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Detroit Lions playoff run means higher prices next year beyond tickets

Ford Field, home of the Detroit Lions on November 10, 2020 in downtown Detroit, Michigan.
After years of bad teams and disgruntled crowds, the Detroit Lions are now one of the top teams in the NFL. The team had a waiting list of about 10,000 ticket applicants heading into this season. (Bryan Pollard /
  • Season ticket prices aren’t the only costs likely to rise next season following the Detroit Lions’ playoff success 
  • A generation of mostly bad teams has meant the Lions had to charge less than other NFL teams to attract fans  
  • The ascent of this year’s team will impact prices on concessions and merchandise; call it a happiness tax

The Detroit Lions are making what is, for this forlorn franchise, a historic playoff run by winning their first playoff game since January 1992 and will host another this Sunday at Ford Field in their grueling quest to finally reach the Super Bowl.

But like many things in life, there is a cost. And in sports, fans bear much of the financial brunt.


The Lions already signaled last month their new success means season ticket prices will rise significantly for the 2024-25 season. And sports industry observers tell Bridge Michigan that other fan-facing costs such as single-game tickets, concessions, merchandise, parking, etc., at Detroit’s Ford Field could escalate next season, too.


Additional price adjustments won’t happen until the offseason, and it’s not yet clear what could go up or remain flat, but it’s a market correction for a team whose fan costs have remained lower than average among their National Football League peers for decades. Think of it as a happiness tax on a fan base that finally has something to cheer for. 

“They’re being aggressive in making up for lost time in terms of pricing,” said Chris Hartweg, CEO and publisher of Team Marketing Report, a sports business intelligence firm. “They’ve not had frequent opportunities to say, ‘We’re putting a winning product on the field.’”

A bargain no more 

Rising prices cover the normal increased costs of doing business, such as player and staff salaries and the hefty utility bills for the stadium, but some also are simply because sports teams can capitalize on frenzied fan loyalty.

Detroit ranks as one of the NFL’s cheaper game-day experiences, per data provided by Chicago-based Team Marketing Report. Since 1991, the publication has surveyed and calculated how much it costs to take a family or group of four to a regular-season game in the major U.S. sports leagues, something it calls the Fan Cost Index (FCI).

The 2023-24 Detroit Lions Fan Cost Index published last month came in at $563.16, which ranked 26th in the 32-team NFL. That was up 13.3 percent over last season, and the biggest increase for Lions fans since an 18.1 percent jump in 2008 — the year the Lions finished 0-16.

The index is based on the average price of four non-premium tickets, a couple of beers, four hot dogs, two ballcaps (that represent souvenirs in general) and parking.

Only four teams had higher cost increases than Detroit going into this season, led by Jacksonville at 17 percent ($584.93). The overall average NFL Fan Cost Index this season was $631.63, per Team Marketing Report data.

Here’s how the Lions’ cost index line items fared, with NFL averages in parenthesis:

  • Ticket – $107.31 ($120.94)
  • Beer – $5 ($8.81)
  • Soda – $5.50 ($5.47)
  • Hot dog – $6.50 ($6.11)
  • Parking – $19.94 ($31.64)
  • Cap – $27.99 ($26.82)

The average non-premium Lions ticket ranked 24th in the NFL, and their average rank has been 23rd in fan costs over the decades.

In other words, despite grumbling about the cost of attending a game — particularly because the product on the field usually struggled to reach even mediocrity — Lions’ prices were about where they should have been in the stratospheric NFL economy.

Restoring the roar doesn’t come cheap and some fans get it, even if they have to dig a bit deeper to see their team.

Jeff Kogelmann and his wife, Christy Seitz, have had Lions season tickets since 2017, and last month they renewed at a cost of about $3,100 for their two seats in Section 235. This season, the seats cost them about $1,800, so it’s an increase of $1,300.

They were among the thousands of season ticket holders that received a letter from the team in December informing them that renewals for the 2024-24 season will increase by an average of 36 percent. Season ticket holders make up the vast majority of seating sales at 65,000-seat Ford Field.

With two children born during the pandemic, they’ve sold game tickets at times when it wasn’t possible to get downtown, so they’re aware of the face value and secondary market prices. Indeed, they’re looking to cash in on this Sunday’s game (but will go if there are no buyers at $1,100 each).

It’s also why they didn’t hesitate to renew their tickets last month.

“It didn’t sticker-shock me,” Kogelmann said of the renewal letter. “They are a business.”

But beyond the household economics, not renewing wasn’t going to happen, not with the promise this team holds.

