New Chargers stadium guarantees higher prices

Family of four now pays almost $480 per game at the Q

Stadium proposal rendering
  • Stadium proposal rendering

Last month, a poll by the Union-Tribune and 10News delivered encouraging news: only 30 percent of respondents were in favor of a stadium subsidy; 40 percent opposed it and 30 percent weren’t sure. Although more than half of those taking the poll identified themselves as Chargers fans, two-thirds disapproved of the way the team has handled the matter.

An important question was not asked: if a new stadium were built, would Chargers fans be willing to pay a lot more for tickets than they do now?

“I do not think that exact question has arisen in the normal back-and-forth with our media partners,” says Jay H. Leve, president of SurveyUSA, which did the poll.

Whenever a new stadium is built, or an older stadium is significantly rehabbed, the ticket and concessions prices rise sharply in the first year of operation. And in the National Football League, those prices do not come down, except in rare circumstances.

Thus, if this subsidy goes through, San Diegans will have their pockets picked twice: once when hotel taxes pay for a subsidy to a billionaire, and a second time when prices to get into a game shoot upward.

Dennis Coates, professor of economics at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, has done numerous studies on sports economics. According to the most recent data he has, ticket and concessions prices will rise 17 to 25 percent when a new stadium opens. Do those prices ever go down?

“Ticket-price reductions are pretty unusual,” he says, although if prices remain the same and inflation rises, prices could be going down, in effect. However, inflation in recent years has been quite low.

“Economists say to be careful on what you wish for in a new stadium,” says Victor Matheson, professor of economics and accounting at the College of the Holy Cross. “A new stadium might be good for the fans, but team owners know that and capture it in the prices.”

San Diegans will be stuck with the higher costs. Price decreases occur “only occasionally, such as after a disastrous performance on the field the year before,” says Matheson, who agrees with Coates’s estimate that prices normally rise 17 to 25 percent in the first year of a new or substantially rehabbed stadium.

Philip Porter, professor of economics at the University of South Florida, says a 25 percent hike is more like it.

Roger Noll, professor emeritus of economics at Stanford University, says that the price increase in the first year of a new stadium is “highly variable.” However, “there is always an increase — normal is 10 to 20 percent, but sometimes increases are as much as 50 percent.” (Prices at the new, swelteringly hot San Francisco 49ers stadium in Santa Clara went up roughly 50 percent from those at the damnably windy former home, Candlestick Park.)

Candlestick Park

Candlestick Park

Do prices ever go down? “Never!” chuckles Noll, although some teams cut prices as the season is coming to a close. However, that happens in other sports — not the National Football League, he says.

Robert Baade, professor of economics at Lake Forest College, north of Chicago, points out that when seeking a huge handout, team owners are likely to claim there won’t be a price increase. “In the vast majority of places, despite the fact that the team argues or did argue that the ticket price would go down, on average it did not.” He can think of only two Major League Baseball instances in which ticket and concessions prices in a ballpark went down. “The hard-and-fast rule is that ticket prices will go up with a tiny, tiny number of exceptions.”

The most publicized case of a team lowering prices was the New York Yankees. It got barrels of taxpayer money to build a new ballpark. Then it launched audacious plans to segregate the rich from the middle class and the merely rich from the superrich. Choice first-row seats went for $2500 a game. That’s a game. Other highly desirable seats went for absurd prices.

In April of 2009, shortly after the season began, the team, pretending to stay humble, cut the fattest of the prices. The Great Recession, which hit Wall Street hard, was just ending, but not everybody was convinced that the economic carnage was over. The mighty Yankees struck out. More than 40 percent of the front-row seat prices were slashed by up to 50 percent. Many of those who had bought seats close to the field for $325–$1250 became eligible for additional free seats. Seats costing $1000 were cut to $650.

Television played a role in the price-cutting. Early on, it was apparent that those plutocrat-only seats close to the field were the ones not being purchased. That meant empty seats would be noticeable on TV.

The team “wildly overestimated how much they could charge,” says Coates.

With the financial crash on everyone’s mind, “It was unseemly for people to be occupying seats behind home plate for $2500,” says Baade.

