By Jason Notte
Think a seat in front of a giant flatscreen with a full slate of games and coffee table loaded with snacks is the best seat in the house this year? You obviously haven't seen the NFL's luxury seats and suites.
If you want to draw large corporations into your stadium and the big money that comes with them, it helps to throw in a private apartment, food from top chefs and free beer every so often. Three-quarters of U.S. sports teams have either built or remodeled their venues in the past two decades with an eye toward increased luxury options. With suites contributing 5 percent to 20 percent of total team revenue, those high-paying playpens and other swanky seating areas have become necessities for teams looking to boost the bottom line.
We took a look around the league, consulted average luxury seating prices for NFL stadiums as compiled by Team Marketing Report and came up with pro football's top places for luxury pampering. From endless gourmet food to time on the field, these seats get corporate and well-heeled fans into the game even when the gridiron action isn't so great:
Average premium ticket price: $246.17
So Peyton Manning's gone, the team went 2-14 last year and rookie quarterback Andrew Luck gets the ball to start the 2012 season. Who wants seconds at the nacho bar? Back when Manning was slinging the ball to Reggie Wayne and guiding the Colts to the Super Bowl, it was a whole lot easier to pack Lucas Oil Field's 137 suites. Now those personal televisions between each showing of DirecTV's NFL Sunday Ticket are a much bigger perk for fans in the stadium's dozen super suites, while the 10 feet between fans and the end zone in the stadium's eight field suites may be a bit too close for comfort this year.
Average premium ticket price: $254.56
The Colts aren't the only team depending on a rookie quarterback to sell hundreds of luxury suites. Robert Griffin III could use more than the Hooters Club's wings and the Montecristo Club's cigars to help sell luxury tickets this year, considering how much higher the stakes are. The team has already suffered through a string of mediocre at best seasons and dropped seating capacity from more than 91,000 in 2010 to 83,000 last year. This year, capacity drops to just 79,000 after the team removed seats to put in a standing-room-only "party deck" while the top suites get some renovations.
Average premium ticket price: $260.17
A team on the rise, a town stocked with Big Energy and Fortune 500 companies and a retractable roof stadium with more than 200 luxury suites to fill bodes well for corporate sports fans. Never mind the catering menus filled with taqueria, barbecue, beef, pralines and pecan bourbon pie: Giant suites between 1,000 and 1,300 square feet that pack in 60 to 100 people a pop are cushy digs for fans who want to see T.J. Yates, Arian Foster and Andre Johnson return to the postseason after last year's first-ever franchise playoff win.
Average premium ticket price: $275
Candlestick Park has roughly 70,000 seats, and only 2 percent are of the luxury variety. That's no way to host half of Silicon Valley or pry its tech prodigies from their piles of cash. Especially when the "perks" your suites tout include "excellent views of the field," "sliding windows" and VIP parking. Those are all great luxury box features ... for 1992. Perhaps the best amenity the 49ers offer for suiteholders is priority access to suites at the team's new stadium in Santa Clara when it opens in 2014. Santa Clara stadium is just a bunch of beams now, but the 49ers claim they've already sold roughly $140 million in luxury suites for it.
Average premium ticket price: $282.83
So Tim Tebow is gone after last year's playoff run. A capable coach in John Fox, a Hall-of-Fame quarterback in Peyton Manning and an eminently winnable AFC West should be more than enough to get people to shell out for premium seats, right? This team knows lean times all too well and offers its United Club members fireplace lounges, stone pizza ovens cranking out pies and calzones, flatscreens throughout the lounges and VIP parking and entrances if they pay enough. That $180 to $340 a game jumps to $450 to nearly $700 per person for suite packages that include all of that, parking passes, guest passes, private televisions with NFL Sunday Ticket and all-inclusive food and beverage.
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