By now you've heard the news: the Saints have sold out the Superdome for the 6th straight year. I actually wondered for a split second if the lockout might have a negative impact on sales, but of course the rationalization of many is that they'll just get reimbursed if these games never happen. It's pretty impressive when you consider two things:
1. The New Orleans economy was leveled by Hurricane Katrina, meaning that 70,000+ fans (the stadium now holds 73,000 approx thanks to the stadium upgrades) are still finding ways to spend that kind of disposable income on season tickets despite a brutal financial climate.
2. The report that NFL ticket sales overall have declined the past three years.
Before Katrina, the Saints had never sold out prior to a season starting. The market back then was still one of the smallest in the league. After the storm, once the population of the city was slashed in half, well, you get the idea. After a disaster of epic proportions, an already small market was able to sell out six straight years with a plastered infrastructure when the league overall has been on a slight decline? Pretty remarkable. That's a testament to the passion and commitment the fans have to their teams. Without a doubt, the Saints have the best fans in the NFL.Let's be real, though, the winning hasn't hurt. The Saints were in full on rebuild mode not only on the field and in the front office and literally off the field after Katrina. Imagine if they had lost out on Drew Brees and Sean Payton? They could've ended up with Daunte Culpeper and Maurice Carthon instead. Who knows where that would have led them? A 3-13 season followed by a 6-10 season and maybe season ticket sales plummeting? You just never know.
If you think there's no way fans would have deserted the team, think about how much longer a severely depressed economy and severely depressed morale would have put up with a pathetic team. Even if the team had remained in New Orleans under that scenario, there's no way they would have sold out six straight seasons. Based on the 49-31 record the Saints have posted since Payton came along, including a Super Bowl win and two NFC Championship berths, I think it's safe to say five straight sellout seasons would be an attainable goal in any NFL city based on the results (not six because that first sellout after Katrina was a leap of faith).
The fans deserve huge kudos, but Tom Benson, Mickey Loomis, Payton, Brees and many others deserve it too. The Saints' rebirth and immediate success gave fans new hope. Now that they've won a Super Bowl, we'll always believe they can do it again.
But so here we are, and the culture of our team as a whole has completely changed. Even if the Saints suffer through another miserable spell that plagued the first three decades of the team's existence, we'll still be able to look back at what this team accomplished and have faith things can one day be turned around. Based on how things played out, I don't think a lockout or even a 1-15 season at this point would prevent a season ticket sellouts prior to the season beginning.
It's incredible how quickly the Saints were able to become a winner after Katrina, and it's almost less believable, all things considered, that 70k+ have continually committed to return season after season for more football. I remember once wondering "How do all these people have the money to buy season tickets?" But then I realized they don't necessarily have that much money. The Saints are just a priority in their life. Some people dispose their income with fancy restaurants, cars, real estate etc. Saints fans dispose of it on the Saints.
Of course there are some Saints fans that can afford to spend their money on all sorts of things including season tickets, but I'd argue that there's more Saints fans than any other team that overextend their entertainment budget by purchasing season tickets simply because it's a non-negotiable must in their lives. I'm not basing this on fact or any research, just my gut. Football in New Orleans and in the south is just a priority, over cable, over nice cars and over pretty much anything that doesn't involve family (if necessary).
What's my point? Don't expect season ticket sales to drop anytime soon in New Orleans. Despite the limited market, that streak will hit a decade soon enough. Brees and Payton would both need to leave, and even then the team would probably get a leash for a few years to rebuild before a season ticket sellout streak was halted. How we got here defied odds but now that we're here the Superdome sellouts are here to stay.
If you're a season ticket holder - how long have you been one? Is there any chance you're giving them up any time soon?