With any rebound in the national economy not expected for six months, at the earliest, the Green Bay Packers announced on Wednesday that they are holding the line on ticket prices.
The Packers generally have raised ticket prices every other year, with their last increase coming in 2007.
"We felt this was appropriate for our ticket holders," Packers President Mark Murphy said on the team's Web site. "We're sensitive to the situation many of our fans may be in, and hopefully holding prices is helpful to them. We're all going through this together and everyone is taking measures to deal with the situation they find themselves in, both at an individual and business level."
The state of the economy was a hot topic at the just-completed Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.
"I'm worried as an American that everything is hurting, and we're not immune to it," Colts President Bill Polian said on Sunday.
According to the Packers, their average ticket price in the bowl of $64 ranks somewhere in the lower third in the league. The team likes to remain somewhere between there and the midpoint to be fair to visiting teams, since ticket revenue is shared.
Even the nation's premier professional sport hasn't been immune to the steep economic downturn. The NFL cut 169 of approximately 1,100 jobs at its central offices in New York City, as well as at NFL Films, NFL Network and NFL.com, and Commissioner Roger Goodell on Thursday voluntarily took a 20 percent cut of his $11 million he collects yearly in salary and bonuses.
"We have not yet seen the full effects of the recession in this industry, as the commissioner said last week, because the washthrough of sponsorships and things like that have not really hit us yet, and ticket sales are yet to be tabulated," said Polian, whose team laid off 25 employees last month. "Right now, it's a murky picture except that we know the rest of the country is suffering badly."
Clearly, the Packers are immune to declining ticket sales. With a season-ticket waiting list of about 57,000, the economy would have to take a catastrophic turn. Plus, national TV contracts are in place. But, as Murphy told Packer Report last month, sales are down at the Pro Shop. Sponsorships could be an issue, too, with no businesses able to avoid the economic turmoil.
"We're fortunate to have great relationships with our sponsors," Murphy said. "They value being teammates with the Packers and our fans, and we'll continue working with our sponsors to help them maximize the relationship. We ask our fans to be supportive of our sponsors, too."
Executives in Indianapolis were split on whether the economic problems were impacting their search for talent.
"That's very important to us, our scouting, and that's a strong part of what we do, our scouting and our player personnel," Giants general manager Jerry Reese said. "We haven't made a lot of cuts but we have trimmed a little fat as far as maybe some extra guys coming out here to the Combine. We're looking closely at our budget in that respect."
On the other hand, Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome knows you have to spend money to make money.
"We feel like if you win, you can get people in the stands," He said. "If we're going to spend money, we're going to spend money on acquiring players. That's (owner Steve Bisciotti's) philosophy, because if you're winning, you have a chance to balance your books, as we did this year getting to the AFC championship game."
What does all of this mean on the football field? For one, it just adds to the rancor building between the league and the players union, with a labor showdown possible after the 2009 season. Teams say the economy will impact their spending on the players. Hogwash, has been the union's retort, because the big revenue stream — TV contracts — has been established.
"Those numbers might be the same, but then you have to look at the overall revenue streams," Texans general manager Rick Smith said. "Our industry is affected by the economy just by revenue issues. Some of those numbers may be consistent. But other numbers aren't, generating revenue locally and with advertisers. You look at some of the people we're in business with as a league and some of the struggles they're having, that stuff impacts our league."
Free agency begins on Friday, and, according to NFL.com, the salary cap has expanded from $116 million in 2008 to $127 million in 2009. The vast majority of teams are far, far below that cap, including the Packers, who are about $28 million under the cap, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Tom Silverstein.
Titans general manager Mike Reinfeldt, a former Packers executive and a native of Baraboo, Wis., says the economy will impact how teams spend in free agency.
"I think the economy affects all of us today," he said. "My own feeling on free agency is I think at some point, I think it hurts the second wave of free agency. I'm not sure it impacts the major, the big players. I think it's the second wave. I think the door is going to close much quicker. When all the crazy deals are getting done — before it was two or three weeks, maybe it is a week now. I think the whole thing shuts down much quicker."
Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Lambeau Level forum.