Stocks? Forget 'em. Bonds? Returns too low. Permanent seat licenses? Now you're talking.
The licenses that the Ravens and some other National Football League teams require fans to purchase to buy season tickets - often to help pay for stadium construction or renovation - have gone from being what many regarded as an extortionary annoyance to what some now consider a dandy investment.
For instance, when the Ravens' stadium opened in 1998, a permanent seat license ranged from $250 to $3,000, depending on the location of the seat covered by the license. Today, the same Ravens licenses cost $750 to $8,000 - up to a 300 percent increase - and that's if you can find one to buy.
And indeed fans can buy PSLs from each other, in a completely above-board white market, on eBay or through newspaper classified ads. The global Internet bazaar has PSLs advertised daily for some of the 12 NFL teams that permit holders of the licenses to transfer them.
"In the beginning, fans figured, 'Well, $2,000 gives me the right to see the team play for a long time,' and they saw that alone as a valuable asset," said Raymond D. Sauer Jr., a professor at Clemson University who teaches a class on sports economics. "As the institution [of reselling PSLs] becomes more widely known, then you realize that you're not throwing your money away - that these are transferable, and then their value goes up."
Because of pro football's popularity and the limited number of games - eight regular-season home contests per team - the premium on NFL tickets is more pronounced than in other sports.
Of the league's 32 teams, 13 require fans to purchase some sort of license or agreement to then buy some season tickets. In most cases, the license is akin to a deeded or titled asset - such as a car or house - and the holder can transfer it with the team recording the transfer, often for a nominal fee. Among NFL teams that have such licenses, only Green Bay prohibits their transfer. Redskins season tickets are not attached to freely transferable PSLs.
But as with real estate, for anyone considering PSLs as a moneymaker, the cardinal rule is: location, location, location.
Soaring in value
Licenses for NFL tickets where fan passions run high - Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Chicago - have skyrocketed in value; some Steelers PSLs have been resold for up to 10 times their original value on eBay. But in cities where enthusiasm is more tepid, such as St. Louis or Seattle, appreciation has been far less.
In Baltimore, the market is so hot that people are able to sell their places in line on the PSL waiting list at big profits, often to ticket brokers.
When the list opened in October, it cost $50 a seat to sign up. In a recent eBay transaction, a fan who had reached No. 25 in line for two Ravens PSLs sold the spot to a San Diego ticket broker for $2,526.
"Anytime you can get your foot in the door for a [football] market like Baltimore, you want to take advantage of it," the broker said.
Apparently, the Ravens are alone in the NFL in making a waiting list spot for a PSL a transferable asset.
"It really came down to creating value on the list," said Baker Koppelman, the Ravens' director of ticket sales, who added that the list will be capped at 3,000, and that the team is expected to go through 200 to 400 spots this year. "We wanted you to know that if you had a good spot on the list, it had value. And we wanted you to know that it belongs to you, and you have control over it."
A St. Louis accountant who recently sold three Rams PSLs and season tickets for a profit of about $1,200 on eBay said he has sold about 30 sets of seat licenses for St. Louis, Tennessee and Philadelphia over the past five years as a lucrative hobby.
"It's all about how the team performs and the size of the waiting list [for PSLs]," said Paul Bequette, the accountant. "If fans see that the waiting list is especially long, that boosts the PSL's value.
"But as a seller you have to be knowledgeable about the value of these things. I had a friend who tried it and flopped. And you have to have some instincts about how the team is going to do. I hit Philadelphia right when I bought some seasons tickets when they were still at Veterans Stadium and then was able to buy the licenses when they moved to the new stadium" in 2003.
Bequette, who has never been to Philadelphia, netted about $10,000 in two sales of Eagles PSLs. "But I missed the boat on Baltimore," he said.
The PSL concept in the NFL - sometimes referred to as personal seat licenses - started in 1993 when Carolina was campaigning to join the NFL as an expansion franchise and the club planned to build its own stadium.
"It was sort of a referendum on the team," said Panthers spokesman Charlie Dayton. "We needed to sell the PSLs in order to get the franchise."
The Carolina PSLs remain some of the priciest in the league; if purchased from the club, they cost $2,000 to $20,000, about triple what they were 12 years ago.
On eBay, Steelers PSLs are the equivalent of waterfront property. A transaction in June saw two Pittsburgh PSLs and the 2005 season tickets with them sell for more than $26,000, an apparent profit of about $20,000. The face value of the tickets was $4,000, and the PSLs initially sold for $960 each before Heinz Field opened in 2001, according to Steelers officials.
Not every NFL city is a seller's market for PSLs, though. In Cincinnati, where the team has struggled, there's no waiting list for licenses, called Charter Ownership Agreements. Still, licenses for extremely good seats can fetch a decent price: Six Charter Ownership Agreements for 50-yard-line perches at Paul Brown Stadium recently went for $18,000 on eBay, double their initial cost.
Despite healthy appreciation in certain NFL cities, PSLs remain a fringe investment in the eyes of financial professionals.
"I would urge a client to look it as an expense rather than an investment," said Scott Murphy, a portfolio manager for Baltimore-based Hardesty Capital Management. "And at the end of the day, any dollar you can get is [unexpected] return."
Still, Murphy called the handsome appreciation of some PSLs "a classic example of demand outstripping supply."
Whenever PSLs are introduced to a market, fan reaction is predictably sour. After all, the team is asking customers to pay a premium for something that they always had for free - the right to purchase season tickets.
"What's interesting is that as much push-back as we got [from fans] when we announced the PSLs, now that they have value, everyone is ecstatic," Ravens ticket director Koppelman said.
"Of course, some guys will say, 'I'm never going to sell my tickets.' But it's just like your house on a prime piece of property. You may intend to be there all your life, but it's still nice to know the equity is there."