Man. Personal seat licenses are quite the racket.
Start with what they are: a contract between a fan and a team whereby the fan pays cash up front for the right to purchase tickets. The PSL is not a ticket—it does not entitle the license holder to a seat at a game. PSLs are—or, to the extent that they should exist at all, should be—dibs, the right to buy tickets and occupy a given seat before anyone else gets a crack.
As uncertain origin stories go, here’s a simple, comprehensible one: Stanford tennis coach Dick Gould needed funding for a campus venue back in 1986. He solicited funding, and offered potential sources an agreement: for their money, they would have a reserved seat, entitling them to right of first refusal for tickets to tennis events held in the venue. Importantly, Gould engraved the names of license holders on the actual, physical seats reserved in the stadium—the up-front money bought the investors permanent rights to those seats.
Even in this simple transaction, it’s hard to conceive of those investors as something other than marks. Season tickets, after all, also entitle an investor to right of first refusal for events, but instead of the right to refuse to purchase tickets, you already own the tickets, and are therefore deciding whether or not to use them. The circumstances are supposed to matter. Season tickets are like memberships, which benefit an organization by providing dependable liquid capital; Personal Seat Licenses, in the Gould model, are supposed to be like bonds, incentivizing initial investments in the construction of the venue, without which there will be no events, and no tickets, and therefore no concerns over who gets first crack.
If you shift this thing around and look at it from the fan angle, it’s a shitty, cynical way to leverage fan interest. If you want this thing to exist, you are going to have to pay for it. But you will not be paying for the right to enjoy the thing, only for the right to pay to enjoy the thing. Even that takes a generous view—you’re not paying for the right to enjoy the thing, and you’re not even really paying for the right to pay for the right, so much as you are paying for the thing to exist near enough to you that it would make sense for you to pay for the right to enjoy it. Because, sure enough, if you and your fellow fans don’t pony up for this privilege, some other group of busters in some other town absolutely will.
Before we even get to the part where it’s incredibly dishonest that this kind of funding is considered a portion of the team owner’s private investment in stadium construction, there’s this: Modern PSLs don’t cleanly entitle you to right of first refusal. What they purchase for you is an obligation to purchase tickets to the events: PSLs in the Baltimore stadium where the Ravens play, for example, are forfeited by the licensee if the season tickets aren’t renewed. If you exercise your right to refuse, you lose the right to refuse altogether. The only way to recoup the investment beyond buying tickets is to sell the PSL to another mark, who is then under the gun to buy and renew season tickets or forfeit his investment.
As you might imagine, a whole investment industry has popped up around the market for PSLs. Adequately funded sharks make a business of swooping in and buying up NFL stadium PSLs, which are then managed and traded like other speculation investments. Here’s an example, from the Baltimore Sun:
Some fans - such as Pat Smart, from Cecil County - have taken to buying and selling Ravens and other teams’ PSLs the way other people trade stocks.
Smart, 50, said he has invested about $100,000 in Ravens seat licenses and another $100,000 in Philadelphia Eagles PSLs. Even as business was down 50 percent last year in his Philadelphia-based roofing company due to the slumping economy, he said, he cleared about $40,000 from a side business he and his wife established with another couple a few years ago to manage their NFL investments.
This was inevitable. Where there is a poorly understood derivative with imaginary value whose very existence is owed to the poor financial decision making of everyday jamokes, there will be shrewd, organized capitalists there to turn a buck at some sucker’s expense. This is how you wind up with the feeling that NFL season tickets are some unattainable prize, even while teams are ripping up seating to avoid television blackouts: access to those tickets is increasingly controlled by maneuvering opportunists. There’s a whole unexamined lineage of begets in there. Fuck everyone.
Imagine, though, the cynicism of the Los Angeles Rams, exhibited recently in a set of lawsuits pitting them against St. Louis PSL-holders: while arguing, in one lawsuit, that PSLs purchased for use at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis were invalid at the new home of the Rams in Los Angeles, they simultaneously argued that PSL contracts signed for use at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis were not terminated by the act of moving the team to Los Angeles. Their argument, triangulated from the various positions taken in these lawsuits, is this: those old PSL contracts are not terminated, and are therefore not subject to refund, but also, those PSL holders are not entitled to tickets at the new stadium. That’s pretty incredible, even by the NFL’s gutter standards.
