"San Francisco 49ers fans, how much would you pay to own a seat on the 50-yard line at the team's sparkling new stadium in Santa Clara? Try $80,000. And if you're looking for single tickets and want primo seats, you'll have to pay almost triple what it costs for a comparable view of the football action at Candlestick Park." Mike Rosenberg, "Club tickets won't come cheap at Santa Clara 49ers stadium," San Jose Mercury News," January 10, 2012. [Photo credit: NFL.] "This is what $1 billion looks like."
Of course, just because you own the seat doesn't mean you can actually sit in it and watch the 49ers play football. No, for that you'll need a $3750 season ticket. And if you want to take someone with you you'll need two seats and two season tickets.
We're not talking skyboxes here. Just a seat, out in the open, braving the elements. Before those tickets even went on sale a wealthier class of fans had already purchased $225 million worth of "luxury suites." No, we're just talking ordinary ticket holders, couples who think three hours or so watching football well worth the $750 for their tickets.
From "The Goose That Laid the Golden Eggs" ("Killing The Goose That Laid the Golden Eggs is among the best known of Aesop's Fables [and] has become idiomatic of an unprofitable action motivated by greed") to the "housing bubble" ("an economic bubble affecting . . . over half of American states. Housing prices peaked in early 2006 . . . and may not yet  have hit bottom . . ..") there comes a time when things peak and begin their decline.
In fact, not that far from Santa Clara are those who remember Silicon Valley's "dot-com bubble" of the late 1990s ("A combination of rapidly increasing stock prices, market confidence that the companies would turn future profits, individual speculation in stocks, and widely available venture capital created an environment in which many investors were willing to overlook traditional metrics such as P/E ratio in favor of confidence in technological advancements").
One of the most serious "peak" phenomena is the prospect of declining oil supply (at prices the market can bear), known as "peak oil." Nick A. Owen, Oliver R. Inderwildi, David A. King, "The Status of Conventional World Oil Reserves--Hype or Cause for Concern?" Energy Policy, vol. 38, August 2010, pp. 4743-49 ("While there is certainly vast amounts of fossil fuel resources left in the gound, the volume of oil that can be commercially exploited at prices the global economy has become accustomed to is limited and will soon decline. The result is that oil may soon shift from a demand-led market to a supply constrained market."), and the more general essay, "Peak Oil," Wikipedia.org ("Peak oil is the point in time when the maximum rate of global petroleum extraction is reached, after which the rate of production enters terminal decline.")
Is it possible that we could be reaching "peak football"?
The NFL's first TV contract paid the League $4.65 million in 1962. By 2010 the clubs earned over $20 billion -- 4000 times as much. Major college sports now gross $5.6 billion (over half from football), and the Iowa Hawkeyes' football coach, at $4 million give or take, is the state's highest paid "employee." Weiler, Roberts, Abrams & Ross, Sports and the Law (4th ed. 2011), pp. 434, 746.
Meanwhile, the injuries become more serious (see, Ken Belson, " For N.F.L., Concussion Suits May Be Test for Sport Itself," New York Times, December 30, 2011, p. A1; "Players still willing to hide head Injuries," Associated Press, December 26, 2011), and the criticism mounts. See, e.g., Branch, "The Shame of College Sports," The Atlantic, Oct. 2011; Nocera, "Let’s Start Paying College Athletes," New York Times Magazine, Jan. 1, 2012; National College Players Association, "Football Coaches' Salaries vs. Scholarship Shortfall (BCS Colleges)" [undated].
Taxpayers are becoming increasingly reluctant to underwrite the cost of billion-dollar stadiums they cannot afford to enter, just to increase the profits of the billionaires who own the teams, and the millionaires who play the game. (This one will require the city's taxpayers to take out an $850 million loan to cover most of the construction costs.) Lisa Fernandez, "Santa Clara: Group says it has enough signatures to force vote on 49ers stadium loan," San Jose Mercury News, January 18, 2012.
With the NFL playoffs coming tomorrow, this may not be the best of times to raise the issue, and peak football may be a decade or more away. But everything seems to have its "peak," and it's unlikely football will be the last exception left standing.
That's the bad news.
The good news is that, unless we start building a lot more rapid rail than is likely, we wouldn't have been able to find the gas to drive to those stadiums anyway -- even if we could afford to pay the tariff to sit in our $80,000 seats.
Every once in awhile, after I've written and posted a blog essay with what is for me an original idea (that is, though others have undoubtedly thought it, I am unaware that they have), along comes someone who makes me think I may not be nuts after all. Here's yet another example:
"Football is dead in America. . . . [I]t's not the lawyers who are the death of football. Blaming lawyers misses the point. Like their counterparts in nature, lawyers are merely the cleanup crew. What finishes football are the parents of future football players. The NFL desperately needs American parents. Not as fans, but as suppliers of young flesh. The NFL needs parents to send their little boys into the football feeder system. And without that supply of meat for the NFL grinder — first youth teams, then high school and college — there can be no professional football. And yet every day, more American parents decide they're finished with football. Why? Because parents can no longer avoid the fact that football scrambles the human brain. In cultural terms, parents who send their 10-year-olds to play football might as well hold up signs saying they'd like to give their children cigarettes and whiskey." John Kass, "American Football Industry is on its Deathbed; As the dangers of football become more well-known, parents are less likely to allow their children to take part in the high-impact sport," Chicago Tribune, April 24, 2013.