Inflation is rising, but fans are paying for tickets to the NBA, NFL and other sports

People are changing your spending habits as prices rise at rates not seen in four decades, make decisions that favor experiences. That means a huge demand for live sports.

Sports attendance demand is generally “not responsive to price changes,” said Dennis Coates, a professor of sports economics at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. “Good times, bad times, high prices: consumer behavior doesn’t change” around sports spending.

Now that pandemic restrictions are being relaxed, even as cases remain high in many places, people are looking to get out more. “I think people want high-level experiences, they want to get out, and they’ve been in lockdown for a number of years,” Ari Emanuel, CEO of owner Ultimate Fighting Championship. Endeavorsaying recently on CNBC. “They want to live life a little.”

That was illustrated earlier this month, when ticket prices for upcoming 2022 NFL games they averaged $307 immediately after the league schedule was released, aftermarket platform SeatGeek said. Although that price is down from an average of $411 from the beginning last year, it is higher than the average of $305 in 2020, when aid was restricted due to Covid. The average in 2019, before the disease took over the world, was $258. Ticket prices reflect demand and typically fluctuate throughout the season.

As demand increases, teams and organizations raise prices. A concession menu for the PGA Championship this week showed $18 beers. Spending rates per fan grew for the NFL and the NBA in its most recent seasons, according to the Fan Cost Index produced by Team Marketing Report, a sports marketing firm in Chicago. The index calculates what non-premium seats, two beers, four soft drinks, two hot dogs, merchandise and parking costs would cost, according to company CEO Chris Hartweg.

This spring, fans are packing stadiums for the NHL and NBA playoffs. Hugo Figueroa, 29, said he paid $1,200 for three tickets to a playoff game between the Boston Celtics and the Brooklyn Nets.

“Work hard, play hard,” Figueroa told CNBC last month while standing inside the Nets fan tent at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. He said he bought a beer at the game but “ate before he got here because he didn’t want to pay for food.” Concessions are usually marked more at sports and entertainment venues than at typical restaurants and food courts.

Figueroa said he works two jobs, so he can deal with rising prices. “I work to be able to spend,” she said.

Sports fans shop at the Brooklyn Nets fan store at Barclays Center.

Young Jabari | CNBC

Strong consumer balance sheets, bolstered in part by stimulus payments and previous Covid support programs, are helping people pay more in sports, according to Judd Cramer, a sports economist at Harvard University who served in the administration of President Barack Obama.

“It seems like consumers have been able to deal with that,” Cramer said. “When I look back historically, we’ve had low inflation for a long time, but during the recession in the early 1980s, when GDP was down, sports spending was really strong.”

If ticket prices are too high for some fans, “there’s another person who’s there” to buy inventory, Cramer said.

Emily Ushko, 32, told CNBC she has “a little bit of disposable income” and wants to spend it on sports. She said she paid more than $600 for two tickets to a Nets-Celtics playoff game last month.

“It’s something that happens once in a lifetime,” Ushko said. “You want to see these players live, get the feel of the audience and experience it.”

In this Oct. 4, 2020, file photo, an empty Levi’s Stadium is seen before an NFL football game.

Tony Avellar | access point

However, while consumers have remained resilient in the face of rising inflation, there are concerns that the US economy may be heading into a recession, forcing some working- and middle-class fanatics to take tougher spending decisions.

“People could get hurt a little bit,” Harvard’s Cramer said.

Team Marketing Report’s Hartweg warned that more consumers could eventually “slam on the brakes” if prices on essential items rise.

Figueroa, the NBA fanatic, said he would “reconsider coming” to Barclays Center next season if inflation persists.

Still, there are fans who will keep coming, even if prices continue to rise and economic uncertainty increases. Philadelphia fan Kevin Washington, 58, and his wife, Tawana, 53, have been Sixers season-ticket holders for five years and don’t want to lose their seats.

“It never crossed my mind,” Washington said. “You just need to budget a little better. You still need to enjoy yourself a little bit. You need some time away from the reality of life.”

However, a recession has yet to materialize, and may not happen at all. It will take a “major catastrophe” with high unemployment to cause another slowdown, said Coates, the sports economics professor. The unemployment rate stands at 3.6%.

“If it’s a normal-sized recession,” he said, “I think people get through it for the most part.”

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