The Buffalo Bills brought their yearlong fight over the disparity in NFL revenues home to the fans Wednesday.
The Bills announced their largest percentage price increase in 17 years, raising the average ticket at Ralph Wilson Stadium by 12.5 percent, to $46.45 from $41.29.
The Bills had the lowest average ticket price in the National Football League in 2006. Even with the increase, they still will have the least-expensive tickets in the 32-team league.
Leaguewide, the average ticket price was $62 in 2006.
The price increase will be felt most by fans sitting in the best seats -- those along the sidelines.
The season-ticket price for fans between roughly the 15-yard lines in the lower bowl will rise from $470 for a 10-game package to $600. That's $13 a game more, or an increase of 27.7 percent. The fans sitting in the best seats in the upper deck -- the first 20 rows in the middle four sections -- will pay 22.7 percent more, with season tickets rising to $540 from $440, or $10 a game.
Those sitting higher in the upper deck or in the end zones won't face much of a rise. Ticket prices in nine of the 12 seating areas in the stadium will see an increase of $3 per game or less.
The Bills decided they needed to follow the practice of virtually every other team in the league and put a greater premium on the best seats.
"It's definitely a function of scaling the house," said Russ Brandon, Bills executive vice president for business operations. "We focused on our premium categories. We remain the least-expensive ticket in the league, even after these increases.
"You look at the 31 clubs we're competing against and the cost of their lower-level sideline product," Brandon said. "We're at $60 a ticket. The average was close to $90 last year for lower-level sideline seats. [It was $88.09.] At the end of the day, when all the price increases [around the league] are in, I think we'll still be $40 lower than the average of what people pay on lower level."
Indianapolis is at the high end of the league for sideline seat prices, at $179 a game. New England is at $135 a game. The Patriots also sell standing-room-only tickets for $49 a game at Gillette Stadium. Tennessee was at the Bills' new level of $60 a game for sideline lower-bowl seats in 2006. NFL average prices don't include personal seat licenses, added charges some teams impose for the right to buy season tickets.
The price increase comes during a year in which the Bills have battled to get what they think is a fairer distribution of league revenues in the wake of the new collective-bargaining agreement between the league and the players. The deal increases the players' share of league money from 54.5 percent (in 2005) to 59.5 percent for the next six years.
The Bills are convinced the deal will only further increase the disparity between the rich and poor teams. In 2004, Washington was at the top at $287 million in revenues, and the Bills were 22nd at $173 million, according to Forbes magazine.
"Any time a price increase occurs, it's a function of a lot of factors, and the new collective-bargaining agreement certainly is one of those," Brandon said. "We're competing on a national scale for every one of our business units across the board."
The ticket increase won't put a big dent in that disparity. At an average of $5 more a seat, it could produce roughly $2.4 million more a year in revenue, not counting parking and concessions. That's why the Bills are so serious about the league's continuing talks to set up a cost-sharing plan to funnel millions from the richest clubs to the lowest 15 revenue-earning teams.
The Bills are aiming to boost their season-ticket total, which was about 43,800 last year. That number was pretty good by Buffalo standards. It was higher than in any other season since 1994. But it's among the lower ones "Our focus is on season-ticket holders," Brandon said. "The season ticket remains a significant savings over individual game tickets, and they receive numerous other benefits, such as first rights on individual game purchases."
Individual game tickets go on sale sometime in July. Season-ticket holders can buy additional seats to any other game before July.
The Bills increased individual game prices for the best sideline seats to $70 from $58.
Season tickets in the "Rockpile" section in the scoreboard end zone remain $270. The prices for individual game seats in the corners of the upper deck, which usually are the last to sell, are going down to $42 from $44.