- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 9, 2006

The Washington Redskins’ increases in prices for parking and tickets for the 2006 season are among the most dramatic of any team in the National Football League, reaffirming the team’s game-day experience as one of the most expensive for football fans.

A survey of all 32 NFL teams by The Washington Times shows that the Redskins are one of only three teams to increase the price on all parking, and only one other team — the Atlanta Falcons — will increase ticket prices almost across the board.

Prices will rise by nearly 40 percent for some seats at FedEx Field, and the team will increase the cost of parking from $25 to $35. But the increases come after a half-decade of near-stable prices, while other teams in the league have instituted multiple price increases year after year. The Falcons, for example, are raising prices despite a 20 percent increase on an average ticket in 2005 and a 16 percent increase in 2004, according to Chicago-based Team Marketing Report. And the New York Jets recently announced that they will raise prices on more than half of their seats, despite raising prices an average of 8 percent in each of the past three years.

“After four years of not raising prices, we took a look at our pricing structure and decided to keep up with the value and the demand,” said Redskins Vice President Karl Swanson, who said the team has 155,000 people on its season-ticket waiting list even though FedEx Field has the NFL’s largest seating capacity at 91,704.

“It’s the most popular ticket in town,” Mr. Swanson said. “Sure, we’ve had some calls since the letters went out, but one fan told me that we’re not charging enough for parking because parking passes sell for $50 on the Internet. We have to maintain a lot with 20,000 spaces. We don’t feel $35 is an outrageous price.”

Washington fans paid the NFL’s sixth-highest average ticket price, at $67.53, last year, according to Team Marketing Report, and could move a couple of notches up the list. And only the New England Patriots, who have won three of the past five Super Bowls, charge as much to park.

The Redskins are the most valuable professional sports franchise with a net value of $1.5 billion, according to Forbes magazine.

But the increase on Redskins ticket prices comes after the team saw the cost of an average ticket fall 59 cents last year, with no increase in parking. In 2004, Redskins ticket prices rose just 6 cents on average, with a $5 increase in parking costs. Only the Jacksonville Jaguars have experienced similar pricing stability.

Becky Wallace, the editor of Team Marketing Report, said it’s common for teams to keep prices stable during losing years, then increase prices after a winning season. In the Redskins’ case, the team is raising prices after its first playoff appearance since 2000.

“Ticket price increases are usually the result of a winning season or a new stadium,” Miss Wallace said. “Teams that don’t have either of those will re-evaluate their ticket prices every three or four years and make adjustments.”

Fans cut the Redskins some slack for avoiding increases in past years, but still were upset over these price increases.

“It’s a little ridiculous the way things have gone so corporate with the Redskins,” said season-ticket holder Dave Loeb of Rockville. “It makes it more difficult for the average fan to go the games.”

Mr. Loeb, who inherited two tickets with his brother and sister from their parents, said that if it wasn’t for the return of Hall of Fame coach Joe Gibbs in 2004 and the Redskins’ return to the playoffs after the 2005 season, he and his siblings might have decided enough was enough.

“We hesitate because it’s such an inconvenience to go to a game at FedEx Field, but we saw a big turnaround last year so we’re renewing for next year despite the very serious price increases,” Mr. Loeb said.

Fans not willing to pay $35 to park can take Metro to the Largo Town Center station and walk about a mile to FedEx Field. Metro also offers $5 bus service from the Landover Metro station, and some other lots in the area charge less. But that doesn’t make the seats any cheaper, fans said.

“I can accept an increase since it has been four years, but $30 [from $79 to $109 in the lower bowl]?” complained a Derwood, Md., season-ticket holder who asked to remain anonymous. “They’ve only had one winning season [since 1999]. At least wait until after a couple of winning seasons to raise prices like this. This is why [Redskins owner] Dan Snyder gets the rap he gets. He wants to win and he puts money into the team, but it’s not like he’s hurting for money. This is out of line.”

The Redskins’ increases are large, but they’re far from alone in the NFL. Although only the Cincinnati Bengals, Miami Dolphins and Kansas City Chiefs have raised parking fees, 20 teams are raising ticket prices for at least some of their seats.

However, most teams countered price increases for the most expensive seats by freezing prices on many less expensive seats. The Indianapolis Colts, a consistent playoff team dating to 1999, are charging much more for their best seats but kept their three cheapest levels constant. The New Orleans Saints, who played their “home” games in Baton Rouge, La.; San Antonio; and East Rutherford, N.J. in 2005 in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, nearly doubled the cost of their most expensive seats in the Superdome from $79 to $150, but reduced their 12,000 worst seats from $25 and $65 to $14 and $25. The Buffalo Bills, who haven’t made the playoffs this decade, increased some tickets $1 to $5, but reduced others $2 to $3.

The Oakland Raiders, coming off their worst three-year stretch since the early 1960s, actually reduced the price of 65 percent of their tickets. The Jaguars, who like the Redskins made the playoffs last season for the first time since 1999, raised prices just $2 and for only half of their seats. And after falling short of becoming the first team to win three straight Super Bowls, the Patriots held steady, albeit at the NFL’s highest levels ($90.89 average last year, a whopping $19.40 ahead of the runner-up New York Jets, a tenant at Giants Stadium).

That NFL teams keep building new stadiums and filling them indicates that the sky might be the limit when it comes to ticket prices.

So while Larry Bates of Annapolis, a Redskins season-ticket holder since FedEx opened in 1997, worries about a future half-empty stadium “or even worse, half full of Eagles and Cowboys fans who bought their tickets on EBay,” Mr. Snyder’s bank account will keep growing. Fans are addicted to their Redskins.

“This is par for the course,” said season-ticket holder Jan Power of Davidsonville, Md. “I spend more money going to the movies and getting the concessions, and I have 100 percent more fun at Redskins games. I get the biggest bang for the buck by going to see the Redskins. Would I like it to be cheaper? Yes, but I can’t think of anything I get more joy out of.”

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