Browns’ ticket market reaches ‘low point’

Courtesy of Crain’s Cleveland Business (Author: Kevin Kleps) –

Selling anything connected to a winless football team is difficult enough.

Selling seats for a Christmas Eve game against an opponent — the San Diego Chargers — that isn’t going to bring a bunch of fans to the lakefront is as tall of a task as getting Joe Thomas to miss a snap.

The Cleveland Browns’ historically bad start to the 2016 season — 0-10 heading into a Nov. 20 game against the visiting Pittsburgh Steelers — is a mess for brokers, but a gift for fans looking to buy $5 seats for an NFL game.

Mark Klang, who owns Amazing Tickets in Mayfield Village, said the market for the Browns’ last three home games — Nov. 27 against the New York Giants, Dec. 11 vs. the Cincinnati Bengals and Dec. 24 against the Chargers — is “disastrous.”

“The final two games won’t get opposing fans, either, nor will the Giants really due to the timing of the game (the Sunday after Thanksgiving),” Klang said.

As if the possibility of a winless season wasn’t enough to keep fans away late in the season, the NFL schedule called for the Browns to play six of their last nine games at FirstEnergy Stadium. The closing stretch — once the marquee opponents (the Dallas Cowboys, New England Patriots and Steelers) are off the schedule, and as the frustration and/or fan apathy really begins to mount — is particularly brutal.

Klang calls it the “low point” for the team’s ticket market since the franchise returned in 1999.

The nadir is the Christmas Eve game against the Chargers — for which Vivid Seats had listings as of Thursday, Nov. 15, that started at $4, which was a buck or two lower than the get-in costs for the matchup on SeatGeek ($5) and StubHub ($6). StubHub was selling parking passes for $24 for the San Diego contest — a price that was four times as high as the low point for a ticket to the game.

SeatGeek’s top deal scores for the Chargers-Browns matchup included several $21 listings for three seats in Section 117, located in the northwest corner of the end zone. The Browns’ 2016 season-ticket chart says seats in that area were $800 for 10 home games, which includes a pair of preseason contests.

Klang predicts that the Browns’ home finale on Christmas Eve could have an actual attendance that is lower than the two preseason games — both of which were played on Thursday nights.

A half-empty stadium, and/or one that is overrun with fans of the opposing team, is nothing new for the Browns, who had lost 20 of their last 21 games prior to the Steelers coming to town.

The team confirmed to Crain’s after the 2015 season that the final four games of a 3-13 campaign didn’t sell out. The two-year renovation of FirstEnergy Stadium reduced the capacity to 67,431, which is 5,569 below the Browns’ 73,000 attendance norm in 2007 — one of their two winning seasons since 1999.

The Browns’ first four games of 2016 did sell out, the team said. Those efforts were boosted by two matchups — Oct. 9 against New England and Nov. 6 vs. Dallas — that were two of Klang’s four best-selling contests in the last 15 years.

The Patriots and Cowboys created so much demand, Klang said, that the Browns’ 2016 ticket market will finish stronger than the previous season. The sales for those games, though, “were all opponent-driven,” the broker said.

The Giants-Bengals-Chargers closing stretch doesn’t have near that demand, which has led to list prices that are at least three times cheaper in many cases than similar seats the Browns are trying to sell online.

StubHub provided data to Crain’s that showed the median sales price of the Browns’ final three home games ranged from $30 for the Chargers game to $50 for the Giants. Factor in the $44 median sales price for the Bengals contest, and the Browns’ last three home games are among the eight remaining contests on the NFL schedule that are generating median sales prices of $50 or below on StubHub.

The Chargers-Browns game has the lowest median price on the list, and a second Browns contest — this time a road date against the Buffalo Bills on Dec. 18 — is second, at $35.

Jim Kahler, the executive director of the Center of Sports Administration at Ohio University and a former Cavaliers senior vice president of sales and marketing, said the single-digit list prices for the Browns’ last three home games could mean that brokers “overinvested” on the team prior to the season.

“They are setting the tone for the market,” Kahler said. “They’re trying to unload right now.”

Kahler said he has read studies that say brokers can represent at least 25% to 30% of a team’s ticketing inventory.

“Unfortunately and fortunately, the secondary market really dictates market values,” the OU professor said.

In the Browns’ case, the perpetual struggles often lead to a December schedule that depends on fans of the opposing team to fill FirstEnergy Stadium. In 2016, that timeline was sped up drastically.

As bargain hunters likely were seeing $4, $6 and $8 seats on the secondary market, the Browns’ website had similar seats available — spots in the Family Zone, mezzanine, upper level and Dawg Pound — for $60, $64, $66 and $68, respectively.

Six days before the Browns faced the Steelers for the first time in 2016, executive vice president of football operations Sashi Brown told the media he didn’t believe the franchise was “in danger of losing our fan base.”

Brown stressed that “brighter days are ahead.”

Brokers, and plenty of others, would probably counter that it can’t get any worse.