By Ben Klayman
DETROIT (Reuters) - Many National Football League fans got some relief for this season as 15 teams kept their average ticket prices the same or reduced them, according to a study by a sports marketing firm.
However, the average cost of NFL tickets overall actually rose 4.5 percent to $76.47 due largely to a new $1.6 billion stadium shared by the New York Giants and Jets, teams that raised average prices by a league-leading 26 percent and 31.8 percent, respectively, according to the annual survey released on Friday by Team Marketing Report.
Only 10 of the 32 NFL teams had prices for non-premium tickets that were above the league average, according to TMR.
The results suggest that even the most popular sports league in North America has been forced to adjust to lower fan and corporate spending in the weak economy. Last year, 21 NFL teams cut or maintained prices, but the league average rose 3.9 percent due to the Dallas Cowboys' new $1.2 billion stadium.
The league, which boasts a U.S. fan base of more than 180 million, strong TV ratings and annual revenue topping $8 billion, kicked off its season last week.
It could be the last season before a work stoppage, however, as the 32 owners in 2008 terminated their labor contract with the players union early in a move to cut salary costs. They cited rising payments to cover stadium construction, operations and improvements.
If a new deal is not reached before next season, players expect the owners to lock them out.
Ten teams kept their prices unchanged and five cut them, but several teams lowered prices in certain seating areas while raising them in others, TMR said.
The New England Patriots still charge the priciest "premium" ticket, which does not include luxury suites, at $566.67, TMR said. The league's premium average price rose 5.6 percent to $238.94.
Meanwhile, the league's Fan Cost Index -- the cost of taking a family of four to an NFL game -- rose 4 percent to $420.54, TMR said. However, only nine of the 32 teams were above that average, led by the Cowboys at $617.80.
On a Fan Cost Index basis, 12 teams saw their average prices remain unchanged or fall, TMR said.
The Fan Cost Index includes the price of four tickets, two beers, four soft drinks, four hot dogs, parking, two game programs and two caps, said TMR, which compiles ticket data on all the major North American sports leagues.
In TMR's 2010 survey, in addition to the Jets and Giants, the only other NFL teams with double-digit percentage increases in their average ticket prices were the Green Bay Packers (up 14.1 percent), the Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints (up 20.5 percent) and the Buffalo Bills (up 15.5 percent). The Bills had the least-expensive ticket price last year.
The New England Patriots ranked No. 1 this year with an average price of $117.84, followed by the Jets ($114.64), Giants ($111.69) and Cowboys ($110.20), TMR said.
The lowest average price now belongs to the Cleveland Browns at $54.51, down 0.3 percent from last year, TMR said. The Jacksonville Jaguars offer the lowest average cost for a family of four at $310.20, unchanged from last year.
(Reporting by Ben Klayman in Detroit, editing by Matthew Lewis)