Despite one of the worst economic downturns in recent memory, the NFL's 2009 paid attendance figures during the regular season held up remarkably well.
|NFL regular-season average paid attendances by year
In total, 17,282,225 tickets were sold for the 256 regular season games. The average of 67,509 sold tickets per game is down slightly from the 2008 regular season attendance record of 68,034. 2008 was the sixth consecutive year the NFL broke the regular season attendance record.
As a Cowboys fan, you may have grown accustomed to these numbers. In fact, anything below 100,000 at the new Cowboys Stadium doesn't really seem like a lot to the average Cowboys fan. But the NFL numbers are remarkable, and not just in the context of the economic downturn.
The attendance at NFL games is by far the highest of any domestic sports league, not just in the U.S but in the whole world. Sportingintelligence.com ranks the top ten leagues globally by average attendance in the most recent season:
The next best attended league can be found in another kind of football – the properly global football – in Germany’s Bundesliga, where an average 41,904 fans per game attended during the last full season 2008-09. The No3 spot in the top attendance league goes to Australia’s AFL (Aussie Rules, 2009), followed by English Premier League football (2008-09), American baseball (MLB 2009), Canadian Football (CFL, 2009), Spanish football (2008-09), then Japanese baseball (NPB, 2009), Italian football (Serie A, 2008-09) and Indian Premier league cricket.
And now for a closer look at Cowboys Stadium.
The new Cowboys Stadium broke three NFL attendance records in 2009.
The total regular season attendance over eight games was an NFL record 718,055. For comparison, Texas Stadium in 2008 drew 506,944 fans, which ranked the Cowboys only 24th in the league.
The Dallas Cowboys home opener last season against the New York Giants was the first regular season game played at the $1.15 billion Cowboys Stadium and attracted 105,121 fans, the largest regular season crowd in NFL history.
The previous record for a regular season game on U.S. soil surprisingly dates back to Nov. 10, 1957 when a crowd of 102,368 watched the Los Angeles Rams beat the San Francisco 49ers in the L.A. Coliseum.
|2009 NFL total regular season attendance by team
And Cowboys Stadium is not just a good thing for the Cowboys. Thanks in part to Cowboys Stadium, the NFC East last year led the league in total attendance (home and away games).
But there's even more to it. One third of the ticket revenue from each NFL game played is pooled and redistributed equally among all teams. At an average ticket price of $160 - twice the NFL average - the extra attendance in 2009 vs 2008 translates to a cool $34 million more in income, of which Jerry Jones gets to keep about $22 million. However, that figure is likely to pale next to the ancillary revenue that JerryWorld is generating:
While the NFL shares television money, league sponsorships and one third of ticket revenues equally among all teams, each franchise retains its parking, novelty and concession revenue, luxury suites and stadium naming rights revenue as well as retail sales, local radio & preseason TV deals and other sponsorships. That's a lot of possibilities for Jerry to rake in those extra dollars.
And the city of Arlington is also getting a piece of the action, as Cowboys Stadium is producing more tax income than predicted, in large part because Cowboys Stadium is generating more ticket tax money than originally estimated: Average attendance at Cowboys games is 86,990 versus the 70,058 initially projected, and average ticket prices are $159.65, way ahead of the $83.80 early estimate.
At the end of the day, any new stadium is primarily a great chance to increase a franchise's revenue stream and not just through ticket sales. The key is to attract as broad an audience as possible and generate the maxiumum revenue from each target audience, from luxury boxes all the way down to the party pass.
In return, fans expect a Cowboys experience they can't get anywhere else, and Jerry Jones realized that:
I spent millions of dollars to do exactly what we're supposed to be doing as owners - create a fan experience that will keep the fans coming back, because you just can't duplicate this anywhere else. I'm maximizing the stadium experience for fans. And I think I have helped advance the ball for the NFL.
The NFL's executive vice president of football operations, Ray Anderson, agrees:
With the choices people have, it is imperative for that in-stadium experience to be really special. Jerry Jones is responding to that need, with the bells and whistles in that stadium. He put it out there. Going forward, new stadiums will be challenged to duplicate what he's done to enhance the fan experience. He's a few years ahead of the curve.
Oh, and one more noteworthy record of sorts before this post is done: The number of punts, kickoffs, passes or any other foreign objects to hit the Jerrytron in 9 home games? Zero, zip, nada, zilch.