The Padres opened their new, highly subsidized ballpark in 2004. Although the team said it would not raise prices, it did — substantially. Initially, attendance was worse at Petco Park than it had been at Qualcomm Stadium, where the team had a lousy record. The price increases drove out some of the most loyal fans, particularly Hispanics. People complained about the difficult downtown traffic and parking and the forced decline of tailgating. The Padres then slashed prices in the years 2009, 2010, and 2011.

Price-cutting by the Yankees and Padres were aberrations, says Coates.

Despite all the propaganda about Qualcomm Stadium being a rattletrap, foul-smelling, decrepit stadium, the average price of a Chargers ticket in 2015 (the last data available) was $84.55, only slightly below the National Football League average of $85.83, according to Team Marketing Report, which keeps price statistics. The cost for a family of four attending a game, paying for parking and buying beer, soft drinks, hot dogs, a program, and a hat, is $478.19 per game, says Team Marketing Report. The league average is almost the same — $480.89.

Given the team’s historically poor record, Chargers fans are already getting diddled. Now the team wants the public to get double-diddled.

If those prices go up — say, 20 percent — the Chargers will wring more out of its attendees than most National Football League teams. If they get their taxpayer-financed stadium, will they be obliged to put good players on the field?

The Chargers did not respond to questions.

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That "average" cost for a family of four is really outrageous. For season ticket holders, the cost is likely a major item in the household budget for a year. And that's just for one type of entertainment on a few Sundays.

One thing that probably should not be overlooked is that local businesses buy tickets in blocks and them parcel them out among employees, customers, prospects, etc. If you are fortunate enough to have such tickets given to you, the cost to attend isn't such a shock. But how many people and organizations in the county can afford a big jump in prices, and how long will they keep paying up?

In the same vein, the city attorney Goldsmith has announced that the ballot measures that have to do with the stadium and the other one both need the super majority vote. He's not going to contest that further. So, there is good news for those who don't like subsidies, unnecessary stadium construction, and giveaways to billionaires. Passing those ballot questions by a 2/3 margin seems to me most unlikely. A growing portion of the electorate, and not just a few fans, are now connecting the dots between these subsidies and foolish uses of tax dollars and the never-ending shortfalls in city services. Too bad that nobody will just tell the voters that the proposition means a Yes vote is a vote For more potholed streets.

Visduh: Sorry I am late answering questions about this column. I was out for four days.

Yes, the average cost for a family of four is really outrageous -- particularly since median household income in San Diego is moderately higher than the nation's, but the cost of living is a great deal higher. Best,Don Bauder

Why should we be swindled like a fiddle? As dumb and ridiculous, fast and high coasters and piddle carnival rides. Who said we have to like it? Some flap doodle who likes titties!

shirleyberan: The only time flap-doodle men get to ogle female breasts at Chargers games is when the cheerleaders are on the field -- or if a busty female sits nearby.

I don't know whether female fans find football players physically attractive. I remember talking by phone to one Dallas woman. I asked her if she was a Cowboys fan. She said, "The only thing I enjoy is when they bend down in the huddle." Best, Don Bauder

Don--A correction to your article: In 1998, the Padres had their best attendance numbers in their time at San Diego/Jack Murphy/Qualcomm Stadium. Once the Padres moved into Petco Park, their attendance numbers reached levels never before achieved by the club, drawing over 2.7 million fans in each of the first 4 seasons, including over 3 million in the initial year of the park. Now, of course, those numbers have fallen off to levels just barely over 2 million per season.

aardvark: I confused things when I used the word "Initially." My column of December 22, 2010, focused one part of the billionaire stadium scam: the owner promises not to raise prices if he gets a new stadium; he gets a subsidized stadium; he raises prices. Attendance rises, but when the novelty wears off, attendance may drop and the prices may be cut.

Here are some figures from that 2010 column: from 2000 to 2003, the Padres averaged 27,720 fans at Qualcomm. Then the new stadium packed them in -- for awhile. In 2010, attendance averaged 26,318; in 2009 it was 23,699-- below the 2000-2003 attendance at Qualcomm. Those lower figures persuaded management to cut prices. Best, Don Bauder

I really don't understand the Chargers' strategy. Did they really think they could get the stadium proposal to pass? Or is this all just a super-complex ploy for the Chargers to get more concessions from the NFL? ("Look Roger we tried really hard to get a stadium built in San Diego but we couldn't. So could you make Stan give us a better deal to move into Inglewood?")

