So why doesn’t the NFL, a league built on its incredible fan base and flush with cash, offer a substantial number of tickets — say, 10 percent — free through a lottery?
I’m not an idiot. I understand why they don’t. These tickets are sold for hundreds or thousands of dollars. An organization would have to be brain dead to cut off such a source of revenue.
But the NFL should be able to see that what marginal cash amount they give up in revenue would be a worthy token of gratitude to the fans — and negligible compared to the good publicity a lottery would generate at time when good PR has been in short supply. It seems like this year’s ratings slump was mostly due to election drama, but that doesn’t change the fact that the future of the NFL is precarious.
The problems facing the NFL could fill several columns. A congressional inquiry found that the league tried to “improperly influence” a National Institutes of Health study of concussions, a cruelly rational move considering the spate of suicides among former players connected to brain damage incurred while playing in the NFL. Day-to-day, there’s more concern with punishing end zone celebrations than drunken driving, domestic abuse or sexual assault.
Giving away Super Bowl tickets wouldn’t address these problems, though it may assuage their effect: declining popularity, ergo declining viewership and declining revenue.
The cost to the NFL would be relatively low. In the past 10 years, the average Super Bowl attendance has been about 75,000. Giving away 7,500 tickets (10 percent) at $1,000 (the lower end of a ticket’s face value) would cost the league $7.5 million.
That’s about a quarter of NFL commissioner and thinker-in-chief Roger Goodell’s annual salary. Or a fraction of one percent of the NFL’s total revenue. Or 45 seconds of Super Bowl ad time. Or half of what the league spent investigating deflated footballs. Or 0.001 percent of Cowboy’s owner Jerry Jones’s net worth. A free ticket lottery is hardly asking the NFL to give the jersey off its back.
A Super Bowl lottery is not only the right thing to do — it’s also a shrewd business decision for an organization whose attempts to generate good will have often ended up doing the opposite. Consider the pink cleats, gloves and wristbands players sport each October for breast cancer awareness, which they swap for camo-patterned gear the following month for the NFL’s “Salute to Service.” Both campaigns have managed to backfire on the league — a small fraction of sales from pink NFL merchandise goes to breast cancer awareness, and it eventually came out that the Department of Defense actually paid the NFL millions for their partnership. (The league later paid back more than $700,000.) And then there was the NFL’s multimillion-dollar anti-domestic violence efforts, which ended up coming under scrutiny after its selected partner organization seemed unable to answer questions about its finances or what it actually does.
A lottery would be more straightforward. Lottery winners could have film crews record their journey to the game. It’s sympathetic if Ronald Williams, UPS deliveryman, father of three and Falcons die-hard from small-town Georgia gets to see the team he loves play in the Super Bowl. It doesn’t feel right that Ronald is less of a “partner” to the NFL than corporate executives in glass-walled suites who couldn’t name five players on either team.
Naturally, the NFL has a convoluted system for Super Bowl ticket distribution. About a third of the tickets are split between the two Super Bowl teams, 5 percent go to the hosting team, and a little more than a third is divvied out among the league’s other 29 teams. From here, the tickets are given to season ticket holders and those connected to the organization. Another quarter is retained by the NFL, to be given to media members, sponsors and other influence peddlers. Ick.
Just 1 percent of tickets are sold to the public through a lottery. For $500. If Ronald should be so lucky as to win the existing lottery, he still can’t afford to take his family to the Super Bowl for $2,500.
Ultimately, the league needs to decide whether it is beneficial in the long term to be so boldly (and coldly) money-hungry. If giving back seems unlikely to compel the NFL to take action, they should consider this as a slightly subtler revenue-generating opportunity.
More than a third of all Americans will be tuned into the Super Bowl next month. You can bet that millions of these fans would kill to be at the game.
This is a league that is built on the back of Ronalds across the country. I faithfully trek downtown every Sunday to see my beloved Patriots dominate on a big plasma screen. Why not acknowledge and appreciate the many hands that feed you with a simple “I see you”?