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Posted: Wednesday October 8, 2008 8:59AM; Updated: Wednesday October 8, 2008 4:22PM
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The changing face of the sports fan (cont.)

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Fenway Park
Boston's Fenway Park always sells out, but die-hard fans have a difficult time getting tickets.
Reuters
Goodbye, Joe SixPack
 

Merritt has yet to make his decision, which speaks, at the very least, to the singular love of sports that still drives this country. But for the middle class, the strategy behind season tickets has permanently evolved. If you keep them, you're being handicapped more than ever before; and with the institution of PSLs, which can also be sold off at their owner's whim, the net effect is to raise prices for everyone else in the primary and secondary markets.

"At first, I used to go to as many games as possible and take my friends for pure enjoyment, and I never looked to sell tickets or make a profit," Merritt said. "Now the Jets are essentially telling me that a PSL is an 'investment opportunity for the future.' Do I even want to worry about making money like that? Do I want to worry about needing to sell off certain tickets and boosting them to a certain price?"

What it takes to get there

Adding further to the pressure on fans is another cost on the rise: transportation. The peripherals surrounding sports, particularly in non-metropolitan areas, are becoming more and more expensive, from the climbing cost of gasoline to the price of food.

It's no coincidence that a number of baseball teams like the Texas Rangers responded to this reality in 2008, offering promotions such as $5 gas cards with the purchase of a ticket, all-you-can-eat seats and two-for-one specials. "It's a recognition by owners and league heads that sports for certain people is not really recession-proof -- even though it may be recession-resistant," said Leo Kahane, editor of the Journal of Sports Economics.

Economists say you should thus expect to see fewer families of four at the stadium. More people who are single and more fans who will go out with a group of eight-to-10 friends, spending more than $100 each and treating the game as a one-off experience.

"Already, if you turn on the television today, I don't think you're seeing the same families from 10 or 15 years ago," Colorado College economist Aju Fenn said. "With all the costs involved, they just may not go to as many games as before."

And if you can't afford to go? Good news. Luckily for the health of the teeming sports-industrial complex, fans priced out of the stadium might still spend to follow the action, whether it's on HD television, through a special cable package, on satellite radio, via cell phone or online. From the hot-stove to the preseason, corporations presently have more opportunities than ever to deploy tentacles that draw fans into the game and generate revenue, without ever giving them a seat. MLB's Advanced Media subsidiary, which runs its online and digital operations, is reportedly worth $450 million alone.

"People across the country are seeing their disposable income being whittled away," said UNC Charlotte economist Craig Depken. "So they're beginning to ask themselves: Do I really need to go? My guess is that if you stand out on some street corner and asked average people how many games they physically traveled to last year versus this year, you'd see a real difference."

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