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The Cost of fandom: The Pittsburgh Steelers scalper effect

“The historic franchises drive up tickets every year. They are the name brands in the NFL.”

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Steelers Nation’s most awe-inspiring quality was on display at Miami’s Hard Rock Stadium: the well-traveled fan base. Few venues in the NFL can withstand a black and gold takeover, and the secondary ticket market is more than happy to facilitate it. Now, we know the exact cost of being a Pittsburgh Steelers fan.

“We looked at every single NFL game from last year and analyzed how ticket sales fluctuated over time on the secondary market,” says FinanceBuzz’s Josh Koebert. “We found how much a team visiting somewhere can change ticket cost when they come to town.”

FinanceBuzz examined more than 1.6 million total ticket sales, and the Steelers are among the priciest on almost all metrics. They have the 9th most expensive home tickets at just over $248.

Acrisure Stadium tickets are more than $40 over the league average.

And when the Pittsburgh Steelers hit the road, the scalpers hit pay dirt.

“Specifically for the Steelers, they were the fourth highest increase in away ticket price,” says Koebert. “So when the Steelers come to town, you’d have to pay 41% more than the average ticket price.”

The average ticket price in 2021 was $203.14, so Pittsburgh fans can expect, on average, to spend $286.41 in other cities.

“The only teams that are higher are the Cowboys, Packers and Buccaneers,” says Koebert. “And let’s admit it, the draw is Tom Brady and not the actual Bucs. Those historic franchises drive up tickets every year. They are the name brands in the NFL.”

The Dynasty Effect: the more a team wins, the more their fans will pay for tickets.

A quick look at FinanceBuzz’s data shows that the macroeconomics of the NFL benefit not just winners, but dynasties.

“It’s the name brands. it’s the legacy teams. It’s the teams that were really good for an extended period of time and built a huge nationwide fanbase,” says Koebert. “No matter where they go in the NFL, there’s a bunch of people who want to see that game.”

While a select few dynasty franchises drive the secondary scalping market, the economics actually benefits the entire league.

“All the owners love it when ticket sales spike. And if you can build a name brand that has a huge fanbase, that’s the name of the game,” says Koebert. “There isn’t anywhere in the country where there’s not a bunch of Steelers fans. So you can sell out those tickets. You can drive up those prices. It’s gonna be harder to see them, because there’s a lot of fans for that team.”

The data points to even more dynasty bias. Tickets for teams like the Buffalo Bills and Cincinnati Bengals don’t have the same demand, despite their recent successes.

“The Bills are technically in our top ten of ticket prices,” says Koebert. “But they are so far down the list, percentage-wise. Yeah they’re in the top ten, but they are way below the legacy dynasties.”

The outlier among dynasties is the New England Patriots. Their tickets see a 20% boost on the scalper market. It’s the fifth highest in the NFL, but more as much as the top four teams above them.

“Tom Brady is probably the factor,” Koebert says. “You never saw Patriots fans before 2001. They were a pretty forgettable franchise for a long time. Under Brady and Belichick, they built up that fan base, but when there was the divorce between Brady and Belichick, the majority of the fanbase decided to stick with Brady.”

Looking to the future, Koebert thinks new stadium construction will continue to fuel demand in the secondary market. He notes the current prices in Las Vegas and Los Angeles are among the highest in the NFL. But he’s not sure if another team will be able to easily create a dynasty that can move markets quite like the Steelers.

“I think when you are in front of people and you are the only team to watch, it sticks in people’s minds,” Koebert says. “Pittsburgh in the 70s, they were winning year after year, especially when you get to the playoffs. That’s when eyeballs are watching even more. They were always in the playoffs. When people can see you easily, and you’re the only thing to watch, it sticks in people’s minds. Aaron Rogers was doing incredible things on the football field. Ben Roethlisberger was like that. Jerome Bettis was one of the most likable guys in the league. There were players and stars who connected to people, and we got to see them all the time.”

Kyle Chrise is the host of the BTSC podcast “What Yinz Talkin’ Bout.” New episodes drop every Thursday.