NFL attendance problem: Apathy leads to empty seats

Published 6:22 am Saturday, December 17, 2016

It’s December, and in some cities the weather is bad, the football is worse.

While overall attendance in the NFL is up — credit in great part the Rams’ move from St. Louis to Los Angeles — those empty seats you see in several stadiums are no mirage.

There are even lots of empties in the LA Memorial Coliseum; maybe there was no honeymoon period with the Rams returning to LA.

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Jacksonville, Cincinnati, Miami, San Francisco, Cleveland and the Jersey Meadowlands when the Jets are home have had rows and rows of unused tickets. Other than Miami, those clubs have losing records this season.

The Dolphins (8-5) have announced sellouts each week, but there have been thousands of empty seats.

Detroit, perhaps on its way to a first-round playoff bye, has seen the same; last weekend’s win over the Bears drew 61,726 to the 65,000-seat facility.

Atlanta is tied for the NFC South lead and has “sold out” 67 straight games, but the stands have not been filled for much of this season, including a crowd almost 3,000 under capacity for the opener.

The Bucs, tied atop the NFC South with the Falcons, are averaging 60,423 through seven games, 5,000 under capacity.

When the 49ers hosted the Jets last Sunday, Levi’s Stadium was about half full. Of course, the matchup was a weak one, but the Niners haven’t drawn well for other contests, including against division rival Arizona.

It appears to be a combination of the team consistently losing, people not enamored of the stadium and its location in Santa Clara, and, on hot days, the sun baking a significant number of seats, making it uncomfortably hot.

Don’t think the players don’t notice, either. San Francisco’s Ahmad Brooks called it “disrespectful” that so many Patriots fans were in the building on Nov. 20. Minnesota’s Stefon Diggs said it was “a great crowd” when most of the fans in Jacksonville on Sunday were wearing purple.

“I almost thought it was a home game it was so loud for us at times. It’s louder back home, but it was great fan support for us today. They came out and showed a lot of love.”

There’s not much love being shown in Cleveland, which seems logical given the Browns’ chase of infamy. Browns fans are among the most loyal in football, but an 0-fer is a bit too much to bear.

That means plenty of empty orange seats at FirstEnergy Stadium. The crowds have gotten noticeably smaller and last Sunday the stadium was only half-filled for Ohio rival Cincinnati. For other games, notably against Pittsburgh and Dallas, there were thousands of opposing fans.

“Well, we did that to ourselves,” said tackle Joe Thomas, Cleveland’s best player. “We’re the ones that didn’t win the games. If we would be 13-0, I guarantee it would be packed, they’d be selling tickets for a thousand bucks a pop.

“So it’s not discouraging any more than the record that we have is discouraging. That’s the nature of the NFL. If you don’t win, people don’t want to watch you.”

In Tampa, which has a young and exciting team building something impressive, the first game in which there wasn’t a massive presence of fans in visiting regalia was against Seattle — the Bucs’ sixth home game.

Visiting fans don’t have problems getting seats because there are so many tickets available.

After last week’s 16-11 win over New Orleans, Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston said: “People want to come to these games and see the Bucs play now. That’s fun. That’s fun as a team to know that we’re coming into a building and everyone is here for us, not the other team. That’s great.”

This weekend could provide quite a test of fans’ allegiances for the Bengals and the Jets. Cincinnati has advertised the availability of tickets for Sunday’s matchup with the Steelers, so there’s a decent chance Paul Brown Stadium will be full — of Terrible Towels.

New York has a Saturday night matchup against the Dolphins, one of its top rivals. Don’t expect to see waves of green throughout the stands at MetLife Stadium, particularly with a chance of nasty weather.

Ryan Bosma, a Jets season ticket holder since 2009, gave his two tickets to friends.

“It’s challenging when the Jets are down the drain,” he says. “There are just so many tickets available on the secondary market, and supply and demand does not work out in your favor. The market is just flooded with tickets, so to get any kind of return on tickets, it’s virtually impossible.”

Yet people keep buying season tickets, hardly an inexpensive venture, particularly when personal seat licenses (PSLs) are involved. Giving away tickets, selling them for less than face value or, even worse, eating them only exacerbates the costs, particularly for fans financing the PSL payments.

Bosma admits he chose to purchase the seats and PSLs, so he is stuck with the payments. He’s also stuck with a product that can be woeful. Just like his brethren in several other cities where, despite the overall health of the 32 NFL franchises, pro football is not a slam-dunk attraction.

“I was on the waiting list for five or six years,” Bosma says. “They were going into a new stadium and a lot of people decided not to do PSLs, and I went right up the list.”

Now, he doesn’t feel so fortunate. But at least he has company.

“It is an endless cycle with the Jets,” he says with a chuckle and no apparent bitterness. “It’s the Jets fans’ life.”