“I’m such a diehard fan. It was never even an option,” Kogelmann said. The Macomb County couple doesn’t love the concessions prices, but like fans everywhere are used to such costs.

“A $16 beer is never fun to pay for,” Kogelmann said. And Seitz said she has seen game-day expenses at the stadium inch up but is resigned to the cost of NFL fandom.

“It wasn’t cheap before, so what’s another dollar,” she said.

Scaling prices to performance 

Who gets that additional dollar that’s functionally a tax on their joy? The primary financial beneficiaries are the enormously wealthy Ford family that’s owned the team since January 1964; the NFL itself, since 40 percent of ticket sales are shared equally among all teams; Chicago-based stadium concessionaire Levy that handles food and beverage at Ford Field, and Jacksonville, Fla.-based Fanatics Inc., which handles stadium and ecommerce retail merchandise sales for the Lions.

While the Lions have upped prices in bad seasons, it usually happens at scale when they’re winning and fans are willing to absorb the costs as part of their loyalty, however begrudgingly.

Detroit raised non-season ticket prices by an average of 8.3 percent after their 2011 playoff season, and then 8.5 percent following another one-and-done postseason in 2014, per Team Marketing Report data.

The 2020 pandemic season with few in-stadium fans sparked a 1.1 percent decline in average ticket prices followed by two seasons of no changes.

Coming into this season, which was one of justifiable playoff anticipation, Detroit upped its ticket prices 16.8 percent, the team’s largest average increase since a 23.6 percent boost for the 2002 season — the year Ford Field opened, and when the Lions took Oregon quarterback Joey Harrington third overall in the NFL Draft. The Lions finished 3-13 that season.

New stadiums are usually the biggest driver of increases for tickets and other game-day prices, said Hartweg, of Team Marketing Report.

The biggest pocketbook hit for Lions fans since Team Marketing Report began tracking costs came in 1992 when the team was a Super Bowl contender and ramped up prices by 26.2 percent at the Pontiac Silverdome. That yielded a Fan Cost Index average of $150.40 — an almost quaint number by today’s standards. Tickets averaged $25 that season for fans to watch future Hall of Famer Barry Sanders put on a highlight reel every week. Yet they still finished 5-11 (but made the playoffs in five of the next six seasons).

In this century, the Lions have struggled in the seasons following their three prior playoff runs, making the price increases harder to digest. In 2012, they finished 4-12; in 2015 it was 7-9; and in 2017 they managed to match their prior playoff season’s 9-7 mark, but it wasn’t good enough for a postseason berth.

Pricing decisions on souvenirs, parking, food and beverage, and other game-day fan costs largely won’t be made until after this season ends. Sports teams, including the Lions, typically work hand in hand with their concessions partners to determine pricing.

“One of the key factors in demand in sports is winning. No one should be surprised that a winning team is going to increase ticket prices,” said David Berri, a professor of economics at Southern Utah University and author of several books on the economics of sports. “What should be a bigger surprise is that people bought tickets to see the Lions for more than 60 years when they never really had any success. This only happened because in sports, consumers become essentially addicted to the product and can't let go even if the product is horrible.”

In recent years, sports teams including the Lions have tried to mitigate the optics of ticket and concession price increase by promoting a limited menu of discounted “family friendly” food and beverage items and packages.

“They use that to draw attention away or soften the blow,” Hartweg said.

‘No one should be surprised that a winning team is going to increase ticket prices. What should be a bigger surprise is that people bought tickets to see the Lions for more than 60 years’ — David Berri, sports economist

The Lions in recent years have introduced various perks, rewards programs and discounts for season ticket holders along with the “Silver Savings” menu around the stadium that has cheaper combo deals.

“Because (the Lions) have not been good for a long time, their prices sit in the bottom third for tickets. They couldn’t justify” increases,” Hartweg said. Now the team apparently believes it can increase them without jeopardizing season ticket renewal rates — and they’ve had a waiting list of about 10,000 ticket applicants heading into this season.

A sexier product 

The product on the field this season is a winning one, and if the Lions beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday afternoon, they’ll qualify for the NFC Championship Game for the first time since losing 41-10 to the Washington Redskins in the January 1992 conference title game.

And if Detroit wins this year’s NFC Championship? It’s off to Super Bowl LVIII at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas. Yet even if they don’t get to Sin City next month, the price increase trend already underway will still continue.

“You’re going to see a big jump; supply and demand allows the team to keep that big jump because someone is going to pay for it,” Hartweg said. “It’s a sexier team, filling the place up more, that can charge more. Everything becomes more expensive. If they get another win (on Sunday), they’re going to be one of the NFL’s hottest teams to watch (next season). The ticket office is going to want to capitalize.”

