When the City of New York shot them down the New York Jets West Side Stadium, they were forced to make a deal on a new home with more suites, luxury boxes, and amenities that they could sell to high net worth fans and corporations along with the Giants in East Rutherford. Both franchises were licking their proverbial chops at the opportunity to sell their fans a fictitious legal instrument dreamed up by Carolina Panthers owner, Jerry Richardson, called the Personal Seat License.
The timing probably couldn’t have been worse for both teams, as they attempted to open up a brand new self-funded building amidst the worst financial crisis this country had seen since the Great Depression. Although you can argue that both franchises made gross miscalculations when it comes to the pricing of their tickets and PSL’s, the Jets were much less equipped to account for such miscalculations because the socioeconomic demographics of the Jets existing season ticket base and waiting list were much different than the Giants. Both teams, once notorious for the lengths of their respective waiting lists blew through those lists well before the first coin was ever tossed at Metlife Stadium. Both teams scrambled to sell out their season tickets before the 2010 season and by all accounts they were able to do so but at the expense of their safety nets (waiting lists) and without sustained on-field success each team was in for a rough go.
The Jets did a great job of peaking as a team just in time for the opening of what was then called the New Meadowlands Stadium, with a young Quarterback who appeared to be on the rise, a solid core that had just been inked to new contracts, complemented by a host of name-value veterans, and a brash head coach coming off of an AFC Championship Game appearance. However, since Rex Ryan tossed his headset to the frozen Heinz Field turf after his second consecutive brush with the Super Bowl, the franchise has sputtered on the field while alienating its season ticket base.
I was raised on making my Sunday pilgrimage to the swamps of Jersey to take my one escalator up to the 300 section, chiding people at the top of the escalator to show me the money by sending down their change and the occasional dollar, with my father who has been a loyal season ticket holder since the Shea days. Yes, we were a tenant in a building named for the team that so many of us loathe but it still felt like home and more importantly, it was fun. We knew everyone who sat around us, they were our “Fall Family.” So much so, that their absence from multiple games was cause for concern for their well-being. In fact, when the father and son who routinely sat in front of us missed a string of games, my father reached out to find that his paternal counterpart was in the hospital with complete kidney failure. It was real fans who knew and cared about each other.
Unfortunately, the move to the new stadium caused a de facto diaspora of sorts, section families were broken up: 100 and 200-level season ticket holders fleeing the PSL moved to the upper deck; 300-level subscribers were pushed to what I like to call “Heaven’s Doorstep”; and others were priced out altogether. The experience suffered and the complaints were numerous. The Jets did a decent job of accommodating some season ticket holders like my father, who after complaining about being sold a false bill of goods before the 2010 season was moved down to a “premo “ location in the bottom section of the upper deck. On the other end of the spectrum you had season ticket holder who were simply fed up after having their communities broken up while paying double the price without any improvements in the on-field product.
Watching the Jets flame out before Halloween time and again is what prompted me to start my company, SeatSwap, which is designed to give fans a way of recouping their investment even when the team goes south by allowing them to swap their tickets for other tickets with other fans.
The Jets are not an isolated case in respect to this phenomenon. More and more teams are watching their season ticket holder bases dwindle, as more and more fans opt to go “Over the top” by buying a handful of games a la carte off the secondary market for cut-rates. This practice has set off a vicious cycle where remaining season ticket holders are up in arms when people they don’t know are sitting next to them for 30% of the price they paid. Those season ticket holders then complain to the team and the team responds by making it harder for people to make use of any secondary market altogether by curtailing fans access to their own tickets and doing away with PDF tickets, like the Yankees did this year. Defensive tactics like the kind the Yankees employed only lead to more season ticket holders opting not to renew, especially when they make it nearly impossible to use the only hedge they have against a bad season: the secondary market.
Arguably the most unfortunate side effect of pricing out all of the real fans and then continuing to alienate the ones who continue to make the annual investment on nothing more than hope, is that it opens the door for more opposing team fans to walk in for next-to-nothing. This is why you see the “Terrible Towels” wave when the Steelers come to town; this is why the game day experience is poor; and this is why there’s no real home field advantage.
If the Jets or any team for that matter cared about retaining season ticket holders, they wouldn’t do it through engraved spatulas or point systems; they would do it by creating real value for fans by giving them a legitimate hedge against the team going in the tank. Unfortunately, because the Jets, like virtually every major team and venue in this area, are in bed with Ticketmaster it’s unlikely that this is going to happen. Ticketmaster makes their money by being the exclusive ticketing/ticket service provider of the team or venue they service and thrive off of the closed ecosystem. There’s a reason the only place you can find “Ticketmaster Verified Tickets” is on the NFL/NBA/”Insert Client Name Here” Ticket Exchange, is because they don’t want you to try and sell your tickets anywhere else and because that’s also their only selling point to get you to use it.
Teams like the Jets need to shift the balance of power back to their season ticket holders by giving them complete autonomy over their tickets and by creating a safe space that facilitates the unfettered buying, selling, and of course swapping of tickets. It shouldn’t just end there, fans should also have some sort of assurance that their tickets aren’t ending up in the hands of opposing fans. Much of the damage that has been done to their existing customer/fan base can’t be undone overnight but if you take some radical and innovative steps.
Photo Credit: CBS