NEW ORLEANS -- Saints fans were ready to buy tickets when the NFL team returned to New Orleans in 2006 following the Hurricane Katrina disaster -- and they're lining up again despite the national recession.
The Saints have sold out the 70,000-seat Louisiana Superdome for a fourth straight year, even as the overall cost of season tickets climbed and the New Orleans metropolitan area began hemorrhaging jobs.
The Saints didn't raise ticket prices after last season, but the team played one home game in London in 2008, so fans paid for just nine games (including two preseason games) that year. They are paying for 10 games in 2009.
"As far as selling out again since the storm, you can't thank people here enough," said Mike Stanfield, the Saints' vice president of ticket and suite sales. "They support this team through thick and thin."
Stanfield said team officials weren't sure what to expect in ticket sales because of the national recession, but they found no lack of demand. The waiting list for Saints season tickets continues to grow and is now more than 50,000, according to Stanfield.
"The economy hasn't been like this in a long time, so you don't ever know," Stanfield said. "It goes back to the fan. They're the people making that decision to spend hard-earned dollars on football tickets."
Loren Scott, professor emeritus of economics at LSU in Baton Rouge, was surprised to hear the Saints had sold out again, noting that the New Orleans metro area has begun to experience job losses in the past few months. A state unemployment report released last month showed 3,200 fewer jobs in New Orleans in April than in the same month last year.
"The post-Katrina fanaticism about the Saints must be the thing holding it up, because if you look at economic trends, it would suggest ticket sales should fall off this year because the national recession finally has caught up to New Orleans," Scott said.
Also, there are signs that other NFL teams are struggling to sell tickets. Because an abundance of seats are expected to be available when the Saints play at Miami next season, the team has sent e-mails to all of their season-ticket holders and everyone on their waiting list, offering packages to that Oct. 25 road game against the Dolphins.
"Knowing that we've sold out for the season, we're finding opportunities to get Saints fans to games in other cities," Stanfield said.
NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said it's too early to gauge whether ticket sales league-wide might drop this season, but he added, "Ticket sales are a challenge for all sports leagues right now."
McCarthy said 24 of the NFL's 32 teams kept average ticket prices flat this season.
"Preliminary information is ticket sales are pacing well overall, but some markets are doing better than others," he said.
McCarthy declined to specify which teams are doing well and which appear to be hurting.
Stanfield said a few of the Superdome's 137 private suites remain available, but the Saints remain optimistic that they can find enough businesses or individuals to sell those out, as they did last season.
Suite holders have the first chance to buy tickets for other major events in the Superdome, such as the Sugar Bowl. In the next few years, the stadium will host a BCS national championship, the NCAA men's basketball Final Four and a Super Bowl.
Earlier this spring, Saints owner Tom Benson and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal agreed on a lease extension at the state-owned Superdome through 2025. The deal calls for the state to spend about $85 million to enhance the highest-price seating areas. That comes on top of more than $200 million spent to repair and improve the 34-year-old downtown stadium since its roof was torn up by Katrina's winds and the interior was further damaged by the presence of thousands of storm evacuees who were stuck at the site for days without plumbing or electricity.
The Saints moved to San Antonio for the 2005 season, and the sight of the battered Superdome left many wondering whether the NFL would ever play there again.
The Saints agreed to return to New Orleans full-time in January 2006, when Superdome officials said they could complete repairs in time for that coming season.
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press