Stadium Economics

Last summer, I was lucky enough to be at the opening game of the new San Francisco 49ers stadium: the Levi’s Stadium. The game was an MLS (Major League Soccer) game with the San Jose Earthquakes hosting the Seattle Sounders.

The 49ers wanted to christen the stadium with a non-NFL game. It wasn’t a sellout but they did fill 50,000 seats out of about 70,000.

Broncos vs 49ers preseason game at Levi's Stadium
Broncos vs 49ers preseason game at Levi’s Stadium. Source: Flickr. Author: Jim Bahn

The game itself wasn’t so great. The most interesting thing was the stadium itself. One of the long sides of the field looks more like an office building than the usual stands in a stadium, (see above image). These are in fact the  VIP boxes.

The number of VIP boxes has increased dramatically over time. Comparing this stadium with an old one such as the Camp Nou (FC Barcelona or Barça stadium, built in 1957) where you have a hard time finding these boxes, shows how much sport is a business these days.

 NRG Sky Suite sits atop Levi’s® Stadium. Source: Levi's Stadium
NRG Sky Suite sits atop Levi’s® Stadium. Source: Levi’s Stadium

VIP boxes are several times more profitable than seats. Making money out of a stadium today means having lots of these boxes and having companies in the area with the money to pay for them.

Older stadiums are at a significant disadvantage in terms of generating stadium revenue. They simply lack these money-making machines that are the VIP boxes.

It was interesting to see today in the press how English Premier League EPL fans are complaining about rising ticket prices. Competition in the soccer field depends on winning in the business field. As long as there are people willing to pay higher prices, the question is who gets the value, the customers or the teams. For now it looks like the teams are learning to hold onto it at the expense of driving away those unwilling or unable to pay as much.

About Tony Davila

Antonio Dávila is professor of entrepreneurship and accounting and control. Furthermore, he is the head of IESE's Department of Entrepreneurship and holder of the Alcatel-Lucent Chair of Management of Technology. From 1999 to 2006, he was part of the faculty at Stanford University's Graduate School of Business, where he still teaches periodically. Prof. Dávila earned his Ph.D. from Harvard Business School and his MBA from IESE. His teaching and research interests focus on management systems in entrepreneurial firms, new product development and innovation management, and performance measurement.