No one comes out of this bullshit arrangement looking like anything but a mark, an asshole, or a huckster. Sure, PSLs aren’t limited to football, but football stadiums are the most obscene and least-used of all major American sports stadiums. And the NFL is bullcrap. Bullcrap!
Hey, here’s some other fine programming for this lovely fall Sunday:
12:30 p.m. — beIN SPORTS Español — La Liga Soccer: Villarreal vs. Osasuna
Osasuna are butt. This should be a wipeout.
1 p.m. — ESPN — World Cup of Hockey
It’s Sweden against Team Europe in the semifinals. Europe smoked Sweden in the pre-tournament final, so this might be a mismatch.
1 p.m. — ESPN 2 — WNBA Playoffs: Atlanta Dream @ Chicago Sky
This is game one of the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
1 p.m. — TBS — Baseball: Yankees @ Blue Jays
The once-surging Yankees have lost eight of 10 and are now well back of the second AL Wild Card. They need a win! It’ll be Michael Pineda for the Yanks against Marco Estrada of the Blue Jays.
1:30 p.m. — NBC — PGA Tour Golf
It’s the final round of the TOUR Championship, from East Lake Golf Club, in Atlanta.
1:30 p.m. — Golf Network — PGA Tour Golf
This is the final round of the Web.com Nationwide Children’s Hospital Championship, from the Ohio State University Golf Club, in Columbus.
2:45 p.m. — beIN SPORTS Connect — La Liga Soccer: Espanyol vs. Celta Vigo
Couple of bottom-feeders in this one. Break in case of emergency. Also, Connect is an online streaming service.
2:45 p.m. — beIN SPORTS — Serie A Soccer: Fiorentina vs. AC Milan
This is almost certainly the best European soccer match overlapping with football today.
4 p.m. — ESPN — MLS Soccer: Seattle Sounders vs. LA Galaxy
The Galaxy can clinch a playoff berth with a win. Seattle are in a desperate situation, and must win to stay alive. Could be fun!
4 p.m. — MLB Network — Baseball: Rockies @ Dodgers OR Rangers @ Athletics
The Dodgers clinch the NL West with either a win or a Giants loss. The AL matchup is pretty much a dog.
7 p.m. — FOX Sports 1 — MLS Soccer: New England Revolution vs. Columbus Crew
Couple of Eastern Conference also-rans. New England are apparently still in the running for a playoff spot, despite having the worst goal differential in the entire league.
8 p.m. — ESPN — Baseball: Cardinals @ Cubs
The Cardinals—losers of 73 games, so far—are a half-game out of the last Wild Card spot in the National League. Finish ‘em off, Cubs!
1 p.m. — USA — Law & Order: Special Victims Unit
The old standby. It’s a day-long marathon, as per usual. It remains incredible to me that no network does a run of original Law & Order episodes on Sunday.
1 p.m. — TV Land — The Golden Girls
You know the drill: an early afternoon marathon that overlaps perfectly with the early NFL games.
4 p.m. — FXX — The Simpsons
Episodes today include “Bart Gets Hit by a Car,” and a bunch of depressing later-season junk. You should have stopped watching new episodes of The Simpsons 23 years ago.
7 p.m. — TBS — The Big Bang Theory
This evening mini-marathon should get you all the way through the Sunday nighter.
11 a.m. — Spike — The Dark Knight
A benefit of Christopher Nolan being a bit of a weenie is this movie loses very little on network television.
11:23 a.m. — TNT — Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith
TNT is going for it today! This is a ho-hum start, but it’s worth it for a day-long lineup of Star Wars movies.
11:30 p.m. — AMC — True Grit (2010)
This will make me sound like an old person, but: The original John Wayne movie is superior to this one. Wayne is great as Rooster Cogburn, and Lucky Ned Pepper is played by a young Robert Duvall. This is a solid remake, but it’s almost a shot-for-shot remake, with a quieter ending.