ImJustABill: I think there is a chance the Chargers hope to lose the November vote by a wide margin. But whatever deal they have from Kroenke at Inglewood, they didn't want it; it was obviously not very remunerative to the Spanos clan.

It's possible the Chargers will rejoice at losing the election and will try to get the league to force Kroenke to give more money to the Spanos family. Best, Don Bauder

Unbelievable how expensive hats have gotten. I paid about $25 for a Padres hat (in their REAL colors of brown and yellow of course) at Petco but that was about the cheapest one they sold. Many hats were over $50.

ImJustABill: Hat buyers at pro sports events constitute a captive audience. Best, Don Bauder

ImJustABill - did you hear Trump political speech saying the state he was in likes titties too cause i'm of the crazy.

Trump has said worse things than that. Frankly, I'm not particularly bothered by offensive statements (at least compared to many pundits), but I think many of Trump's statements indicate a lack of good judgement and even a potential lack of sanity. Those things concern me.

ImJustABill: It's the lack of sanity -- the narcissism, the sociopath behavior -- that bother me the most. Best, Don Bauder

shirleyberan: I missed that Trump speech. In fact, I have missed them all, but I do read about them. Best, Don Bauder

Never underestimate the stupidity of a San Diego Charger Fan/voter.

AlexClarke: It would be very bad if anti-stadium subsidy voters stayed home because they thought the "no" vote had it all wrapped up. Best, Don Bauder

I'm sorry for being silly but football doesn't even belong in downtown tourism, already too congested. It should stay in Mission Valley for the locals.

shirleyberan: You are not being silly. One of the best solutions to the current situation is that the Chargers will remain at Qualcomm. A new contract has to be inked in 2020. Maybe the City won't get fleeced this time. Also, the team might be sold to a multi-billionaire and moved to L.A. Best, Don Bauder

The Chargers Stadium measure probably goes down to defeat(2). It took the 49ers over 25 years to get a new stadium built. SF Bay Area Voters turned down multiple stadium proposals for the 49ers and that was during the time they were winning 5 Super Bowls!? I would like to see the Chargers stay in San Diego. However, I think their stadium proposal should be seriously reworked. Sports fans, the Chargers, the NFL and maybe the Hotel/Convention industry and tourists should pay for any new stadium and not the local taxpayers. Chargers and NFL should consider relying on more private financing for the Chargers stadium. Joe Robbie built Joe Robbie/Pro Player stadium with 100% his own private funds. Chargers should consider a hybrid of this model.http://articles.latimes.com/1987-08-16/sports/sp-1898_1_joe-robbie

Of course, LA gave the Dodgers free land at Chavez Ravine so it was not a totally privately financed deal.

SportsFan0000: That is not my recollection. I believe the Dodgers got free land as a subsidy from the government. That land was valuable then. Best, Don Bauder

SportsFan0000: "Entirely" private funds? I don't think so. Best, Don Bauder

SportsFan0000: If a Chargers stadium were to be built with only private money, I would root for the team to stay. Best, Don Bauder

SportsFan0000: The Padres actually promised to put money in a stadium and got just short of 60 percent of the votes. The Chargers aren't even pledging to remain in San Diego and have to get 67 percent. Tough hill to climb. That tough hill is good for San Diego. Best, Don Bauder

I hate to be repetitive, but, here I go again:

The Chargers DO NOT have enough fans to fill the stadium they're in NOW.

i.e. - countless TV blackouts. Also, visiting teams fans almost always outnumber Charger fans making every "home" game sound like an "away" game to the Chargers on the field.

It's lots of fun to visit SD for the weekend, watch your team win, then fly/drive back home with a big sh*t - eating grin on your face. woo - hoo!

The Chargers do OK at filling the Q--they drew 94.6% of capacity, which was 22nd in The League last season.

