Why Jeff Lurie Is Squeezing Eagles Fans for More Money

Um, because he can.

The Eagles announced on February 1st that they’re raising ticket prices for the 2013 season, by an average of $8. Tickets that previously cost $70 will now run $75, with $95 tickets now going for $105.

The move, the team’s first price hike since 2009, drew the expected howls of anger from Eagles fans on talk radio, on Twitter, and in the region’s sports bars. How can the Eagles, and their billionaire owner, justify charging their fans more money, when they’re coming off their worst season in years and have done various things both large and small to alienate their fans?

From a public relations, fan relations, and purely moral standpoint, the move is pretty indefensible. Each time ticket prices rise, the team runs the risk of squeezing the little guy even more, and that’s a real concern.

But in pure economic terms, the move makes sense, for one simple reason: The vast majority of fans will pay the new price.

In a letter sent to season ticket holders by Eagles president Don Smolenski, the team implied that a reason for the increase is in order to pay for the new solar panels and other recent physical improvements to the stadium, but I don’t know that anyone believes that. Sports teams over the years have often engaged in huge spending sprees on players, and used that to justify subsequent ticket price hikes, but that’s not usually true either. The truth is, teams raise ticket prices all the time, and there’s usually little to no correlation between how good a season the team had the year before.

It comes down to simple economic theory. There’s a commodity (Eagles tickets), demand for that commodity outstrips supply, and therefore the business offering that commodity raised prices. There are only eight home games per year, not including pre-season and playoffs and, 2012 season notwithstanding, there are still more Eagles fans who want to go to games than there is room in the stadium.

That’s a phenomenon that’s as close to a constant as anything in Philadelphia sports: The Eagles always sell out every home game, and the waiting list for season tickets is always hundreds of names and many years deep. It doesn’t matter how badly the team plays, how many PR blunders they make, how angry people are at the coach or quarterback, or how catastrophic conditions are for either the economy or the weather. Such is the power of football, and of Philadelphia fandom.

Sure, there are fans, every year, who dump their season tickets due to personal financial circumstances, frustration with the team, anger about the acquisition of Michael Vick, Hoagiegate, or any of the dozens of other mini-scandals involving the Eagles in the past decade and a half. But there have always been other fans willing to take their place.

I’ve done an informal survey, the last couple of weeks, of people I know with Eagles season tickets. To a man, they’re upset about the price increase, and also to a man, they’ve not even considered getting rid of their tickets.

And yes, there were a whole lot of empty seats at the Linc the last few home games last season. But those tickets were still sold. The Eagles may have missed out on concession revenue in those games from all the people who no-showed, but they still sold out all the seats. And the promise of a new season, with a new coach, almost certainly means the 2013 home slate will be sold out as well. If the Eagles at some point have a 10-year run of losing, playoff-less seasons, perhaps that will change. But we’re a long way from that.

The Sixers have the opposite problem. They have way too many home dates and not nearly enough fan interest to fill all those seats. That’s what led to that story the other week in which a Sixers fan purchased an entire row—18 seats—on Stubhub, for four cents per seat. I’ve found over the years that if I want to get primo seats to a random Sixers game against a non-marquee team on a weeknight, I can almost always find them on Stubhub for a fraction of face value.

These days there are a lot of different ways to be a football fan. Some fans never go to games at all. I go to about one Eagles game a year, and am content most football Sundays to sit on the couch, watch three games, monitor the whole league and my fantasy team, and explain the finer points of the game to my two young kids. Some fans are weekly sports bar creatures, while others make it a ritual to tailgate all morning, attend the game, and spend the entire process doing copious amounts of eating and drinking.

Among all those groups, especially here in Philadelphia, there remain 68,000 or more whose preference is to go see their team in person, eight Sundays a year. An eight-game losing streak didn’t stop them, and a $10 per game price increase probably won’t either.