Traveling to Your "Home" Games

Supporting a local sports team is an indelible part of the American psyche: there’s nothing like cheering on the home squad. Here, the idea of a ‘home game’ is given a much-needed reality check.  

In 2017, Wembley, the world-class athletic stadium in London, hosted 25 games of soccer, the most popular sport globally. Over that same span, it also hosted two games of American football, as it has done with regularity since 2007. This might come as a surprise to those not a fan of the sport, but many NFL teams are willing to give up a home game in the US to travel and play across the Atlantic.

The idea that the NFL could expand internationally, widening its appeal while also growing the game of American football, is nothing new. However, the immediate economic effects of playing overseas aren’t often enough discussed.

Take the Jacksonville Jaguars, an American football team based in Florida, who have been frequent visitors to London since 2013. In 2009, the team had an average attendance of below 50,000 at their home games, filling less than 80% of EverBank Stadium’s capacity. In London, they sold every single game. At the Jaguars’ home stadium in Jacksonville, the average ticket sells for around $72, while in London that figure is $130. The Wembley is 25% bigger than almost any American stadium, which means that more of those pricier tickets can be sold. Removing a game from a team’s homestand schedule means lower season ticket costs, making it more financially feasible for fans to attend the year’s remaining home games. From a team’s point of view, playing in London is more economically efficient.

This phenomenon begs the question: if simply moving your home game incurs so many benefits, why bother finding an option across the Atlantic Ocean when you have more choices within the 50 states? There are plenty of professional American sports teams that are struggling. The Los Angeles Chargers had an average attendance of just over 25,000 in 2017 and the MLB’s Tampa Bay Rays only managed to fill, on average, 42% of their stadium’s capacity. These are not bad teams: the Chargers are playoff contenders this season, and the Rays finished third in a conference with two very good Red Sox and Yankees teams. The real issue, as the Jaguars have evidently found, is that there are just not enough fans to generate necessary ticket revenues.  

This leads to my ultimate proposal: making home games flexible, giving teams the ability to trade their home games with one another. It is important to note that the status quo only allows for the exporting of games to somewhere else, while internal trading is yet to be a viable option. Of course, the renting team will have to pay some fees, but they could collect all the ticket revenues from that game. “Popular” teams could collect money at times when they would not normally be able to use their arenas or stadiums, and struggling teams could cut their losses and potentially make larger financial gains.

Research has shown that neutral fans are interested in watching games between teams they aren’t strong fans of, if those games are physically and financially accessible, and occur at the right times. Therefore, the notion of swapping home games is not as outlandish as it might seem; given careful preparation, teams can let the “invisible hand” of the market point to where they would play. While such a future is unlikely, it provides valuable insight into how our traditional views of “home” and “away” games might not always give the best results.