little bit of an issue somewhat with the variable pricing is kind of accurately predicting what games are worth more in terms of face value," Murphy said.

The Patriots have done that analysis.

They decided that watching the rival Jets in mid-October this season is worth more than possibly driving on snowy roads for the last regular-season game against Buffalo three days after Christmas.

"We felt like we had enough data to make some educated decisions," Ferron said. "We haven't received any negative feedback."



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