NFL: Cleveland Browns at Philadelphia Eagles
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Philly residents really can’t afford to go to an Eagles game

The last time Robin Clements went to an Eagles game she sat in the 11th row, midfield. It was a few years ago, and the Eagles beat the Cowboys.

Clements doesn’t remember the score, the top plays or even the exact year. She remembers details about the atmosphere: How you could actually hear the cheerleaders when you were that close to the field. How the players — she sat near the Eagles sideline — were so massive.

“I could almost touch them,” said Clements, who works at Scotty’s Bar in Point Breeze.

Clements is middle-aged and black and has lived in Philadelphia her entire life. But that last Eagles games she attended also happened to be her first. The only reason she went was because her daughter got the seats from a friend. Otherwise, she noted, there’s no way they could have afforded the tickets.   

Who can? At least in Philadelphia.

That NFL games are expensive is not a revelation. Ticket prices and parking fees have been rising at NFL stadiums across the country for decades.

But Philadelphia presents a slightly different problem. Tickets are more expensive here than all but a handful of other NFL cities, and the median income of Philadelphia is lower than any of America’s other top 10 largest cities and lower than all but six other NFL cities. That recipe means the Eagles have one of the least affordable tickets for average people in city they represent; the city in which the home stadium is located.

In other words, people like Clements aren’t alone. Dr. Keith Harrison is the associate program director of the DeVos Sports Business Management Graduate Program at the University of Central Florida. Harrison previously taught at Michigan and remembers a former custodial worker he befriended who was originally from Philadelphia. A die-hard Eagles fan, the man had never been to a game.   

“Why would you want to keep that type of loyalty out?” Harrison asked. “It excludes fans on fixed income.”

At list price, the cost of Eagles tickets could be a lot worse — some standing room only seats go for as low as $27.50. But the average price is $98.69, according to the sports marketing firm Team Marketing Report. That makes Eagles tickets the 10th-most expensive in the league. When considering the price of a ticket as a percentage of a city’s median income, of teams that are named after specific cities — unlike the New England Patriots or Arizona Cardinals — the Eagles rank sixth, with an average ticket price taking up .26 percent of Philadelphia’s median income of $37,460. The average percentage of median income taken up by a ticket league-wide is .20 percent. 

The prices for Eagles games are a step below those offered by, say the San Francisco 49ers and Washington Redskins, but the Eagles represent a city with a median income many steps below San Francisco and Washington DC, making the cost of that ticket a greater burden to an average resident.

If you’re curious about the share of median income taken up by an average ticket price for the actual city in which the NFL stadiums are located, the Eagles rank fourth, tied with the Browns. The Buffalo Bills’ stadium in suburb Orchard Park, N.Y., and the 49ers’ stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., cater to nearby fans with a median income double Philadelphia’s. The Bills, on average, charge less for tickets than the Eagles.

To those in the city, this is a problem. Another problem is face-value tickets — no matter what the price — are effectively unavailable.

The Eagles are too popular.

The great majority of tickets to Eagles games are for season ticket holders, who pay up to one thousand dollars per year for seats, and recent estimates peg the waitlist for season tickets as decades long. A few thousand single-game tickets go up for sale in May and immediately sell out, months before the season begins.

For people who don’t log on to Ticketmaster the minute those tickets become available or decide weeks before a given game they’d like to attend, the only available tickets are on second-hand markets like StubHub and the league-sponsored NFL Ticket Exchange. The rise of these secondhand sites has been a boon for someone who decides to buy last minute, but for in-demand games — like every Eagles game — they’re more expensive. If you wanted to buy the cheapest seat for the Eagles’ last home game, against the Vikings, you’d have been paying $150 for one standing-room-only ticket on StubHub. On the NFL Ticket Exchange, the lowest available early that week was $175 for a seat in the corner nosebleeds. For Sunday’s game against the Falcons, the least expensive tickets are a bit lower — $80 for standing room only on StubHub and $95 for nosebleeds on NFL Ticket Exchange. The cheapest tickets for the Eagles’ remaining home games are currently in the $100 or higher range. 

