LAS VEGAS — Congratulations, Eagles fans! Your team has been selected as the first in NFL history to schedule a regular season game in South America. It will be Friday, September 6, in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Be there or be foursquare. You must be excited. You should be honored. You should start making your travel plans now.
I just checked Expedia. For the cool price of $1,022, you can buy a round-trip ticket that includes a two-stop flight — from Philadelphia to Miami to Brasilia to Sao Paolo — that will get you into the city the day before the game. Best of all, that leg of the trip should only take you 16 hours. Hey, no big deal. You’ve been stuck in traffic on the Schuylkill the longest, haven’t you?
What is this? Can’t go? Ah, that’s a shame. Because you’re not just losing now. You will probably lose next year too. And a year after that. And a year after that. I don’t know if you’ve heard these two pieces of news, but pay attention.
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One, in December, NFL owners voted to expand the number of international games in a season from four to eight starting in 2025. Two, Peter O’Reilly, the NFL’s executive vice president of “club business, international events and the league” — think of him as the league’s travel agent/event planner — announced here Friday that Madrid will host a regular-season game in ’25. What was a novelty is becoming routine, and the cost isn’t going down.
Look, you don’t need an MBA from Wharton to understand what the NFL is doing here. There was a time, as recently as 10 years ago, when there was speculation—deserved speculation—that the NFL would soon reach market saturation, that it might reach a point where it couldn’t squeeze out another dollar or decline. . interest from the American public. (Silly, I know.) So the league and its owners redoubled their efforts to acquire other grounds around the globe. They’ve got London and they’ve gone into Mexico, and now they’re branching out into Germany and Spain, and then it’s going to be…?
“Nothing close in terms of going to Asia or Australia,” O’Reilly said, “but it’s something we continue to consider. There are great stadiums, great partners there. Travel is a factor, and that will be something we continue to look at. But there are real opportunities in real parts of the world that are important to achieve with our game.”
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Those opportunities are real, of course, for those people who have the means to take advantage of them, and the economic barrier to enjoying the entertainments and institutions that were once staples of middle- and upper-middle-class existence is becoming ever greater. high. . Take a nearby example: The average price of a ticket to Super Bowl LVIII here on Sunday has risen to more than $8,600, and Harry Reid International Airport has created 18 additional acres of parking to accommodate the influx of private jets.
It’s not just the NFL, either. “Ticket prices for sporting events increased 15%” from 2022 to 2023, according to a CNN report last week. The Bureau of Labor Statistics found that, from 1999 to 2019, “prices for admission to sporting events [grew] more than twice as fast as general consumer prices.” Disney has raised prices at its theme parks in recent years, and The Wall Street Journal revealed in 2022 that the ostensibly family-friendly company even changed its business strategy to make the parks less accessible to the general public. focusing “less on maximizing the amount of visitors and more on increasing the amount of money each visitor spends.”
In other words: We can make more money by catering to a smaller, wealthier and more exclusive clientele. That’s what we will do. These trends are reminiscent of a line from Renee Zellweger’s character in the movie Jerry Maguire: “The first class is the one that doesn’t go. It used to be a better place. It’s a better life now.”
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The NFL is doing the same. Perhaps its reach and popularity really have no limit. Perhaps the public’s hunger for professional football is truly insatiable. Maybe the NFL could have games on Sunday afternoons and Sunday nights and Monday nights and Thursday nights and Fridays and Thanksgiving and Christmas, too. And maybe it can reschedule games within a season and expect fans to adjust their schedules and balance their checkbooks accordingly, and maybe it can schedule games a continent away from its core audience, and maybe it can pay whatever he wants and people will pay him.
I wonder if the resentment among those who can’t pay, who can’t participate, who are excluded from the good times and shared experience will one day reach a tipping point. And I wonder what will happen if it does.