Blackouts? What blackouts? The blackout rule has been suspended by the NFL. And if you want to blame the visiting team's fans for taking over the Q, blame the Charger season ticket holders, who regularly sell tickets for certain games at inflated prices to fans of the visiting team (who in many cases already live in the San Diego area), and use that money to pay for season tickets for future seasons.

That is a good point, but I would point out that many (most?) of the "season ticket holders" selling single game tickets to non-Charger fans are ticket brokers.

That is also true. The Chargers don't really care how they "fill the Q", no matter what they claim.

The jerseys in the stands might be blue and gold. Or silver and black. Or yellow and black. Or orange and blue. The ticket money is always green. That's the color that matters.

ImJustABill: Yes, ticket brokers are active.

One thing that should be discussed: San Diego has perfect weather, and so many opportunities for participation sports: hiking, golfing, etc. Best, Don Bauder

aardvark: There were blackouts before the NFL's ban. Also, there were threatened blackouts until some company came in and bought a bunch of tickets to cancel the blackout.

Will the money that fans put away for future seasons be spent in Los Angeles? Or Vegas? Or San Antonio? Best, Don Bauder

Don: I know there were blackouts.

Regarding future seasons--I see the Chargers moving to LA (as long as Spanos owns the team) or staying here (again, as long as Spanos owns the team). I think there is a slight chance they move to San Antonio (but I don't think Spanos will own the club if that were to happen). If Spanos were to sell the franchise while they are still in San Diego, I am pretty sure that any new owner would move the club from San Diego, but I have no idea where they would end up. There just aren't that many viable alternatives. Just my opinion, however.

aardvark: A new multi-billionaire owner would probably move the team to L.A. Kroenke would welcome an owner rich enough to be a partner with him in some of the Inglewood development. The Spanos family doesn't have that kind of money, and Kroenke goes out of his way to snub Dean Spanos.

St. Louis is a remunerative possibility. The city and state would almost give the team a stadium -- again. "Fool me twice and I will be willing to be fooled again."

The Chargers under the Spanos family have a very small chance of getting to L.A. Best, Don Bauder

Rocket_j_Squirrel: Fans from Pittsburgh and Boston flooded into Qualcomm last season. Best, Don Bauder

Joseph Oppenheim,

I don't consider the Chargers' stadium (yes, I know they can and do host other events there but it's mostly for the Chargers) "infrastructure".

Per wikipedia, "Infrastructure refers to structures, systems, and facilities serving a country, city, or area, including the services and facilities necessary for its economy to function."

The stadium isn't necessary for the the San Diego economy to function so I wouldn't consider it infrastructure.

ImJustABill: Right you are. Stadiums are really not infrastructure in the realistic sense of the word. Best, Don Bauder

S - Street repairs

T - Transportation for the masses

A - Additional fire and police stations and personnel

D - Deteriorating infrastructure repairs

I - Investment in clean energy sources

U - Upgrades to the tourist areas - Balboa Park, SD Zoo, etc.

M - Mitigate the plume of gasoline under the Q once it's been razed

THAT'S the only stadium I'll support.

Rocket_J_Squirrel: That's a good list of infrastructure needs. However, I would not raze the stadium until the Chargers are permanently gone and SDSU has a place to play. Best, Don Bauder

Mike Murphy: Yes, fans with moderate incomes will be priced out. Best, Don Bauder

Joseph Oppenheim: What does "greatness" have to do with discussion of a subsidized stadium? Best, Don Bauder

Albert Commenter: Agreed. Best, Don Bauder

Joseph Oppenheim: Greatness is a city that reduces its $5 billion infrastructure deficit, provides adequate police and fire protection, and provides affordable housing. A subsidized stadium represents the exact reverse of greatness. Best, Don Bauder

David Crossley: Excellent question. I have not seen answers. Just how many people come from out of state to watch a game against the Chargers? I submit it is very little, with the exception of some of those games last season (Pittsburgh and Boston). Best, Don Bauder

Mike Murphy: The favorite saying of all pro sports team owners goes like this: Build it with taxpayer money, jack up the ticket and concessions prices, and they will come for about five years. Profits roll in. After the novelty wears off, they aren't likely to come in such big numbers. Best, Don Bauder

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