NFL: Seattle Seahawks at Philadelphia Eagles
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For the last several years the ticket-tracking website TiqIq has calculated the average for second-hand tickets and according to the site the average ticket price for Eagles games in 2015 was $230. That average ticket would represent .62 percent of the Philadelphia median household income in 2015. Only a handful of other teams had average ticket costs taking up a greater share of their respective cities’ median household incomes: the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks — two of the best teams in the league the last few years — as well as the Chicago Bears, Dallas Cowboys and Detroit Lions.

The lack of affordability for an average Philadelphian begs the question: How many of the Eagles fans we see in the stadium on Sundays are actually Philadelphia residents? The Eagles declined to provide ZIP code data on their season ticket holders, but the ticket prices are more manageable for the typical suburbanite. According to the Census data, the median household income for the Philadelphia Metro Area is $62,169. It’s as high as $86,000 in Chester County.

The ticket price as a share of median income for the Philadelphia Metro area is .16 percent — equal to the NFL average for this metric. 

Still, Lawrence Cohen, a professor of sport management at Drexel and expert on ticket sales, expects Philadelphia is well represented at Eagles games. He used to work in the ticket sales department for the Sixers, the Anaheim Mighty Ducks and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and said professional teams generally see the most fans from areas in closest proximity to stadiums and try to build a following from the city they represent and the outlying suburbs.  

“I think all teams probably view themselves as regional teams,” Cohen said. “And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. Somebody who lives out in Cherry Hill, they’ll say they’re from Philadelphia. [Teams are] certainly cognizant of trying to have good relations with that city, the city specifically, and a lot of them do tremendous community relations efforts.”  

Lincoln Financial Field
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Harrison said NFL and other pro sports teams have been marketing themselves better to other underrepresented groups at stadiums, such as minorities and women. The Los Angeles Rams, in an effort to find new fans in the franchise’s return to the region after years in Saint Louis, have tried to reach out to the Hispanic community in many ways.

For lower income fans, it’s difficult mainly because offering discounted tickets makes little business sense when they’re already in such high demand. In other sports, the trend of dynamic ticket pricing has picked up, allowing teams to charge lower prices for tickets to games not in high demand. That won’t happen at Eagles games, where basically every seat has been gobbled up months in advance. With only eight home games, every one is in demand.   

Harrison said the relatively recent trend of opening up areas of a stadium for standing room only seats has been one way to cater to lower-income fans. Lincoln Financial Field has about 500 of these standing room only tickets, according to a team spokesperson. That’s more than many of their peers. MetLife Stadium — home of the New York Giants and New York Jets — doesn’t offer standing room areas. The Green Bay Packers offer about 300 for certain games at Lambeau Field and the Jacksonville Jaguars, who have long struggled to even fill up their stadium, putting banners over the upper deck for years, offer 150.

But like every other section at the Linc, standing room only tickets sell out fast. None appear to be available for the remainder of this season’s games except for above $100 on secondhand ticket sites. The count of 500 is fewer than standing room tickets offered by the San Francisco 49ers (1,500) and the Detroit Lions (1,500).

At Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, the Cowboys offer up to 35,000 standing room only tickets per game. They call them Party Passes. Tickets are available at the face value of $29 for almost every game, less than half the price of parking at Jerry’s World.

NFL: Preaseason-New York Jets at Philadelphia Eagles
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On a national level, lower-income households are less likely to watch the NFL on TV. Far less is known about the socioeconomic status of the people filling the stadiums. Harrison said no major studies have been done on income levels of fans at sporting events, and NFL teams haven’t always been forthcoming with releasing relevant data they may have.

“This issue is something I’m going to mention to them,” said Harrison, who consults for professional sports teams, “because we need some good baseline data.”

The Eagles offer plenty of inexpensive football-related activities throughout the year. Open practices are free in the summer, as is the Linc’s annual NFL Draft party. They also donate tickets to community groups every game.

But for average Philadelphians a regular season game remains far from their grasp. Talk to most anyone at Scotty’s Bar. These are people like Jerry Simms, who often flock to watch games at Scotty’s or host friends to watch them, and they’ll tell you about the handful of times, at most, they attended a game.

The reality for the near future is tickets will be unaffordable for the average resident of this city, but Philadelphians can always dream otherwise.

“Everybody,” Simms said, “wishes they were lower.”   

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