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Selling the Saints

New Orleans does not have the wealth or the population it once had, so it stands to reason that demand for Saints football games has dropped. That does not mean that the stands will be empty next year: textbook economics implies merely that the profit-maximizing price for tickets will fall.

Somehow though, the fact that the Saints have sold 55,000 season tickets for next year strikes people as a surprise. Here is Jimmy Smith, writing in the Times-Picayune:

Observers of NFL marketing trends and economics expressed amazement that the Saints have sold nearly 55,000 season tickets for this season, given the general enmity that existed between fans and the team, the uncertainty of the club's future in New Orleans and the post-Katrina economic conditions.

"I think it probably came as a surprise that tickets have sold so well," said Becky Wallace, executive editor of Team Marketing Report, a Chicago-based trade journal that tracks pricing and attendance trends in sports nationwide. "That's to everyone, especially considering the way it is now compared to the way it was before.

"But you have to give the Saints credit. They've been one of the most preeminent in the NFL in terms of ticket-sales initiatives. They've done a lot to push ticket sales in various regions and throughout the state, with various price ranges."

At the outset of this year's season-ticket sales campaign, the Saints announced a new pricing scale in the Superdome that included major price increases on premium level sideline and club-level seats while offering more than 20,000 seats -- nearly one-third of the Dome's capacity -- at prices of $35 per game or less.

The team implemented 17 pricing zones in the Superdome, including a $14-per-game season ticket.

The curious thing to this economist is the fact that Katrina has led to an increase in the spread in prices. Premium level prices have gone up, and prices for the nosebleed seats have declined. This suggests to me that a) premium seats may not have been fully priced before Katrina; b) the demand decline is concentrated in the mid to lower income levels; and c) these local buyers are being replaced by spreading the "geographic net" outside New Orleans, through targeted marketing and lower prices. So while I'm not "amazed," I do find the story interesting.

Smith also quotes economist Robert Baade, who states that Saints fans are purchasing tickets due "to a desire ... to keep the Saints in New Orleans." That could be true, but if the owner deemed it feasible to move the team, he could foil that desire - and profit - by raising ticket prices.