By now most people have heard that the Packers have yet to sell out an important home playoff game against the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday at Lambeau. The story has been picked up by almost every major sports outlet. Initially, the Packers announced that over 40,000 tickets remained, at face value. Some are blaming the fans, but the blame should lie squarely on the Packers themselves.
To understand the situation, one must also understand how playoff ticket invoicing works. This year, in the last week in November, the Packers sent invoices to season ticket holders offering them playoff tickets. Fans would be required to purchase every round that the Packers could possibly appear in, no matter how unrealistic that might be, or they would be unable to get tickets at all. When the invoice arrives, the ticket holder is expected to pay for the “best case scenario” (also the most expensive scenario), which would mean the Divisional Round and the NFC Championship game.
Obviously, it is very possible that the fan would be expected to pay for games in which the Packers would never appear, or which would not take place at Lambeau at all. In past years, when the Packers invoiced a season ticket holder for playoff tickets, if the Packers failed to make the playoffs (or played one or none of the games at Lambeau) the season ticket holder had an option. The fan was able to choose to apply the money toward next year’s season ticket cost or he or she could get a refund. That has changed.
According to the letter sent to Green Ticket Package holders:
“In the event one or both games are not played at Lambeau Field, and/or the Wild Card game is played instead of the Divisional Playoff game, your remaining credit balance (less the $3 handling fee) will be automatically applied to your 2014 season invoice, to be sent in early February. This change is being implemented in an effort to simplify the refunding process, to be consistent with other NFL teams, and because there is minimal time between the end of the playoffs and the onset of invoicing for the next season.”
This year, for the first time, the Packers would not allow a refund if the team did not make the playoffs.
No big deal, right? After all, the fan has to pay for his tickets eventually, what does it matter? It matters quite a bit.
This year, the Packers sent the invoice to fans the last week in November. This was just after a 40-10 drubbing at the hands of the Lions which put the Packers at 5-6-1. It was a time of the season that the Packers playoff hopes looked bleak. It was also about three and a half weeks before Christmas.
According to the Packers website, if you had the mid-level season ticket, you were invoiced $340 per seat for the playoffs. For an individual with four seats, that would be an invoice of $1360 for two games at Lambeau even though it seemed unlikely at the time that the Packers would make the playoffs at all, let alone host two games.
A working family with season tickets had to make a choice. Would they spend $1360 of their money on playoff tickets that most likely they would never see, or would they pass this year? With the new ticket policy, that meant $1360 that the fan wouldn’t see until their invoice came for their season tickets next year. Considering how the Packers had been playing, and how they had been destroyed by Detroit, and rumors that Rodgers may not return this season, can we really blame season ticket holders who decided no to tie up that money at the holidays? I can’t.
It is true that many other NFL teams hold playoff ticket money for next season’s tickets, but in the past, the Packers had not. This year’s change left many upset and unwilling to have their money tied up if the Packers didn’t have a home playoff game. That’s why there were 40,000 tickets unsold.
Listening to season ticket holders call Green and Gold Today on ESPN Milwaukee, the theme was consistent. They could not afford to have their money tied up for a very small chance that they would get to see a home playoff game at Lambeau. That doesn’t make them bad fans.
Maybe the organization should think about its roots, and its surroundings. This isn’t a team in a huge market, with huge corporate ticket holders (for the most part). The team should think about the impact it has on the community when they decide they are going to hold ticket money for next year. The team should be more of a family friendly organization (as it once was) instead of turning into the corporate machine every other team has become.
UPDATE: According to Rich Ryman from the Green Bay Press Gazette, the Packers agree that change in refund policy may be the issue.
#Packers concede that change in refund policy might have led to slower sales, as well as weather, holiday, etc.
— RichRymanPG (@RichRymanPG) January 2, 2014
UPDATE: NFL teams are not required to charge for tickets up front. Some are charging as the games come along.
Packers asked for all playoff $ up front, Eagles just charging credit cards by the game
— darren rovell (@darrenrovell) January 3, 2014