The San Francisco 49ers move to Levi’s Stadium was not the smoothest of transitions, but the experience has improved as the organization got accustomed to the new facility. We see a plethora of food options, all sorts of in-game entertainment, and some improvement in policies to help improve the fan experience.
While that is all well and good, it does not adequately go to the heart of the matter. In-game entertainment and other things like that are useful, but the real issue with the fan experience at NFL games, and with a lot of sporting events, is the cost. Tickets are expensive, parking is expensive, concessions and merchandise are expensive. Everything is just too expensive, and it makes more sense to stay home and enjoy the game from the comfort of your living room.
The Kansas City Chiefs and Atlanta Falcons are looking at some ways to make the experience a little more affordable. On Wednesday, the Chiefs announced something called the Bud Light Game Day Pass. It is a mobile-only ticket option that offers up a season ticket for $200. Previously, the lowest priced Chiefs season ticket was $380. With this new deal, a fan is guaranteed an upper level ticket to all ten Chiefs home games at Arrowhead Stadium. You can’t transfer the tickets, and they are strictly mobile, so there are certainly limitations. But the value is impressive.
The 49ers do offer a standing room ticket option. I don’t have the current prices in front of me, but when they first launched in 2014, preseason games were $25, “Prime” games were $50, and “Marquee” games were $75. For their current season tickets, the cheapest option is $85 per ticket per game, which comes out to $850 per ticket for the season. For that price, you also have to purchase $2,000 stadium builders’ license (SBL) for each seat.
The York family has the right to make as much money as they can from Levi’s Stadium. And given how much people are paying for SBLs on their season tickets, I don’t expect this kind of cheap season ticket option anytime soon. Fans who have spent an arm and a leg would rightfully be pissed off that someone got that kind of deal next to them. It’s the nature of the beast when you have high priced SBLs for you
And that brings us to another big area where the 49ers could help fans: concessions. Most professional sports teams in America have improved the selection at the stadium, including the 49ers. The problem is you can’t find much in the way of reasonable prices. The Falcons are moving into a new stadium this year, and as part of the launch, they are offering a relative bargain on a host of concessions. Among other things, they will sell non-alcoholic beverages for $2 with unlimited refills, a hot dog, popcorn, pretzel, or bottle of water for $2, pizza, peanuts, nachos, or waffle fries for $3, a 12 ounce cup of domestic beer for $5, and a basket of chicken tenders for $6.
Levi’s Stadium has improved the selection, but the prices could use improvement. I took a look at the Levi’s Stadium App where you can pre-order food and drinks. Here are some comparable prices, according to the app:
- Soda (20 oz bottle): $6 (no re-fill)
- Water (20 oz bottle): $5
- 12 oz domestic beer: $6
- Popcorn: $7.50
- “49er Dog”: $4.50 (“All Beef Hot Dog” is $6.50)
It is worth noting the 49ers did add the $6 beer option after opening with the cheapest beer listed at $10.25. They have listened to the audience and made some adjustments. But given the kind of revenue they are taking in, they have not done nearly enough when it comes to improving the financial experience for fans. Season ticket holders have invested a lot of money in tickets and SBLs for their seats. Individual game tickets are available, and season ticket holders have been selling their tickets at a loss on the secondary market, so you can avoid the huge commitment of season tickets.
However, none of that changes the fact that concessions are simply too expensive. It is nice that the 49ers put effort into improving the in-game entertainment. Regardless of how good a team is, and how entertaining the on-field product is, there is a lot of down time during NFL games. Additionally, the 49ers have improved the experience of waiting in line with express ordering, and delivery to seats. There is something to be said for not having to wait in line. There have been issues in the past with the effectiveness of it, but I believe they have improved it since a rocky first year.
All of that is helpful, and worth noting, but I have a hunch that a lot of people would prefer cheaper food to some of the bells and whistles. This won’t apply to everybody, but there are plenty of people stretching their budget to attend 49ers games. Offering a better deal on concessions would help them out, and be a legitimate goodwill gesture. The Falcons are getting great publicity and a lot of praise for offering up this kind of deal. They’re still going to make a killing in their new stadium, so sacrificing some concession money is not going to hurt them.
The 49ers have been open to figuring out ways to improve the fan experience at Levi’s Stadium. Hopefully at some point lowering some of these price points even further will move further up their priority list. They do have to deal with the city of Santa Clara on a lot of decisions, but based on the team’s lease with the city (PDF), concession revenue at NFL games is not split with the city. That would appear to make it relatively easy for the team to unilaterally lower prices. They have shown a willingness the past couple years to offer some better deals (the $6 beer and $4.50 hot dogs being the best examples). Now, maybe they can take this a step forward and show a real commitment to fans further down the economic ladder.