Just how much remains to be seen. Sports teams typically rely on internal and third-party business analytics to handle pricing. The Lions have expanded their business department in recent years to bolster fan-based and other revenue streams.

“Teams will push it to the line on the business models, how many people will walk away and not renew,” Hartweg said. “That helps for the most part to keep pricing in check.”

He likened it to going to the movies. People are conditioned to pay more. And it’s been made easier with quick-sale kiosks and cashless sales at Ford Field.

“It’s come much closer to movie theaters,” Hartweg said, noting that music venues and ballparks were the natural venues to follow the high pricing long seen at the cinema. “It’s become more of a norm. There hasn’t been the recoil from that extreme markup whatever the space.”

Still, this isn’t L.A. or New York or even Chicago. The D’s populace and economy has gone through it over the decades as a market, which means prices have increased more reasonably than in other towns.

“Nobody’s been hit harder than Detroit in the economy. If Detroit had been chugging along more, they could have had higher pricing,” Hartweg said. “Between them not (regularly) having a winning record or playoff teams and lousy economic conditions, they’re bottom third.”

Conversely, there’s also another economic factor in play: Happy fans spend more on the team. Teams also have discovered over the years that they don’t necessarily need to raise ticket prices enormously to cash in on winning. Fans come earlier and stay at the stadium or arena longer when their team is a winner, meaning they spend more for longer — increasing what teams call per-cap fan spending on concessions and souvenirs.

“That helps the team feel like they don’t have to claw more out of fans,” Hartweg said. And NFL teams have only eight or nine home games from which to separate fans from their cash. Pro baseball, hockey, basketball, and soccer have bigger inventories of home games, so prices are often not as steep.

Detroit sold out every home game this season and if the team continues its winning ways, that streak will continue. How much the Lions’ front office chooses to raise prices will become clearer next summer when the preseason begins.

Next season’s regular-season home schedule will include the two playoff opponents so far from this month (the Rams and Buccaneers) along with the Seattle Seahawks, Jacksonville Jaguars, Tennessee Titans, and Buffalo Bills, along with the usual NFC North opponents Green Bay, Chicago, and Minnesota.

There are also some bigger numbers in play around the Lions’ playoff run. One that could increase is the team’s overall value. In August, Forbes estimated the Lions to be worth $3.6 billion, which ranks second to last in the NFL. Only the smaller-market Cincinnati Bengals are worth less at $3.5 billion – estimates fueled mostly by the NFL’s approximately $120 billion in long-term TV and digital media rights deals that are shared among the teams.

Of course, such valuations are useful mostly when a team is for sale, and the Lions are certainly not on the market. The Ford family has its auto company logo atop the football stadium and throughout the building.

The other number is the economic impact of the playoff games. Visit Detroit, formerly known as the Detroit Metro Convention and Visitors Bureau, said this week the Lions’ first-round playoff win over the L.A. Rams last Sunday was worth $20 million to the city, while Lansing-based Anderson Economic Group estimated it closer to $50 million.

Berri, the economist, is a native Detroiter and fan, so is intimately familiar with the Lions’ decades of woe. Still, even with the excitement and attention, he’s among the legions of economists skeptical of the cheerful economic impact estimates pushed out by local chambers of commerce and civic booster organizations ahead of major sporting events.

“Sports generally don’t generate economic impact. There are different reasons for that,” Berri said. “There is a crowding-out effect. Or literally the fact that a sporting event will cause people to avoid that location (hence surrounding businesses can suffer).

“There is also the substitution effect. People do not have unlimited entertainment budgets. If you spend more on Lions tickets you spend less on other entertainment options. And finally, many people associated with sporting events reside outside the community, so the money leaks out of the area.”

He also noted that Detroit’s gross domestic product is $270 billion: “So $20 million is completely meaningless for a community of this size,” Berri said.


It’s certainly true some local bars, restaurants, and retailers will get nice little windfalls from downtown playoff games, but a lot of spending will go to out-of-town owners and corporations, such as chain hotels. And sporting events in general are baked into the business projections for many companies, large and small, so it’s money they come to rely upon.

What’s less quantifiable is the civic pride aspect of a Lions playoff run, something that’ll go further off the charts if the franchise earns that elusive first Super Bowl trip. Economists will tell you there is true value in such intangibles that are not immediate direct dollars.

“As an addicted Lions fan I can say that winning a playoff game definitely made me much happier,” Berri said. “And that is the big ‘impact’ of this event. There is more to life than dollars. You can just say that this made people in Detroit happier and leave it at that.”

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