WINNIPEG — Greg Payonk has travelled to watch three NFL games, but he’s skipping the one in his own backyard because of the ticket prices.
The Winnipeg resident doesn’t appear to be the only one making that decision.
According to the Ticketmaster seating map, thousands of tickets are still available for the Aug. 22 pre-season game between the Oakland Raiders and Green Bay Packers at 33,000-seat IG Field, home of the CFL’s Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Promoter John Graham said the local marketing push begins next week to give fans more details about what he calls a "premier game" and the activities around it.
It won’t change Payonk’s mind. He was one of the Bombers’ season-ticket holders who had a three-day window to buy their seats for the Week 3 NFL exhibition game before they went on sale to the general public June 8.
"I thought, pre-season. So you’re going to see a little bit of the quarterback, a little bit of the players, but mostly it’s going to be the rookies that are trying out," Payonk said.
"After hearing the prices I thought, ‘Nah, I’m not really interested for that kind of money."’
The price for one of his upper-deck seats, at about the 20-yard line, was $192 with all taxes and fees. By comparison, his two Bombers season tickets cost $359 each for 11 CFL games (one potential playoff game, nine regular-season games and one pre-season game), which works out to $32 per game.
The NFL and Canadian-based promoter On Ice Entertainment Ltd., set ticket prices, ranging from $75 to $340 before taxes and fees. The cheapest upper-deck seats in the corner sold out quickly. Some sections at centre field are also gone, and On Ice Entertainment says all 40-plus suites have been sold.
The remaining tickets have a final, all-in cost of $169 to $439, with a large chunk of those in the lower bowl.
"We’re not trying to suck the life out of anybody," Graham said of the prices. "To bring these teams in and to do the conversion and everything else, that’s what a premium sporting event costs."
Graham wouldn’t disclose the number of tickets sold, but said sales revenue is just under half the stadium’s capacity without including the suites.
"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."
Travel Manitoba has also been doing some social media advertising in the northern U.S. states and Saskatchewan, he added.
NFL Week 3 pre-season games traditionally give the starters the most playing time and that’s still the teams’ plans, he said, which includes fielding Green Bay star quarterback Aaron Rodgers. NFL teams play four pre-season games.
While online searches show tickets for some NFL pre-season games in the U.S. can be had for US$16, Graham said there’s a difference between those games and the Winnipeg experience.
"I guarantee you the guy who says that he can buy a $16 ticket is not sitting on the 50-yard line, he’s not in Week 3 and he hasn’t covered any costs at all to go to the game," Graham said.
"It’s fair to say we’re bringing the game to you and covering all those costs. And I can absolutely promise you there’s nobody walking out of there going, ‘Man, we made a gazillion dollars on that event."’
Oakland receives the gate revenue as the home team and the Bombers are being compensated for providing the host venue.
When asked if prices could be cut if a lot of tickets remain unsold closer to the game, Graham said: "It’s not in the plans. Those are the prices."
Payonk just wishes the cost had been closer to what he pays to see the Bombers.
"Maybe a little bit more because (the teams) are travelling, but certainly not two or three or four times or more what my seat was worth," he said. "Had we never been to an NFL game, it may have been a different decision.
"I hope the event works out for the Bombers. They’re going to make some money off the deal so that’s always a good thing."
It will mark the first NFL game in Canada since the Buffalo Bills staged eight games (six regular-season contests, two pre-season games) in Toronto from 2008 to 2013. Prices for those games were reduced over time after initial slow sales.