NEW YORK – Third down has a new meaning in the NFL this season.
Season ticket sales declined for the third year in a row as teams struggle to get fans to the stadium in a weak economy.
Depending on the final numbers, season ticket sales will be down between 1 percent and 2 percent, according to Eric Grubman, the league's executive vice president for business ventures.
"I wouldn't say we're pleased," Grubman said Wednesday on the eve of the season opener between Minnesota and New Orleans.
Still, the drop could have been worse given the financial climate in the United States, he said.
"It's been a tough economic time, and we have a sport that's full of passion and competition, and people love that," he said during a telephone interview with The Associated Press. "So, by virtue of that, people really do try to hold onto their season tickets or buy new ones if they can."
Grubman said overall attendance declined from 17 million in 2008 to 16.6 million last year. Average regular-season attendance dropped from each year from 2006 (68,774) to 2009 (67,509), according to STATS LLC.
"It's hard to draw a pattern across 32 clubs," Grubman said. "There are clearly some clubs that are down more than others. It would be a special circumstance for a club to be up. I think in general the trend is flat to down, and clubs that have perennially sold out tickets, they've probably held their own and are flat."
Grubman said most teams left their average ticket price relatively unchanged. The Team Marketing Report has not released 2010 figures.
"I believe our average ticket price is up slightly, and that is the consequence in all likelihood of opening of new stadiums," he said.
The New York Giants and Jets have moved into the New Meadowlands Stadium, and both teams will open the regular season at home — the Giants on Sunday against Carolina and the Jets on Monday night against Baltimore.