Have we reached a tipping point regarding NFL tickets, even in Green Bay?
As of late Wednesday, 7,500 tickets remain for Sunday’s 49ers-Packers wild card playoff game at Lambeau Field.
The fact that the Packers are having trouble selling tickets is eye-opening even with extenuating circumstances. By late Sunday it is expected to be very cold, even by “January in Wisconsin” standards. As of Thursday morning, the high temperature for Sunday is now expected to be five degrees BELOW zero, with an eventual low of -20.
With the Packers playoff chances slim when payments were due from season ticket holders a month ago, 40,000 tickets were available when the team secured the NFC North division title last Sunday.
On Monday morning, season ticket holders were given another crack at buying tickets, followed by things opening up to the general public later on Monday. About 25,000 tickets were sold on Monday, with roughly 8,000 more sales over the past two days.
Should the game not sell out by kickoff at Thursday at 3:40 p.m. Central Time, the game risks being blacked out in both the Green Bay and Milwaukee markets, although that does not seem likely.
The last time a Packers home game was blacked out in a home market was a 1993 regular season game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at County Stadium in Milwaukee, a venue that had numerous seats that were awful for football.
In 1994 and 2003, playoff tickets were also made available to the public after season ticket holders did not renew. In the pre-Internet days of 1994, tickets sold out for a first round playoff game in less than 15 minutes, while tickets quickly sold out online nine years later.
Season ticket holders have to pay for two potential playoff games, a wild card or divisional playoff game and a possible NFC Championship Game. In past years, fans had the option of getting cash refunds for un-played games. This year, the fine print indicated that balances would now go towards the following season’s season ticket balance.
Another variable is that postseason ticket purchases are not mandatory to remain on the Packers’ season ticket list. It is the investment of eight regular season games and two exhibition games that fans must continue to pay for annually or lose their spot.
Lambeau Field now boasts the NFL’s third largest capacity at 80,750. Twenty years ago capacity was around 60,000, increasing to 72,000 by 2004. Without the expansion completed in the past year, this game would be sold out.
If the Packers were to miss a sell out, it would not be the first time it happened for a playoff game in Green Bay. In the strike-shortened 1982 season the Packers earned the NFC’s third seed, but did not sell out their first-round playoff game. Fan backlash from the seven-week work stoppage was blamed.
Games in Cincinnati and Indianapolis are also in danger of not selling out this weekend. The dynamics are different in each market, and hopefully Roger Goodell is taking notice. Spending $50 for parking, $100 for replica jerseys, plus concessions, local hotels, etc. gets to be a bit much. And Green Bay actually remains one of the better experiences.
If current forecasts get even more extreme, the league could consider flipping the Sunday start times for the Chargers-Bengals game (1 p.m. ET) and 49ers-Packers contest (4:40 ET). Ironically, the Chargers and Bengals played on January 10, 1982 and that contest is the one game whose brutally cold conditions compare with the 1967 Ice Bowl.
Green Bay fans remain among the NFL’s most loyal, but even loyalty has its limits. Unless the game is blacked out, the big screen in the living room sounds good compared to the potential of travel and being stranded in the bitter cold.
And if the game is blacked out? Then Packer fans will get a stark reminder of the continued relentless greed that is the National Football League.