Noon — BBC America — Star Trek: Nemesis
A young Tom Hardy stars in one of the two or three most forgettable Star Trek movies.
12:30 p.m. — Syfy — Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey
Syfy mostly mailed it in today. This is a pretty crappy sequel, made past the point when Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter became too old for this shit. It has some moments, including an extended funny riff on The Seventh Seal.
2 p.m. — Esquire — The Bourne Identity
This is the good, fun Jason Bourne movie. If you stick around Esquire after it’s over, you can catch one of the bad, miserable ones.
2:28 p.m. — TNT — Star Wars IV: A New Hope
This is bold, aggressive counterprogramming. Rather than lay down and run crappy reality TV reruns—like, say, E! and their Keeping Up With The Kardashians Sunday marathon—TNT is running 22.5 straight hours of Star Wars movies. Baller shit.
2:30 p.m. — BBC America — Air Force One
This isn’t exactly mailing it in—Gary Oldman is never bad to watch, and if you catch a scene of him spazzing out you’re probably gonna stick until the next commercial break—but it’s hard to imagine anyone sticking with it longer than that.
3 p.m. — Pivot — Good Night, and Good Luck
Pivot jumps into the afternoon counterprogramming race with a couple good, smart movies that lose nothing on network television. Also, if you stick around Pivot, at 10:30 p.m. they’re showing Shattered Glass, which is good to watch and has an excellent Peter Sarsgaard performance.
3:30 p.m. — REELZ — The American President
This movie racked up appearances over the last two football seasons. It’s something of a counterprogramming staple, now.
4:30 p.m. — Esquire — The Bourne Supremacy
“What this fun, stylish series really needs is harsh lighting, handheld camerawork, grim performances, lifeless characters, and narrative sprawl.”
4:30 p.m. — FX — Captain America: The Winter Soldier
There’s been a detectable bump in the intensity of the violence, from the fun, somewhat cartoonish first Avengers movie, to the much more dour Captain America sequels, and even the Avengers sequel. This one, in particular, has a lot of jarringly fast and violent confrontations. That’s not necessarily bad, but it’s definitely noticeable.
5 p.m. — Pivot — All the President’s Men
As good as Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman are, and as cool as it is to see young Hal Holbrook slinking around as Deep Throat, I get the biggest kick out of watching Jason Robards as Washington Post executive editor Ben Bradlee. It’s a small roll, but Robards is awesome.
5:13 p.m. — TNT — Star Wars V: The Empire Strikes Back
Probably still the very best Star Wars movie.
5:30 p.m. — FXM — Elysium
I dunno, man. If it’s this or go outside, go outside.
5:30 p.m. — Cloo — Frost/Nixon
I was less impressed by this movie than a lot of people, I think.
6 p.m. — CMT — Mrs. Doubtfire
Disappointing to see CMT mostly sit today out. I guess they picked a good day for it, though, with TNT busting out the Star Wars marathon. And they weren’t the only ones: IFC is running Speed 2 and Terminator 3 and The Punisher; Sundance is running back-to-back Conan the Barbarian movies. Yikes.
8 p.m. — TNT — Star Wars: Return of the Jedi
TNT is airing this twice, back-to-back, so there’s another showing at 11:00 p.m.
8 p.m. — FXM — Gravity
Cool, good-looking movie with a few really intense sequences and an unfortunate, unnecessary character about-face in the last 5 minutes.
8 p.m. — FXX — Man of Steel
God help you if you choose this over Return of the Jedi.
8 p.m. — BBC America — Die Hard
Right idea! But it’ll be cut to ribbons.
8 p.m. — Ovation — Dirty Dancing
For whatever reason, this movie gets a lot of play on football Sundays.
Nature hooked us up with another beautiful early autumn Sunday. Fine time for wine-tasting, kayaking, or plain old yard-work. Grill up some meat dicks. Throw a frisbee. Enjoy yourselves.