When it was announced in June by Oakland Raiders that they would be meeting the Green Bay Packers in a preseason game this year in Winnipeg, it was viewed as a curious move.
Two months later, the lack of ticket sales for the game appear to indicate that local interest in the game isn’t that high.
Either that, or it’s the wild ticket prices.
According to Carter Brooks of Game On Magazine, only 8,944 tickets have been sold as of Wednesday afternoon. Even for IG Field’s 33,000-seat venue that’s small — as in, it’s at 27 percent capacity right now.
The game at the home of the CFL’s Winnipeg Blue Bombers will be held Aug. 22 — just more than two weeks away.
One reason why this year’s exhibition game might not be selling well (other than the fact that it’s an exhibition game): the price. The average ticket price for remaining seats, according to Brooks, is $191.50 (Canadian dollars), which includes parking, taxes and fees.
That comes out to about $144 in US dollars. That’s in line with per-seat prices for the CFL’s 2018 Grey Cup, which is its equivalent of the Super Bowl. And there has been plenty of chatter in CFL circles about Grey Cup tickets being too expensive, but the Raiders and local promoters somehow believed their preseason game would sell well?
We could have seen this coming. Promoter John Graham told the Canadian Press two weeks ago that he was surprised by the slow ticket sales but expected a late push.
“Did I think coming out of the press conference we would have stronger sales? Yes,” Graham said. “Am I expecting a good push going into the final month? Yes.”
The majority of the tickets sold include $75 seats in the corner of the upper deck, which are all sold out. The highest-priced tickets remaining are listed at $340 before taxes and fees.
On Ice Entertainment says all 40-plus suites have been sold, but it’s clear that local officials are surprised by the sluggish sales to this point.
Why is there a game in Winnipeg anyway?
The NFL’s clear mandate to expand the growth of the game outside this country’s borders has been a process that dates back to former league commissioner Paul Tagliabue. The league’s International Series has been a rousing success, going from three games initially per season to five this year (in much larger venues, too), but those are regular-season contests in England.
Growth elsewhere internationally has been a trickier affair. Games held in Mexico in recent years have been plagued by poor field conditions and logistical troubles. Past plans to expand to games in Asia have been scrapped for now, and the league’s desire to infiltrate the German and Irish markets has yet to get the proper footing.
And prior experiments with playing games in Canada have been a mixed bag, too. The Buffalo Bills initially agreed to play preseason and regular-season games for a decade in 2008 before that series was abandoned after the 2012 season.
There are many NFL fans who live north of the border, but the timing and placement — and yes, the price — of this year’s game have made it a less desirable product, it appears, even with two banner NFL franchises making the trek.
And it doesn’t appear to have much to do with a lack of local sports fans. CFL attendance on average is about one-third of what the typical NFL game sells, but the Blue Bombers only failed to reach the 25,000-ticket mark once last regular season and the stadium packed the house for the NHL’s Heritage Classic in 2016.
And why these two teams?
Even with star power on both teams, such as QB Aaron Rodgers and Raiders head coach Jon Gruden (or Antonio Brown, if his feet are not still frozen), it’s not resulting in tangible interest as a must-see event.
You can call the teams’ third preseason game the most important one on their exhibition schedules if you so choose. But the fact of the matter is that this game really doesn’t count in any actual way.
The Raiders and Packers might have massive fan bases, but how many of them are willing to make the trip to Manitoba, beautiful as it might be this time of year?
Preseason games are typically for the diehard fans — or they’re gifted by season-ticket holders who are saving up for the regular season. It’s a bit tricky to give the local mailman tickets for a game that’s between four hours (Green Bay) and eight hours (Oakland) away by plane, you know.
Even history hasn’t helped matters.
It will be the Packers’ first game outside the United States since 1998, when they played a preseason game against the Kansas City Chiefs in Tokyo. The Raiders will be the first NFL franchise to play games in three different countries in one season in 2019 — Canada, the United States and England, when they’ll be hosting the Chicago Bears at London’s Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in Week 5.
Perhaps Raiders fans are saving their money for the England trip or are happier watching the “Hard Knocks” crazy at home on their couch. Or maybe the franchise’s 2020 exodus to Las Vegas has had an effect. There’s also the matter of those franchises’ ticket prices. Compared to other NFL teams, Packers tickets are quite affordable. The average price for a Raiders game is even lower.
It’s safe to say that this event hasn’t quite gone as planned, and it could affect the future of preseason trips up north.
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