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February 21, 2017

Why every pro sports team should pay careful attention to what Eric Church is doing

Professional sports leagues, their teams, and their fans should pay a little bit of attention to country singer Eric Church and it has nothing to do with any of hits being used as walk-up songs or pre-game pump-up-music.

Church, who has become a huge star, is in a notable war with ticket scalpers and brokers – all in an effort to make sure that his most loyal fans can afford to attend his concerts. And rather than just complaining about it, Church has actually done something about it.

Church just ordered the cancellation of 25,000 tickets that were sold for his upcoming tour because he and his business partners determined that those tickets were sold to scalpers who quickly put them up for sale on aftermarket ticket sites.

Church was dismayed when he saw the prices of his tickets listed at $500 or more, and it meant some of his best fans would never be able to get anywhere near him.

It was infuriating to Church, who has attempted to keep his prices on the average of about $60.

In a previous interview with Rolling Stone, Church addressed the issue.

“I've been told to raise my prices,” said Church, “But there's guys out there that want to come to a show and bring their family to a show and are working a blue-collar job, they were there for us in bars and clubs, so I should raise to $100 because that's what the scalpers think? I refuse to believe that. The fact that I have to raise it because of scalpers, that's what makes me mad. It's not because I want to raise it, it's because there's a f**king scalper going to make a profit on it. It's nuts.”

Yes, it is nuts – and it’s even nuttier in the world of sports where the love affair between professional teams and leagues have turned the very best fans into ticket brokers and ruined the unique bond that once existed between loyal fans and their favorite teams.

Take a look at the Phillies’ Opening Day availability. On their own website, the Phils only had about 1,000 seats available as of yesterday, but in the various secondary-market sites, there are many more tickets available. These are tickets that are bought at face value and then are being re-sold at much higher prices.

The other side of that argument is that you could also get tickets for less – as was the case with the Sixers during the lean years of the recent past. The free-economy argument is you should be able to get what the market will bear and no harm, no foul.

But there is harm and the professional sports teams should realize there is a danger of real long-term harm. That harm is that teams have turned their very best fans into ticket brokers and they have helped break the emotional bond between team and fan.

Imagine that you are a full-season ticket holder for the Flyers, Phillies, Sixers or, to a lesser extent, the Eagles. If you have a $75 ticket, you can turn around and sell that ticket for, say, $200 to the best games – especially if your team is hot. Sell enough and you've paid for the rest of the season.

But the problem with that scenario is twofold:

First, if you were a team, wouldn’t you want your best fans at the best games – and not, potentially, the other team's fans? And from the fan’s view, as a die-hard fan, don’t you want to be at the best games?

Or are these games nowadays just money-making opportunities?

Second, and this is potentially a much bigger problem: What happens if long-term season-ticket holders start to wonder why they are shelling out big bucks for Flyers-Coyotes, Phillies-Padres or Sixers-Nets when all they really want to see are games like Flyers-Penguins, Phillies-Mets or Sixers-Cavs.

In many cases, people who have bought season tickets pay the money for the lesser games just for the opportunities to be at the best games. Eventually, those season-ticket holders might very well decide it is more financially prudent to simply “overpay” for the good games and forget about the lesser games.

Why pay $10,000 for a season ticket – a price that oftentimes includes preseason games – when you can just “overpay” $500 here and there and cherry-pick the games you really want to see?

It could mean the end of the season-ticket holder, pro sports' most important asset.

In essence, leagues have turned ticket holders into scalpers – the same leagues, mind you, that used to abhor scalpers … until they learned they could pad their collective pockets with percentages from the secondary-market sites.

Teams, meanwhile, are looking at the absurd prices these sites are getting and wondering if they should hike their ticket prices to match the "market" values beforehand. 

Sports leagues and teams should take a collective look at what Church has done, and what bands such as Phish have done to ensure that tickets remain available and affordable for their biggest and best fans.

Because this whole after-market ticket mess will end up a long-term disaster.