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Volume 23 No. 24
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Changes in secondary ticket marketplace make it less about whom you know, more about what you’ll spend

As the secondary ticketing industry has moved from a small offline industry to a multibillion-dollar one with dozens of official online marketplaces, real-time pricing and instant delivery, the Super Bowl has been a prime mover in that transition.

THEN AND NOW: Tickets for Super Bowl I were plentiful, with a price range of only $6 to $12. If you were fortunate to score tickets at face value for Super Bowl 50, the price range is $500 to $3,000.
The game is among the highest-priced events on resale markets each year, typically exceeding $2,000 a ticket. It’s a must-attend game for many sports fans and brings secondary ticketing widespread coverage on mainstream news outlets.

“Super Bowl tickets are the Super Bowl of ticketing, to use the metaphor,” said Jim Holzman, chief executive of Boston-based Ace Ticket and a three-decade veteran of secondary ticketing. “This is an event that remains on the bucket lists of many, many fans, and is the ultimate business gift. The game isn’t as corporate as a lot of people think, but it’s something that’s still in really high demand in that sector, too.”

Until the turn of this century, acquiring Super Bowl tickets could be a tedious exercise. Ticket brokers would typically work private sources among individual teams and season-ticket holders to acquire inventory. Fans wanting to go to the game had to deal with often-unknown entities, with no guarantee that their tickets would be valid or their money recoupable if necessary.

Pay up

Average ticket price sold on StubHub, through game day

Year Cost
2016 $5,452*
2015 $4,222
2014 $2,516
2013 $2,524
2012 $3,040
2011 $3,074
2010 $2,699

* As of Jan. 28
Source: StubHub

The rise of e-commerce, and specifically outlets such as StubHub and Ticketmaster, brought much of that ticket resale activity out of the shadows, and the business grew exponentially. Ticketing companies’ official deals with properties such as the NFL and individual teams made resale a formally blessed enterprise. And that has greatly democratized access to Super Bowl tickets.

“Going to the Super Bowl now is really just a question of price, and one’s individual tolerance to price, and not about access or who you know,” said Patrick Ryan, co-founder of Eventellect, a Houston-based secondary ticketing company, and another industry veteran. “It’s made it a lot easier for the average fan to have their dream come true.”

But even in today’s Super Bowl reselling environment, buttressed by state-of-the-art ticketing analytics, the market for game tickets remains a wildly unpredictable affair. That’s in part because year-round brokers and marketplaces are joined by legions of temporary players and speculative operators looking to make a quick score.

How Super Bowl tickets are distributed

AFC champion and NFC Champion: 35.0% (17.5% to each)

Host city team: 5.0% (split evenly if game is in multiteam market)

Other 29 teams: 34.8% (1.2% each)

NFL office: 25.2%

Source: NFL

Additionally, tighter restrictions imposed by the NFL around the distribution of Super Bowl tickets has helped give rise to the practice of short-selling tickets, in which brokers list and sell tickets not yet in their possession. Such short-selling was particularly common during last year’s Super Bowl in Phoenix, and when prices soared in unprecedented fashion beyond $10,000 a ticket in the days leading up to the game, many sellers reneged on deals they had made instead of swallowing huge losses.

“There are so many different variables out there now … that can move the market for Super Bowl tickets. And if you’re not keeping tabs on all of them, you’re simply playing blind poker,” Ryan said.

Despite the issues with last year’s game, sellers including StubHub and Ticketmaster, which operates the official NFL Ticket Exchange, still posted event-record sales.

Despite the demand, brokers generally have low margins for the event, and regular-season games can often present better net margins. But there is no substitute for the energy created and customer relationships forged around the Super Bowl. “It’s still the biggest thing on the docket, and for folks like me in this business, this is an incredibly exhilarating, exciting time,” Holzman said.