How Russell Wilson’s arrival made the Denver Broncos one of the NFL’s strongest tickets

The arrival of Russell Wilson, a nine-time Pro Bowl quarterback with quick footing and an affinity for deep ball, will help the Broncos create a more interesting viewing experience when the NFL season begins in September.

It will also sharply increase the cost of entering the live version of that experience.

Tickets for the Broncos games at Empower Field on Mile High saw a 31 percent increase in the secondary market over their cost at this time last year, according to Kyle Zorn, director of branding at TickPick, a secondary ticket market. The average ticket (fee included) to a Broncos game in 2022, as of earlier this month, is $371, which Zorn said is the fourth-highest number among all NFL teams. It’s a massive jump from the $281 average during the 2021 season, which ranked only 14th in the league.

“Broncos tickets have seen the biggest rise of the year,” Zorn said in a phone interview. “There have been a few teams, like the Tennessee Titans, that have gone down (in average secondary market cost), but the Broncos made a big leap, it was the biggest by far.”

It’s not hard to see why Denver’s secondary ticket prices are so high. The Broncos have not played in the playoffs since 2015. They finished five consecutive campaigns with a losing record. Trade with Wilson in March immediately generated hope that this dark chapter for an eight-man Super Bowl organization would soon be over. That hope will come at a cost for fans who don’t have season tickets or weren’t fortunate enough to secure some of the limited number of single-match tickets the team released last month. (A very limited release of half-price tickets is still coming in August. If you’re lucky enough to get hold of any, you might want to turn to Powerball next.)

Such sharp fluctuations in ticket prices are more common in the NBA, Zorn said, where the annual shift in star power — in a sport highly marketed around these stars — constantly leads to market volatility. This is less common in the NFL, where 53-player rosters, a limited number of home games, and other factors generally limit the impact of a single player’s arrival or departure on the ticket-purchasing ecosystem.

Notable exception: Elite quarterback.

“So with LeBron James, for example, when he changes teams, ticket prices in that market go up dramatically and dwindle when he leaves,” Zorn said. “The NFL is different. (Pro Bowl wide receiver) AJ Brown wouldn’t change prices much, but a great quarterback like Russell Wilson, especially going to a team with a remarkably passionate fan base…these are the only players in The NFL that can really affect prices.”

The league last saw a spike of this magnitude when Tom Brady joined the Buccaneers. Zorn said that in 2019, the season before Brady arrived, the average ticket price for a Buccaneers home game in the secondary market was $156. In 2021, once stadiums were allowed to fill after the pandemic season, that price jumped to $318. Yes, Tampa Bay won the Super Bowl during the 2020 season playing largely without fans, raising anticipation for 2021, but Brady’s arrival was the driving force behind the doubling of resale ticket prices in Tampa Bay.

The quarterback effect swings in both directions. As of earlier this month, the average price of a secondary ticket to the opening game “Monday Night Football” on Sept. 12 in Seattle, a game in which Wilson pits Wilson against the quarterback for the past 10 seasons, is $528, Zorn said. It’s the sixth most expensive ticket for any game in 2022. The average price for Seahawks resale tickets overall is $330, a halfway figure that would have been much lower if there had been no home game for Wilson on the schedule.

“It’s going to be under $300, and Seattle has always been one of the most expensive tickets in the NFL,” Zorn said. “So it’s funny that it’s their first game and how it goes.”

Although Wilson’s addition is the biggest reason why Broncos ticket prices are soaring in the secondary market, there are other factors. First, the high rate of inflation that has forced Americans to make difficult decisions about spending habits has not negatively affected live sports. Fans still buy tickets, even at exorbitant prices. Brandon Stockley, a former Broncos receiver, joked last week during a local sports talk show he co-hosted that he had to take out a second mortgage on his home to pay for his tickets to the first game of the Stanley Cup Finals between the Colorado Avalanche and the Tampa Bay Lightning. The low-level ticket price for the first two games at the Ball Arena in Denver approached $1,000 on the secondary market.

“Good times, bad times, high prices — they don’t change consumer behavior in terms of direct spending on sports,” Dennis Coates, professor of sports economics at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, recently told CNBC.

The retail price of Broncos tickets also rose 6 percent over the past season, from $104.99 to $110.87, according to Action Network, which used data collected by Statista to determine the average ticket price for each NFL franchise. Any increase in retail ticket prices is often followed by a larger percentage increase in the secondary space.

However, the main reason for the biggest increase in minor league prices – an important metric for non-seasonal ticket holders planning to attend matches – is Wilson. His impact was immediately felt within the franchise, with his teammates saying he had quickly created a culture of accountability that permeates all corners of the team’s operations.

“When Russell Wilson asks you to do something,” a Montreal Washington broadband receiver said recently, “you do.”

The effect is also felt economically. His orange No. 3 jersey was the league’s best-selling jersey in March, the month it was traded, leading to Brady’s first-place finish. It’s also fair to wonder how much Wilson’s access boosted the sale of the franchise to Walmart heir Rob Walton and his group for $4.65 billion, a deal awaiting league approval. The dearth of available franchises and their very high valuations would have made the bid to buy the Broncos highly controversial even if Drew Lock had been chosen as the start in 2022. But would he have risen to $4.65 billion if the regular quarterback had been in the Pro Bowl, one of whom said he plans to play for two years? Another contract, not in place to enhance the outlook for the franchise?

Perhaps we’ll know if Wilson’s presence has any impact on the sales process when the soon-to-be owners take on the team’s purchase in the coming weeks or months. What is already known is that it has dramatically altered the ticket sales forecast for 2022 – and possibly beyond.

Last December, the Broncos hosted the Cincinnati Bengals for their season-ending game with a playoff fallout. Denver entered the game with a score of 7-6. The win would have put the Broncos in a great position to chase a place in the Asian Football Championship in recent weeks. It was, by most measures, the most important game of the season. But in the hours leading up to kick-off on an unusually warm winter day, season ticket holders looking to offload their tickets for one reason or another were struggling to get a return at face value, with some turning to social media to search for buyers.

The issue may not have attracted much sympathy from the tens of thousands of fans who have been on a years-long waiting list for Bronco season tickets, but it did speak to the level of apathy beginning to permeate a fan base tired of losing and, perhaps most importantly, the lack of fireworks.

There is optimism that Wilson will be able to address both issues, turning the Broncos once again into winners while creating a highly watchable product. This optimism is reflected in the sharp increase in ticket prices and almost every other aspect of the franchise.

“It shows you the difference, he can make a star quarterback,” Zorn said.

(Photo: Ron Chinoy/USA Today)

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