Press Box Article


Jets and Giants Fans May Pay for the Right to Pay for Tickets


Richard Sandomir

New York Times


March 22, 2008


National Football League franchises across the country have helped pay for modern stadiums since the mid-1990s by asking season-ticket holders to ante up for the right to preserve their seat locations in the teams’ new homes.


Now, for the first time, the selling of personal seat licenses is a real possibility in the New York area. Jets and Giants executives are considering using them at the $1.6 billion stadium they are building in New Jersey, which is scheduled to open in 2010. Although any decisions are months away and team officials are reluctant to discuss details publicly, sports business analysts and others around the N.F.L. said they expected to see the teams sell licenses.


Fans, meanwhile, are bracing to pay extra.


“Listen, I know it’s inevitable,” said Bobby Stiso, a textiles salesman from Airmont, N.Y., who spent nearly three decades on the Giants’ waiting list before buying two season tickets several years ago. “If Wellington Mara were alive, would he do it?” he said, invoking the name of the team’s patriarch, who was devoted to Giants fans, answering nearly every letter he received from them. He died in 2005.


Personal seat licenses are like taxi medallions or a seat on a financial exchange. Buying one entitles the fan to have first call on the purchase of a season ticket. Fans can re-sell and buy licenses among themselves or online, with the value pegged to the local market and win-loss dynamics.


The initial cost has yet to be determined for the Jets and the Giants, but other teams have charged from $150 for an average seat license to $150,000 for a premium spot in the Dallas Cowboys’ new stadium.


The prospect of selling them is made more likely by the N.F.L.’s requirement that teams repay their debt much faster than their bankers demanded. The credit crisis could also affect the teams if any of their debt has floating rates, which would make their financing more expensive — and make revenue from seat licenses more important.


That league pressure “doesn’t make them inevitable,” said Jay Cross, the Jets’ president. “What it does make inevitable is, we have to raise more equity.”


One option among many is to seek upfront payments from sponsors and companies buying naming rights to the stadium and to the four main gates.


Some Jets and Giants fans have already started worrying about how they will afford license fees. Arnold Spier, an accountant from Fair Lawn, N.J., is paying $3,000 for four upper-deck Jets season tickets and worries that his children’s college costs and rising gas prices may not leave enough to justify buying seat licenses.


“If you asked me now, maybe I’d pay $500,” he said. But, he added: “I don’t care about their financing. Giants Stadium serves my purpose fine.”


Personal seat licenses came into vogue as stadium costs soared, the number of projects multiplied, and city and state governments became less likely to spend tax money to cover the bulk of stadium financing. The Carolina Panthers started the current trend in 1993 by selling 62,500 seat licenses from $600 to $5,400 each to help pay to build what is now called Bank of America Stadium. The Panthers now sell licenses costing $3,000 to $20,000.


These de facto seat taxes have not surfaced in New York because no new professional stadiums have opened since Giants Stadium in 1976. Sports business experts and fans are convinced that the Jets and the Giants will use seat licenses to repay their debt. Luxury boxes, club seats, naming rights, sponsorships and ticket sales may not be enough.


“I’d be shocked if they didn’t do it,” said Dan Migala, who publishes a sports marketing newsletter. “I can’t imagine in this marketplace that they wouldn’t.”


If they sell licenses, the Jets and the Giants will probably use them on all 9,200 club seats, the premium level below luxury suites. They would then have to decide how many other seats would require licenses.


Mark Lamping, the new chief executive of the two-team stadium, has experience with licenses. As the president of the St. Louis Cardinals, he marketed 10,000 of them at $1,500 to $10,000 to help finance the new Busch Stadium, which opened in 2006.


Until now, the Jets and the Giants have been marketing their new stadium’s 200 luxury boxes, which are being leased at an average price of $600,000 annually. But they have not yet focused on the prices for all the other seats, or on the subject of licenses.


John Mara, the Giants’ president and co-owner, said, “We’re looking at all possibilities for the financing of the stadium.”


Twelve N.F.L. teams have combined to generate nearly $900 million in seat license fees since the mid-1990s. The Green Bay Packers raised $110 million from 55,000 season-ticket holders to renovate Lambeau Field by selling less valuable versions of licenses called seat user fees. They are generally less expensive ($600 to $1,400) and do not provide seat ownership, but are refundable if fans decline to buy season tickets.


Marketers promote personal seat licenses as valuable real estate and as heightened expressions of fan loyalty, not as instruments that could lead to the loss of season tickets held by families for generations.


“They give fans equity they wouldn’t otherwise have,” said Max Muhleman, a Charlotte-based sports consultant who has devised or consulted on numerous N.F.L. seat license plans. “They’re not stockholders in the team. But they own the seat, and that’s worth a lot.”


Until the Cowboys introduced drastically higher prices for their stadium, which is scheduled to open in 2009, teams initially sold their licenses for a few hundred dollars to $10,000.


The Cowboys are marketing their high-end seats as a luxury product, pricing club seat licenses at $16,000, $35,000 and $50,000, before leaping to $100,000 and $150,000 each.


“It was an internal feeling that that was what the market could bear,” said Greg McElroy, the Cowboys’ senior vice president for sales and marketing. In less than four months, more than half the team’s licenses have been sold.


Several years ago, the Philadelphia Eagles sold 29,000 seat licenses for $1,800 to $3,700, raising $70 million toward the costs for Lincoln Financial Field. By contrast, the Cowboys could raise as much as $300 million.


Among the New York region’s other teams involved in major construction projects, the Yankees and the Mets said they would not use licenses in their ballparks, and the Devils did not use them in building the Prudential Center.


Seat licenses have become a marketable commodity. They are sold privately and listed on Web sites like eBay , Craigslist and, where fans attempt to flip their licenses at a profit.


The Chicago Bears’ fairly conservative license plan, with a top price of $10,000, may be a model for the Giants and the Jets. The Bears originally sold licenses to 45 percent of their season-ticket holders at the new Soldier Field, so most of the others kept their seats without paying the extra fees.


Then some unaffected fans successfully lobbied the Bears to sell them licenses on their seats. Now, shows that the average gain on the sale of a Bears license is about $8,300.


Kyle Burks, who created, said: “It’s tough to tell someone who’s paid for their season-ticket rights for 30 years that you have to pay even more. It’s as much an emotional decision as it is a financial one.”


Chris Clarke, an account manager for Checkpoint Systems from Tinton Falls, N.J., faces such a decision. He owns six Jets season tickets and is part of a friends-and-family entourage that owns 38 season tickets.


If the new stadium has personal seat licenses, he said, “you’ll chase people like me out, or force us to decide, I can’t do six, maybe it will be two.”


But others, like John Moss of Roseland, N.J., will hold on to their tickets almost regardless of price. He has four $80 field-level end zone Giants tickets that would probably be designated for seat licenses.


“I’m going to buy my tickets whether there are licenses or not,” Moss said. “Do I want to pay? No. Maybe it will be $1,000 a seat, but anything over $5,000 will be a lot. I think the Mara family will be just and fair.”