Even during the years when the Broncos played more like plow horses, the seeds of Orangemania were taking root. Denver fans flocked to watch their then-Orange popsicles in such numbers that in 1974 the City and County of Denver added 20,000 seats to Mile High Stadium at a cost of $25 million.
The Broncos still sold out their newly refurbished, 75,086-capacity, taxpayer-owned stadium - on a season-ticket-only basis and with ticket prices near the top of the National Football League. And they have sold out every year since.
it is all any franchise - and Denver is one of the NFL's most profitable - could ask for.
But not all they did ask for. Despite tickets that now average more than $11, the spacious stadium and an expanded regular-season scheduled next year of eight (rather than seven) games, the Broncos recently decided to require season-ticket purchasers to pay also for one of the two home exhibition games as part of their package.
It is a classic case of monopoly gouging. But it is legal, and the risks are minimal.
Peter Gruenstin is executive director of the sports consumer group, F.A.N.S. (Fight to Advance that Nation's Sports).
As one Denver sports columnist recently put it: "Complain to Mountain Bell and they'll tear out your telephone. Yell to the Broncos and they'll give the tickets to somebody else. Bronco backers would rather out up their kids for adoption than let go of those tickets."
But one need not look 2,000 miles west to find the kind of anticonsumer practices that result from a legally sanctioned, unregulated, taxpayer-subsidized monopoly. Just look Northeast, toward Robert F. Kennedy Stadium.
Like Mile High Stadium, Rfk is taxpayer owned, except that it is a federal facility (actually a part of the national park system).
Like the Broncos' Redskin tickets are expensive - up to $20, an average of $12.65 - and, for regular season, are sold exclusively on a season-ticket basis. If you wanted to buy average-priced tickets for your family of four, it would run about $600. That is, if tickets were available.
If you are one of Washington's football elite, the next time you go to a Redskin game look around. When I went to the Cowboy game last year (the first Redskin game I'd been to in the seven years I've lived in the area), I fellow fans. The vast majority appeared - of my fellow fans. The vast majority appeared affluent; less than five percent - in a city in which whites are a minority - were black.
Monopoly is the reason Redskins and Broncos, and other NFL teams, can indulge in such exclusionary and profitable policies with virtual impunity.
The Redskins have an exclusive franchise on a product - NFL football - in great demand in the Washington area. There are about 2.5 million persons in the Washington area, perhaps half of whom are potential Redskins customers. The club knows that it can price 95 percent of its fans out of the stadium and still fill the 55,031 seats at exotbitant prices.
In taking maximum advantage of their monopoly status, the Redskins and other teams are simply pursuing their self-interest - if frequently with a vengeance. Thus, the mere expressions of moral outrage at legal business practices which are demonstrably profitable is ineffective, if not misdirected.
What is irksome, however, is that we - sports consumers, taxpayers, public officials - have permitted such practices. Worse, we have subsidized and otherwise encourage them.
How easy ot would have been for Denver to required the Broncos, as a precondition to adding the 20,000 new seats, to offer at least a portion of those seats for sale on an individual game basis.
How appropriate it would have been for the Armory Board to have certain standards for ticket prices as part of the lease agreement with the Redskins. (Imagine the howis of protest if the Interior Department leased the hotel concession to Yellowstone Park to a company that charged a minimum of $50 for a room and required at least a week's stay.)
As lease come up for renrgotiation and renewal, such oversights are remedial. But it requires a growing relization on the part of both fans and public officials that our tax-supported teams should be community assets in more than just a psychic sense.