The decision by the Buffalo Bills to keep ticket prices at the same level for the 2009 season was the right thing to do for dedicated fans and the local economy.
The average cost of a Bills season ticket will remain $51.24. Although that was the lowest average price in the National Football League last season, it represents a sizable chunk of entertainment change for most local families. The Bills may be trying to keep game outings affordable enough to fill the stadium and retain revenues, but the franchise also deserves credit for trying to minimize consumer pain.
To be sure, there was a ticket-price increase of 10 percent two years ago, but that still left the Bills at the bottom of the league in average cost. And there are valid long-term concerns over the viability of a declining market -- a major reason for the regionalization initiative involving games in Toronto.
But Western New York has some of the league's most dedicated football fans, rivaling any in the nation, and increasing ticket prices now would penalize hard-working residents struggling to make ends meet while trying to buy themselves -- and in many cases, their families -- a major-league pro sports outing that is an important quality-of-life advantage for this area.
Moreover, the hold-the-line policy that could preserve game attendance helps local businesses dependent upon Bills traffic before and after the games. Any diminishing of that traffic would create more hardship.
Raising the ticket prices also could have had diminishing returns when it comes to maintaining a sense of team loyalty, given the financial belt-tightening being done by families across the nation. Consumers are hunkering down and making hard choices because of the economy -- ask any retailer. And Erie County taxpayers might also have lodged an objection in light of the mark that will be set in the 2009 season in local public support for the team, averaging $817,000 for each game played in Western New York, because of the extension of the franchise into Toronto for a regular season home game rather than in Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park.
The benefit of a professional football team is quantifiable in economic terms, as well as anecdotally. Cash registers ring loudest, of course, when the team is doing well. Local restaurants and retailers benefit, as does the entire county in sales tax revenue. And while last season was a bit of a disappointment after a strong start, there is pride in having an NFL team to either brag about or criticize.
For as long as the Bills remain, and we hope that is far into the future, the team will have loyal fans willing to dig into their pockets in order to watch their hometown team. But there's not that much in the average pocket these days for discretionary spending, and the Bills have made a laudable choice -- both for the franchise and the region, but especially for the fans.