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Bad team + seat licenses = backlash for Vikings

by Mike McFeely

News item: Minnesota Vikings will charge season-ticket holders an average of $2,500 for personal-seat licenses in the team's new stadium, which will open in 2016.

News item: Vikings lose 35-10 at home to mediocre Carolina Panthers to drop 2013 record to 1-4.

These two tidbits, unrelated but in the news concurrently, illustrate an issue the Vikings will face the next few years.

How much will fans be willing to pay for access to Zygi Wilf's monument to NFL gluttony? 

The question is even more pertinent if you add a follow-up: Particularly if the product they are paying to watch is inferior?

 Vikings fans are glum these days. (Associated Press photo.)

The Vikings will not make the NFL playoffs this season, nor will they come close. You might argue, as I have, that the team would be better off finishing 2-14 or 3-13 instead of clawing their way to 7-9 or 8-8. While the latter might portend hope, the former is more pragmatic. The worse you are, the higher your draft choice the following season. If you're not going to make the playoffs this year, then why not hope for better times ahead?

The team itself, while it can't publicly say so, must be thinking along those lines. It has tickets to sell, baby, and lots of them. 

The Vikings will spend the 2014 and 2015 seasons in TCF Bank Stadium on the campus of the University of Minnesota, before the grand opening of the 65,000-seat new stadium in 2016. About 49,000 of the seats in the new joint will require the one-time purchase of a personal-seat license in order to have the privilege of purchasing a season ticket. You read that correctly: Fans will have to pay money for the privilege of paying more money to buy tickets.

The average cost of a PSL will be $2,500. The better the seat, the higher the PSL up to a maximum of $10,000 per seat.

Let's do some simple math. If you have four season tickets now and they are decent seats, let's say the seat license will cost 

$3,500 per seat. That's $14,000 worth of PSLs before actually purchasing your season tickets. The average cost of an NFL ticket these days is about $80. So that's $320 per game, multiplied by 10 home games (season-ticket holders are required to purchase two preseason games). That's $3,200 for the season.

The cost of the Vikings' first season in the new stadium is already at $17,200 for a family of four and we haven't factored in transportation, parking, food, beverages and everything else that goes into attending an NFL game. By some estimates, it costs a family of four an average of $400 to attend one NFL game.

Are you beginning to see the issue?

Are you beginning to see why NFL attendance has dropped markedly over the last few seasons?

Are you beginning to see why it would behoove the Vikings to not stink to high heaven?

And we haven't yet started to talk about big-screen, high-definition TVs and the NFL's relatively inexpensive satellite packages. 

If I'm a Vikings fan, and I've spent several thousands dollars on a man-cave or high-end garage, I'm thinking seriously about spending $250 on NFL Sunday Ticket to get EVERY game beamed onto my 60-inch flat-screen with SurroundSound. And I'm thinking seriously about not dropping $2,500 on a personal-seat license, plus all the other expenses that come with it.

The Vikings, while acknowledging concern from some fans, are expressing confidence that Purple Priders will snap up season tickets to the new stadium when they become available. 

Other observers have argued that Vikings tickets have to be looked at like any other form of discretionary income, whether it be a lake cabin or a winter vacation or country-club membership. That is, going to a game 8 (or 10) times a year is how some people choose to spend their money and they will budget for it, no matter the cost. 

I tend to be more skeptical. Personal-seat licenses, while an accepted form of doing business in big-time sports, are really nothing more than extortion. And I'm not sure Vikings fans will be in the mood to be extorted in early 2014, after their team goes 5-11.

If the Vikings win at a more acceptable rate in 2014-2015, then maybe. But it is hard to ask for a ransom if your product stinks.

(Mike McFeely is a talk-show host on KFGO-AM in Fargo, N.D. He can be reached at mike.mcfeely@mwcradio.com. Follow him on Twitter @MikeMcFeelyKFGO.)