‘Funflation’ drives sporting event ticket prices up a whopping 25%

Dan Hornberger has been a fan of the National Football League’s Philadelphia Eagles for as long as he can remember. As an adult, his office has team memorabilia lining the walls.

Last year, the devout supporter went to five home games, about an hour-and-a-half drive from his house. This year, however, Hornberger’s only on track to attend two matches as costs soar.

“I’m a huge fan,” Hornberger, 40, said. “Ultimately, what it comes down to is just outright refusal on my part to pay those kinds of prices.”

Sports prices have surged this fall, according to federal data. That’s made game tickets the latest victim of “funflation,” a term used by economists to explain the increasing price tags of live events as consumers hanker for the experiences they lost during the pandemic.

‘A gigantic bounce back’

Admission prices for sporting events jumped 25.1% in October 2023 from the same month a year prior, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ consumer price index data. The category saw the highest annualized inflation rate out of the few hundred that make up the inflation gauge.

CPI as a whole rose a relatively modest 3.2% on an annualized basis. The index tracks the prices of a broad basket of items including milk, jewelry and airline fares.

“We’ve seen this through the entire leisure and hospitality sector,” said Victor Matheson, a professor and sports economist at the College of the Holy Cross. “People are getting back to things that they enjoy doing and are willing to pay a bunch.”

Part of the reason consumers may be seeing higher prices for their favorite sports teams is because of the increasing use of dynamic pricing models, Matheson said. These structures allow ticket-selling platforms to fetch more or less per ticket, depending on demand for the event at any given moment.

There’s also an alignment of attention-grabbing sporting events taking place this fall. Beyond the typical major-league seasons, the Formula One race in Las Vegas last week and the announcement of soccer legend Lionel Messi’s move to the Inter Miami team this summer have boosted enthusiast spending.

But a large reason for the eye-popping 25.1% jump is because of how low prices were a year ago, Matheson said. Teams slashed ticket values in 2022 in a bid to win back fans who had grown accustomed to watching at home.

Sports ticket prices were 14.2% higher in October than in November 2019, a smaller gain than the entire index’s 19.6% increase, a CNBC analysis of CPI data shows. Much of the upward pressure on admission costs has come this year, underscoring the role of funflation as consumers shift their attention from Taylor Swift and Beyoncé concerts to NFL and Major League Baseball games.

“We’re seeing a gigantic bounce back in prices,” Matheson said. 

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