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Reminder: NFL preseason games are a scam

This is your annual reminder that NFL preseason games are a scam. They are simply a way for NFL team owners to rip off fans, season ticket holders and NFL players.

How exciting!
How exciting!
Harry How

Last year, I wrote a post on the NFL preseason being a scam. That post has been getting a good amount of traffic lately, which made me think that I should revisit it and expound a bit on my points.

There is no difference in ticket prices between an NFL preseason game or regular season game. Seriously. Not one dollar difference.

Want to see the Chargers home opener against the Tennessee Titans in Week 2? The cheapest ticket, in the seat closest to the sun, will run you $54 (and, if you buy online, get ready for those Ticketmaster fees).

Want to see the Chargers backups and third-stringers-that-won't-make-the-roster go up against the Green Bay Packers on Thursday? The cheapest ticket, in the seat closest to the sun, will run you $54 (and, if you buy online, get ready for those Ticketmaster fees).

This was the point that got the most response. "I got tickets to the Chargers preseason game for $5 on StubHub!" was the most common response. True, there are tickets for about $30 for the Chargers-49ers game in two weeks, but those are resellers. Those are people selling tickets that they bought from the team. The team is selling them for...


Somewhere between $59.80 and $139.30, depending on where you'd like to sit. Basically, the same price as the regular season.

So, who's getting ripped off here? Well, for one, people that don't know about reseller markets. They're paying the stupidity tax in this one. Also, season ticket holders. Those are most often the people you're buying tickets from when you shop the reseller markets. They're the ones forced into paying for these tickets.

Tell me how watching guys that aren't going to make the Chargers go up against guys that aren't going to make the Packers in an exhibition game is the same as watching the Chargers starters go up against the Titans starters in a game that might determine if either team makes the playoffs. Especially when the NFL charges more for playoff games than it does regular season games.

So, just to recap, the NFL thinks preseason (exhibition) games and regular season games are worth the same to the fans, but playoff games are worth more. Am I the only one who finds fault with that theory?

Who else is getting ripped off?

The players!

The largest cost associated with running an NFL team is salary. Since every team is near the same salary cap figure, every team is paying about $7.5 million in salary for each of the 16 games during the regular season. The thing they never tell you is that they only pay for those 16 games.

It's true, there are no "game checks" for players in the preseason. In fact, "game checks" in the postseason come from the NFL directly (instead of the team) and are quite low in comparison to most game checks earned by the "star players" around the league.

During the preseason, players are given a per diem based on their tenure. It's meant to cover their food expenses and amounts to almost nothing. In the practices and preseason games you see, the players are essentially playing for free. Those savings get passed on to.....well, no, not you. It goes straight into the pocket of the NFL owners.

Free labor! How the players' union let's the owners get away with that is beyond me.

I've heard a million times that "NFL owners make a profit on a season before the regular season even begins." For a long time I didn't believe that was possible. However, two full-price sell outs and free labor from the players makes me think it might not be that far off from the truth.


The NFL owners love the preseason. Here's why:

  • The league is getting tons of attention
  • Fans are convincing themselves that the team can compete
  • Nobody is mad about the referees yet
  • The TV contracts say that home games still need to be sold out or face a local TV blackout
  • The tickets are still full-price
  • The concessions are still full-price
  • The cost of parking at the stadium is still full-price
  • Merchandise is still full-price
  • The players are playing for free
  • The most important players play significantly less, reducing the risk of a lost investment

To quote myself (again):

No, I won't be at the Packers game on Thursday 49ers game in two weeks. I won't be at any of the San Diego Chargers preseason games this season or any season after this until the NFL and its owners come to their senses and stop charging regular-season prices for meaningless exhibition games of lesser NFL talent. If you have the chance, I recommend you do the same.

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