Press Box Article

 
 

Dallas Cowboys seat license holders hope for a big return

Hefty licenses often seen as good investment, but not all rise in value

 

Suzanne Marta

The Dallas Morning News

 

February 15, 2008

The Dallas Cowboys can't sell the personal seat licenses for their new stadium as an investment – the Securities and Exchange Commission would object – but the sales staff does like to mention to fans that some other teams' seat licenses have risen in value.
 

Take the Carolina Panthers, whose seat licenses were sold in 1996 for between $600 and $5,400 each. Now the team is selling them for $3,000 to $20,000.

 

On the other hand, there are the Oakland Raiders, whose seat licenses cost up to $4,000 in 1995 but became basically worthless – and the program was disbanded – because games rarely sold out.

 

There's no sign of speculators snapping up the Cowboys' seat licenses, and that's good, because experts say they're far too risky as an investment and should be bought only by fans who want to spend the money to go to the games.

 

But even true Cowboys fans, as they consider forking over a small fortune for their team, are thinking about the future value of the seat licenses.

 

The Cowboys call their licenses "seat options," and the first batch being sold now gives fans the right to buy the best club-level seats in their $1.1 billion Arlington stadium for 30 years, at a cost between $16,000 and $150,000 – far and away the most expensive seat licenses in pro sports. Prices for upper-level seat options will be announced this month.

 

Experts say the value will fluctuate based on the team's performance, economic conditions, and how successful the original sales program is. They also say the Cowboys' seat options, at least at the club level, have less chance of increasing in value simply because they're priced so high to begin with.

 

Dallas banker Bruce Leib, who has been going to Cowboys games for more than 40 years, gave up his four season seats once he saw the price – $50,000 for the right to each seat, plus $340 tickets for each seat at each game.

 

But he's still interested in the future value of the seat options.

 

"I'll be looking for an opportunity a few years down the road when someone wants to get out," Mr. Leib said. "It just takes one or two bad years for prices to fall."

 

Mr. Leib said he figured that, over 30 years, the investment in four seat options would have cost him more than half a million dollars, not including any price increases for game tickets.

 

"It wasn't a good deal," Mr. Leib said. "For every game you went to, you could buy a new big-screen TV."

 

Keeping their seats

 

But for lifelong fan Martin Scarlett of Tupelo, Miss., selling the two $16,000 seat options he bought isn't up for discussion.

 

The thought did cross his mind – as he pondered the possibility of price appreciation years down the road – but it was brief.

 

"I realized there's no way I could ever let go of them," said Mr. Scarlett, who has had season tickets for more than 11 years. "I think my family would kill me or at least disown me if I sold my seats."

 

Similarly, Mike Moore of Colleyville said he didn't think twice about buying four seat options for the new stadium, which is near his office in Arlington.

 

Mr. Moore said he doesn't expect to sell his seat options in the short term, but he expects there to be plenty of buyers if the time should ever come. "I have to believe that as the stadium gets finished and people start attending the games, there is going to be a market for those seats," he said.

 

Sticker shock

 

When prices were announced in November, many fans experienced sticker shock. At $50,000 and even up to $150,000, the Cowboys' best club-level seat options are priced well above what seems to be the previous record for team sales, the $20,000 seat licenses sold by the Carolina Panthers.

 

Even so, initial sales in the club level have been strong, the Cowboys said, despite the team's early elimination from the playoffs. Prices of upper-deck seats will be announced this month.

 

At least for the club seats, the high prices could prove difficult to overcome on the secondary market, said Max Muhleman, a Charlotte, N.C., sports marketing consultant who helped the Panthers develop the first modern seat license.

 

"There are many examples of teams with fans who have made 100 percent of a premium above the original price, but that's for PSLs that were $3,000 and $4,000," he said, using the industry's abbreviation for personal seat licenses.

 

Also, while most stadiums' seat licenses last for the life of the stadium, the Cowboys' options expire after 30 years, so their long-term value will dwindle every year. Some experts consider 30 years the standard life of a stadium, but Texas Stadium in Irving will have lasted nearly 40 years when the Cowboys move to Arlington in 2009.

 

The Cowboys are less interested in the secondary market for their seat options and more interested in their own sales, Mr. Muhleman said. "They're thinking more of what the market can afford."

 

The rising value in other teams' licenses surely didn't escape the Cowboys' notice as they set their own prices. Properly pricing the seat options and the game tickets is the key to their future value and the overall success of the program, Mr. Muhleman said.

 

"You want to make sure that you don't risk a partial sellout," Mr. Muhleman said, pointing to what happened in Oakland, where fans who'd paid thousands of dollars for the right to buy tickets found themselves on game day sitting next to walk-up customers who hadn't bought a license.

 

"The risk gets higher the more expensive the PSL," he said. "The Cowboys are betting on the stadium being as much as an attraction as the team."

 

Secondary market

 

Fans don't have to sell their seat options to recoup some of their cost. They can alleviate some of the financial burden by unloading individual game tickets at a premium.

 

But because tickets for individual Cowboys game are valued differently on the secondary market, it's hard to calculate the future value of such a strategy, said Gerry Wilson, co-founder of sporting event futures market Yoonew Inc.

 

For example, a Cowboys seat option holder will have to buy tickets for preseason games that are priced the same as high-profile matchups against the Washington Redskins or the Green Bay Packers.

 

"The $340 price is totally arbitrary," Mr. Wilson said, referring to the announced ticket prices for club seats. "The value is not $340. If T.O. gets hurt or if something happens to Romo, the value of Dallas Cowboys tickets is going to go down," he said, referring to wide receiver Terrell Owens and quarterback Tony Romo.

 

Sean Pate, a spokesman for online ticket marketplace StubHub .com, said high-profile matchups, not to mention a winning season, helped drive the average resale price of a ticket to a Dallas Cowboys game last season to $206. In 2006, that figure was $136.

 

Selling the rights

 

If fans do decide to sell their seat options, they might deal with Kyle Burks of Houston-based SeasonTicketRights.com.

 

Mr. Burks formed the company two years ago after trying to purchase seat licenses for the Houston Texans. The company, which Mr. Burks predicts will handle more than $20 million in transactions this year, has partnerships with 11 NFL teams, plus other sports groups, to act as the middleman for seat license deals.

 

The site aggregates sales data from its own transactions and others that can be confirmed – such as on eBay.com – and makes the information available so customers can get a feel for the market.

 

Mr. Burks said that while some seat licenses will always appreciate, the prices can go up and down with the fortunes of the team.

 

"There's no way to tell what the market is going to do until 2009," he said. "Most PSLs do appreciate, but the Cowboys' prices are very aggressive."

 

Inevitably, some fans will buy and sell Cowboys seat licenses down the road, but Mr. Muhleman predicted that the most expensive options are most likely to be sold between businesses wanting to entertain clients.

 

Regular fans considering the seat options shouldn't look at them as a rational investment, he said.

 

"It's a more emotional decision than investing in the stock exchange," Mr. Muhleman said. "Ninety percent of the reason someone buys a Cowboys ticket is going to be passion. People should buy what they can afford, not because they think it will appreciate."