LAS VEGAS — Congratulations, Eagles fans! Your team has been selected as the first in NFL history to have a regular-season game scheduled in South America. It’ll be Friday, Sept. 6, in Sao Paulo, Brazil. You should be thrilled. You should be honored. You should start making your travel plans now.
Just checked Expedia. For a cool $1,022, you can buy a round-trip ticket that includes a two-stop flight — from Philadelphia to Miami to Brasilia to Sao Paolo — that will get you in town the day before the game. Best of all, that leg of the trip should take you only 16 hours. Hey, no biggie.
What’s that? You can’t afford to go? Aw, that’s a shame. Because you’re not just missing out now. You’ll probably miss out next year, too. Don’t know if you heard these two pieces of news, but pay attention.
One, back in December, the NFL’s owners voted to expand the number of international games in a season from four to eight as of 2025. Two, Peter O’Reilly, the NFL’s executive vice president of “club business, international, and league events” — think of him as the league’s travel agent/event planner — announced Friday that Madrid will host a regular-season game in ’25. What was a novelty is becoming routine, and the cost ain’t coming down.
Look, you don’t need an MBA from Wharton to understand what the NFL is doing here. There was a time, as recently as 10 years ago that the NFL would soon reach market saturation, that it could reach a point at which it couldn’t squeeze another dollar or drop of interest out of the American public. (Silly, I know.) So the league and its owners redoubled their efforts to gain other footholds around the globe. They’ve got London, and they’ve made inroads in Mexico, and now they’re branching out to Germany and Spain, and next it will be …?
“Nothing imminent in terms of going to Asia or Australia,” O’Reilly said, “but that’s something we continue to consider. There are clearly great stadiums, great partners, there. The travel is a factor, and that will be something we continue to look at. But there are real opportunities in real parts of the world that are important to reach with our game.”
Those opportunities are real, of course, for those people who have the means to take advantage of them, and the economic bar for enjoying pastimes and institutions that were once staples of a middle- and upper-middle-class existence is getting higher and higher. Take an example close at hand: The average price of a ticket to Super Bowl LVIII here has risen to more than $8,600, and Harry Reid International Airport carved out an additional 18 acres of parking to accommodate the influx of private jets.
It’s not just the NFL, either. “Ticket prices to sporting events increased 15%” from 2022 to 2023, according to a CNN report last week. The Bureau of Labor Statistics found that, from 1999 through 2019, “prices for admission to sporting events [grew] more than twice as fast as overall consumer prices.” Disney has been increasing the prices at its theme parks in recent years, and The Wall Street Journal revealed in 2022 that the ostensibly family-friendly company even changed its business strategy to make the parks less accessible to the general public, focusing “less on maximizing the quantity of visitors and more on increasing how much money each visitor spends.”
In other words: We can make more money by catering to a smaller, richer, more exclusive clientele. So we will. These trends call to mind a line from Renee Zellweger’s character in the film Jerry Maguire: “First class is what’s wrong. It used to be a better seat. Now it’s a better life.”
The NFL is doing the same thing. Maybe its reach and popularity really have no limit. Maybe the public’s hunger for pro football really is insatiable. Maybe the NFL can have games on Sunday afternoons and Sunday nights and Monday nights and Thursday nights and Fridays and Thanksgiving and Christmas, too. And maybe it can reschedule games within a season and expect fans to adjust their schedules and balance their checkbooks accordingly, and maybe it can schedule games a continent away from its core audience, and maybe it can charge whatever it wants and people will pay it.
I just wonder if the resentment among those who can’t pay, who can’t participate, who have been shut out of the good times and shared experience will someday reach a tipping point. And I wonder what will happen if it does.