In the vernacular of the sport involved, this would be referred to as a fumble — a term that refers to dropping the ball or, as Merriam-Webster describes its transitive-verb usage, "to grope for or handle something clumsily or aimlessly" or "to deal with in a blundering way: BUNGLE."
The attempt to schedule and market a National Football League pre-season game between the Oakland Raiders and Green Bay Packers on Aug. 22 at IG Field is on the verge of becoming an epic red-ink-stained failure, thanks to the organizers’ mistaken assumptions and the unwillingness of local sports fans to pay ridiculously inflated prices for an event that will likely feature only fleeting on-field appearances by the teams’ marquee players.
Simply put, the promoters of the event — the Raiders, in partnership with Toronto-based On Ice Entertainment — seem to have decided fans in NFL-starved Canada would be willing to pay almost anything to see the stars (or, in the case of a pre-season game, roster-spot holders and a few first-stringers seeing limited duty) of North America’s most profitable pro-sports league.
If this week’s reports of disappointing to-date ticket sales are any indication, they’re about to find out just how catastrophically incorrect that assumption was.
A quick study of Ticketmaster’s IG Field seating chart suggests at least half — and perhaps more — of the seats in the lower bowl remain unsold. Some sections of the less-expensive upper deck appear to be mostly sold, but even the middle portion of the upper bowl looks to have many sections where seats are mostly available.
Tickets originally ranged from $75 to $340 (before taxes and fees); it was announced this week that some 6,000 tickets were being reduced from $164 to $75. Those who had purchased at the original full price were not amused.
Winnipeggers are savvy shoppers who know when they’re being had. They’re also football fans with a first-place CFL team whose home games can be attended for the relatively modest outlay of C$18 to $155 (taxes/fees included).
By contrast, if one happened to be in Phoenix this week and wanted to see the Oakland Raiders face the Arizona Cardinals in pre-season action, one might be able to snag an upper-bowl ticket for as little as US$7. A lower-bowl seat at centre field could be had for US$76 (plus fees). Even for a Raiders regular-season home game (Nov. 17, versus the Cincinnati Bengals), a lower-bowl ticket can be readily found for US$165 (plus fees).
Winnipeggers are savvy shoppers who know when they’re being had. They’re also football fans with a first-place CFL team whose home games can be attended for the relatively modest outlay of C$18 to $155 (taxes/fees included). And because of that, Peg City’s first dalliance with the big, bad, buyer’s-remorse-inducing NFL appears destined to be a huge flop.
It will be unfortunate, however, if the failure of the event is somehow construed as a black eye for Winnipeg, or as evidence that this city won’t pony up the prices required for premium sports entertainment. Winnipeggers have willingly paid full freight for many big-ticket experiences, from Grey Cups, to Stanley Cup playoff runs, to Women’s World Cup soccer matches to the NHL’s Heritage Classic hockey weekend.
It isn’t about willingness to open wallets. It’s a simple value-for-money proposition, and the NFL and On Ice Entertainment got it horribly, expensively wrong.
It’s an NFL undertaking, but perhaps the best way to sum things up is to borrow a term from the CFL’s rulebook: because of its fatally flawed game plan, this event is destined to end up deeply in the rouge.
Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board.