3 Reasons Why the Middle Class Can’t Afford NFL Games Anymore

Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

Sunday is a day of rest and football. What better way to end the week than to watch your favorite NFL team host their divisional foes while you indulge in stadium beer and hotdogs? The obvious answer: stay home and save hundreds of dollars by watching the game from home.

These days, middle-class Americans are stripping their budgets of costly discretionary items like NFL tickets. The total number of NFL fans attending games has declined from 20.3 million in 2011 to 18.2 million in 2014, according to The Business Side of Sports. In fact, the number of fans attending the average NFL game in 2011 reached its lowest level since 1998. Several factors are at play, but there are at least three major reasons why the middle class can’t afford NFL games anymore.

1. Ticket prices

If football is a game of inches, then watching football is a game of dollar signs. The average price for a non-premium seat hit $85.83 in 2015, according to Team Marketing Report. However, that price is likely a pipe-dream unless you purchased your tickets when they first went on sale. Ticket prices on the secondary market can cost as much as your car payment. TiqIQ finds the average home ticket on the secondary market costs about $214, with prices ranging from $125.45 to see the Kansas City Chiefs to $432.09 in order to cheer on the Seattle Seahawks. The Dallas Cowboys, Green Bay Packers, New England Patriots, Chicago Bears, and Denver Broncos all average more than $300 for tickets.

If that didn’t hurt the wallet enough, ticket prices are only the beginning of your Sunday Funday. If you want to park your car at the stadium, or eat and drink something, that will cost extra. Team Marketing Report also produces the NFL Fan Cost Index (FCI), which calculates the cost to take a family of four to a game, which includes four tickets, two beers, four soft drinks, four hot dogs, parking, two programs, and two adult-sized hats. It  assumes you were lucky enough to avoid the secondary market for tickets. In 2015, the FCI hit $480.89. The San Francisco 49ers have the highest FCI at $640, followed by the Dallas Cowboys ($634.80) and New York Giants ($629.62).

2. Broke

Ticket prices don’t tell the whole story. Truth be told, ticket prices wouldn’t be so bad if the middle class wasn’t trying to catch its breath. Wages have yet to show meaningful growth in recent years and the cost of living never seems to decline. Research from the Economic Policy Institute shows the greatest real wage losses over the past two years come from workers with a college or advanced degree. Workers with a four-year college degree saw their hourly wages fall 1.3% from 2013 to 2014. Those with an advanced degree saw a 2.2% hourly wage decline.

You know the situation is dire when even workers with decent incomes can’t afford to skip a paycheck, let alone NFL tickets. Nearly one-third of households making $75,000 or more a year live paycheck-to-paycheck at least sometimes. In the past year, 30 million Americans tapped their retirement savings for an emergency fund, according to a Bankrate survey. Thirty percent of respondents also feel less comfortable with their savings now than compared to a year earlier. Consumers don’t like spending money on luxuries when they’re not feeling good about themselves financially.

3. Other priorities

Spending money involves prioritizing your needs and wants, and football is losing the battle. More than one in three Americans say their top financial priority is managing the bills and staying current on living expenses, according to Bankrate. This has been the top priority for four consecutive years. Fans attending games may not be able to truly afford their tickets either, considering paying down debt is the second highest priority.

The NFL may have a difficult time attracting younger generations to stadiums. Screen time is more important than game time in our digital world. Smartphones are now a staple in most households. Nearly half of American smartphone users say they can’t imagine life without their devices, and two-thirds of Americans own at least two digital devices – smartphone, desktop or laptop computer, or a tablet. A third own all three. This was once discretionary income that might have been spent on experiencing the game from the stands.

Conveniently, consumers don’t have to look up from these screens to watch the big game. DirectTV’s NFL Sunday Ticket is available to stream without a satellite dish, Sling TV provides ESPN and ESPN 2 to devices, and NFL Mobile on Verizon lets Verizon customers stream many local and national NFL games to their phones. If you have a cable subscription, NBC will stream Sunday Night Football, four playoff games, and Superbowl 50 to your devices. Of course, there’s always your big-screen TV, too.

Nothing can duplicate the energy of a stadium, but given the cost of attending and ease of staying home, not sitting at your favorite team’s colosseum may be worth it, especially for the middle class.

Follow Eric on Twitter @Mr_Eric_WSCS

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