Once upon a time, it was pretty simple for a die-hard sports fan to get season tickets for her favorite team. She put her name on the waiting list and forked over the cash for the tickets whenever she got to the top of the list. Now it’s a bit more complicated—and a lot more expensive. Some pro teams, especially football teams, make fans pay for what’s called a Personal Seat License, a multi-thousand-dollar purchase that gives fans the right to buy the actual tickets. Those fees have made season tickets far too pricey for many ordinary fans.
It’s not clear when exactly PSLs were first invented. The best guesses all seem to start around 1986, when Stanford University proposed building a tennis stadium using seat licenses. But two years before that, Donald Trump proposed a “condominium” football stadium for New York City that, seemingly for the first time, would make essentially all fans pay for the rights to their seats.
The proposal came up in late 1984. Trump then owned the New Jersey Generals of the United States Football League, a spring football league that Trump helped run into the ground by forcing a move to a fall schedule and a head-to-head battle with the NFL. He was also part of the New York State Sportsplex Corporation, a state body exploring the possibility of building a brand-new stadium in New York City that could lure the Jets back from New Jersey or convince another team to relocate to New York.
The group endorsed building a 78,000-seat stadium, but Trump and others, including New York Mayor Ed Koch, supported building one with a dome. So Trump told the city and state governments that he’d build an even bigger domed stadium in Queens at no cost to them—other than, as the New York Times reported, the minor donations of “the cleared site, new access roads, a refurbished Willets Point IRT subway station, a construction sales tax exemption, and, as is usual for most other stadiums, property tax forgiveness.” The building itself would be financed using entirely private money, meaning mostly the fans’ money.
Trump proposed making fans pay $4,000 to $5,000 for the right to a seat (more than $9,000 per seat in today’s dollars). This had been done before with luxury boxes and suites, but not on the scale Trump wanted, encompassing an entire stadium that was mostly regular plastic seats. The fees, he said, would “substantially pay for the cost of the stadium.” Seat owners could decline tickets but still share in the profits when the stadium “co-op” sold them to outsiders—and, in a Trumpian move, they could supposedly then claim those profits as capital gains for tax purposes. “Many tax experts believe that for the $5,000 investor, these tax benefits would not be a compelling reason to buy,” the Times dryly noted.
“We do not know all the details,” Deputy Mayor Robert Esnard told reporters when news of Trump’s proposal broke in December 1984. “It’s all kind of sketchy.” The city eventually backed Trump’s idea, but the city never found a team willing to move to Queens, and the stadium was never built.
Seat licenses are now a fixture of stadium building, but their supposed advantages often don’t pan out. Fans can theoretically make lots of money on their PSLs by selling them on to other fans at higher prices. But as teams have jacked up the prices, profits have dropped and some fans have even lost large amounts of money. And the money that licenses raise doesn’t even come close to paying for bloated modern stadiums, which often cost more than $1 billion.
For all of that, fans may want to thank Donald Trump.
Read the rest of “The Trump Files”:
- Trump Files #1: The Time Andrew Dice Clay Thanked Donald for the Hookers
- Trump Files #2: When Donald Tried to Stop Charlie Sheen’s Marriage to Brooke Mueller
- Trump Files #3: The Brief Life of the “Trump Chateau for the Indigent”
- Trump Files #4: Donald Thinks Asbestos Fears Are a Mob Conspiracy
- Trump Files #5: Donald’s Nuclear Negotiating Fantasy
- Trump Files #6: Donald Wants a Powerball for Spies
- Trump Files #7: Donald Gets An Allowance
- Trump Files #8: The Time He Went Bananas on a Water Cooler
- Trump Files #9: The Great Geico Boycott
- Trump Files #10: Donald Trump, Tax-Hike Crusader
- Trump Files #11: Watch Donald Trump Say He Would Have Done Better as a Black Man
- Trump Files #12: Donald Can’t Multiply 16 and 7
- Trump Files #13: Watch Donald Sing the “Green Acres” Theme Song in Overalls
- Trump Files #14: The Time Donald Trump Pulled Over His Limo to Stop a Beating
- Trump Files #15: When Donald Wanted to Help the Clintons Buy Their House
- Trump Files #16: He Once Forced a Small Business to Pay Him Royalties for Using the Word “Trump”
- Trump Files #17: He Dumped Wine on an “Unattractive Reporter”
- Trump Files #18: Behold the Hideous Statue He Wanted to Erect In Manhattan
- Trump Files #19: When Donald Was “Principal for a Day” and Confronted by a Fifth-Grader
- Trump Files #20: In 2012, Trump Begged GOP Presidential Candidates to Be Civil
- Trump Files #21: When Donald Couldn’t Tell the Difference Between Gorbachev and an Impersonator
- Trump Files #22: His Football Team Treated Its Cheerleaders “Like Hookers”
- Trump Files #23: The Trump Files: Donald Tried to Shut Down a Bike Race Named “Rump”
- Trump Files #24: When Donald Called Out Pat Buchanan for Bigotry
- Trump Files #25: Donald’s Most Ridiculous Appearance on Howard Stern’s Show
- Trump Files #26: How Donald Tricked New York Into Giving Him His First Huge Deal
- Trump Files #27: Donald Told Congress the Reagan Tax Cuts Were Terrible
- Trump Files #28: When Donald Destroyed Historic Art to Build Trump Tower
- Trump Files #29: Donald Wanted to Build an Insane Castle on Madison Avenue
- Trump Files #30: Donald’s Near-Death Experience (That He Invented)
- Trump Files #31: When Donald Struck Oil on the Upper West Side
- Trump Files #32: When Donald Massacred Trees in the Trump Tower Lobby
- Trump Files #32: When Donald Demanded Other People Pay for His Overpriced Quarterback
- Trump Files #33: The Time Donald Sued Someone Who Made Fun of Him for $500 Million
- Trump Files #34: Donald Tried to Make His Ghostwriter Pay for His Book Party
- Trump Files #35: Watch Donald Shave a Man’s Head on Television