As long as the colors red and blue have been synonymous with political dividing lines, they have had a prominent place in sports history. The colors famously divided hockey fans. Of the same team. "Red seats suck, red seats suck" was the chant directed by blue-seated New York Rangers fans toward the inhabitants of the more expensive, red section seats. In today’s world, this chant might have different lyrics: "Thank you, red seats, thank you, red seats." How could this be? It's economics: The more luxury suites there are, the lower ticket prices can be in the near future for the rest of us.
Sports teams' economics have changed. The days when gate receipts accounted for the bulk of a team's income are long gone. The most successful teams are driving more revenue through broadcasting rights, licensing rights, sponsorships and, yes, more luxurious corporate suites. New stadium construction is seeing 20 percent of seating allocated to club and premium seats. NFL stadiums in particular are seeing lucrative opportunities with premium seating. Cowboys Stadium produces approximately $115 million from its 320 luxury suites and 15,000 premium seats alone. In their new stadium, the 49ers will add 9,000 club seats that they never had before.
In this new economic order, the increased revenue from suits-in-suites gives teams the opportunity to re-value the diehard, face-painted, not-so-polite chanting fan. Why? Because the corporate luxury suites and big sponsorship signage work best when they are the backdrop to rows and rows of enthusiastic, wild-eyed fans putting on their own show. In a world of multi-billion dollar broadcast rights deals, taxpayer-assisted new stadium construction, rising luxury box revenues -- diehard fan attendance still matters. And so does casual fan attendance.
From the NFL to the NBA to the MLB to the NHL -- the teams and their corporate sponsors are increasingly realizing that seats filled with cheering and jeering fans are an integral part of a team’s overall brand. Tribalism and ambiance go hand in hand. Part of the draw of live sports is the atmosphere and rowdiness created by fans who aren't sitting in the suites or box seats. Loud is better. Rowdy is good. Corporate sponsors want to be aligned with a brand that energizes communities and loyal fans.
The view from fans watching at home is also an important part of the overall team brand. Television broadcasters prefer stadiums and ballparks with fan-filled seats. Both the big screen home TV and the JumboTron need to see a sea of passionate, cheering fans. So diehard fans in the cheap seats, take solace in these facts: Television needs you. Luxury suites need you. So it's time for teams to re-value the worth of the diehard fan and use their growing non-gate revenue to make tickets more affordable to the everyday fan.
So everyday fan, the next time you're walking across multiple parking lots to get to the stadium and passing by the preferred parking for the luxury suite fans on your way in, change from resenting them to thanking them. Cheer up and paint up because that's the ticket to cheaper prices!