Let there be no misunderstanding — Phil Geppi adores the Ravens.
But the NFL can be an expensive habit. So the Finksburg software programmer recently made the difficult decision to sell his three permanent seat licenses. "It was either that or give up my gym membership, and I think my fiancee wants me to stay in shape," said Geppi, 46.
Geppi is far from the only fan facing what amounts to a classic head-versus-heart decision. The Ravens' Super Bowl run is expected to further boost the value of fans' PSLs, meaning the season-ticket holders must likely choose between holding on to their tiny piece of the stadium or cashing out while the market is hot.
Fans that have been on board with the club since it arrived in 1996 may be loath to sever ties now, with the team about to play in the second Super Bowl in its history.
But the lure of profits — particularly of the unexpected variety — can be hard to resist.
Who knew back when the new stadium opened in 1998 that allegiance to an NFL team could pay off not only in pride, but in actual money derived from selling PSLs?
"This is an emotional thing that they own," said Preston Hill, president of STR Marketplace, a Houston-based firm that contracts with the Ravens to coordinate the sales online. "It's not the same as owning stock in a Fortune 100 company. The value can go up and the seller faces the dilemma: 'Do I want to sell on the open market, or hang around and go along for the ride?'"
PSLs are akin to an initiation fee for season-ticket holders. They are owned by fans, not the team, provided that the seats are renewed each season. PSLs helped the Ravens recoup millions of dollars in relocation costs from their 1996 move from Cleveland.
Geppi said he never imagined that PSLs could become "like a real estate investment."
Geppi, who has two young children, is selling three PSLs in Section 136 that he bought from the team for $750 each. He is asking $4,500 to $5,000 per PSL.
His ad features an inviting photo of the field view from his seats, along with a note saying his section is populated by "real Ravens fans."
"I love the Ravens — they are part of my life," Geppi said.
But he said that "times are tough and it's expensive to go to football games." He's been routinely selling his $90 tickets for $150 and watching the games on his flat-screen TV at home.
"I've really had to buckle down and cut down on things," Geppi said.
The Ravens' PSL season-ticket base amounts to just over 65,000 tickets. Fourteen NFL teams currently require season ticket holders to buy PSLs, according to Hill, and the number is increasing as new stadiums continue to be built.
Over the past six months, the average price for PSLs sold through the Ravens' online marketplace has ranged from $1,500 for seats in the upper-level corners to $10,400 for those in the lower level at midfield. Many fans have at least doubled or tripled their initial investments. In Pittsburgh, Steelers fans have also been particularly successful at reaping profits through PSL sales.
But around the NFL, PSLs aren't guaranteed money-makers. "In the last three years, team owners have jacked up initial prices for the licenses, making them far riskier investments," Forbes.com reported.
The cost of Ravens' personal seat licenses from the team ranges from $750 for upper-level corner seats to $8,000 for lower-level midfield tickets. PSLs sold out in 2004, and the team maintains a wait list limited to 3,000 members.
About 2,800 wait-list positions are currently filled, according to Baker Koppelman, the team's vice president of ticket sales and operations. Most PSLs are sold in the open market.
"It was important that a market was established early, and that market has remained vibrant throughout the last 15 years," Koppelman said. "All signs point to a continued strong PSL market."
While there are no guarantees, Hill said a successful run such as the Ravens this season bodes well for the team's PSL holders. Although it's too soon to identify a trend, "it's likely we'll see an increase in some of the average values," he said.
Ravens fans can also make money by selling their positions on the wait list. Fans pay $50 to get on the wait list and a $25 annual fee — with all fees applied toward any eventual PSL purchase.
With the Ravens on a roll in recent years, most fans have been standing pat.
"Within the group of people I know, I'd say 20 to 30 percent have sold [their seat licenses] and the majority have held on to them," said Ravens fan Jim Daly, 65, a Catonsville retiree.
In 1998, Daly shelled out a combined $2,800 for six PSLs. He sold the seat licenses several years ago, turning his investment into $13,000 — a 464 percent profit. He still attends some games but doesn't have his own seat licenses anymore.
"To wake up one day and say I can make a profit on this was unexpected," Daly said. "It seemed like highway robbery."