- Darren Rovell, ESPN.com Sports Business reporter
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It was supposed to be a highly coveted Super Bowl ticket: the well-heeled 49ers fans, having not been to a Super Bowl since the mid-1990s, and a Ravens fans base, whom ticket-brokers preferred over the Patriots' been-there, seen-that crowd. But with four days to go before the big game, ticket prices have been plummeting. The get-in price, hovering around $1,400, is about $1,000 cheaper than it was at this time last year, according to numbers provided by Ticketmaster's resale site, the NFL Ticket Exchange. It has gotten to the point where some ticketing insiders are predicting that a good deal of tickets will sell for face value, perhaps the most since 2002. That year, a travel-wary fan base after Sept. 11 contributed to the price drop for the last New Orleans-area Super Bowl, in which Patriots and Rams fans could find $400 face-value tickets on the day of the game.
So what could have possibly happened this time?
To understand this, you first have to understand the complexities of the ticket market. The most important thing to understand is that the ticket today is bought and sold very much in the same way stocks are. Brokers short tickets by selling them before they get their hands on them, taking the risk of filling them closer to the game for a chance at better margins. And the transparency of the marketplace provided by the resale sites such as StubHub enables those who "trade" in the ticket market to see the sentiment of the masses as prices go up and down on information.
Here are the dynamics of this year's Super Bowl ticket:
1. Lack of short sellers
Many brokers and travel companies who engage in short selling seem to have sat out this year. Short sellers are often selling Super Bowl ticket packages to large groups that express interest in going to the game no matter who the teams are. This allows them to do business months in advance without having tickets in hand. The sentiment from people whom I've spoken to is that the fear of the Houston Texans or Dallas Cowboys making the game drove some of these gamblers away. Why? Because if either of those teams made the game, they would have lost their shirt. When the short sellers sit out, that means that hundreds, if not thousands, of tickets are not traded at the last minute from people trying to backfill their orders on tickets they already sold but didn't have in hand.
2. New Orleans location
I've been covering the Super Bowl ticket market since 2001. Although New Orleans is a city that needs to be in the Super Bowl city rotation, one thing that doesn't change about this city is, it's not easy to get to at the last minute. If you don't fly into New Orleans, the closest major airport is in Houston, which is roughly a five-and-a-half hour drive from New Orleans. People don't want to fly and then make that type of a drive. Last-minute flights to New Orleans from San Francisco or Baltimore that allow you to leave between now and the game and get you home Monday or Tuesday, cost between $1,300 and $2,000 right now.
3. Limited local interest
Unlike some other recent locations that got Super Bowl games as a reward for having new stadiums, people who live in and around New Orleans are used to the title game. They've played 10 of the 47 Super Bowls here (tied with Miami for the most). Think about that: 21 percent of all Super Bowls have been played in New Orleans. It's for that reason that there's virtually no curiosity from the locals to go to the game. It's not the main factor here, but it does take out a group of people who in other host cities are willing to buy at the last minute.
4. Corporate "fan" who doesn't go to the game
This is one of the dynamics that doesn't get talked about much, but it's extremely important to the ticket market. Sponsors hold a tremendous number of tickets to this game. If they, for the most part, go to the game, the tickets have a chance to stay high. If they don't, they can go low because when most of the sponsors pick up their tickets Thursday and Friday, they have the potential to flood the market. In general, cities such as New Orleans tend to have a higher ratio of executives who commit to the city well in advance -- go to parties, conduct meetings -- but don't necessarily commit to the game. If you are going to a Super Bowl in Detroit or Phoenix or Houston, you've likely committed to staying for the game. Those cities don't bring the magnetism of New Orleans. So what's the problem here? The sentiment is that tickets will be readily available for this game, but hotel rooms will not because executives are using them. You can see that if you try to find a hotel room right now in the vicinity of the French Quarter or the stadium. Room rates haven't dropped. So you'll be paying $700 to $1,400 a night with three-night minimums.
What does this all mean? It means that when we think about the Super Bowl ticket market, we have to think of it as a puzzle. It's not as simple as who the teams are and whether their fans travel. To understand this sector for this game, we have to be willing to factor in broker action, a location's pros and cons as well as corporate behavior. If you don't pay attention to these factors, you're just like the junior who comes out of college to enter the NFL draft not understanding how the draft order affects certain positions or how the number of similar players coming out hurts your status.
We could very well see this ticket hit face value ($850 to $1,250) and maybe go even lower. But that ticket would only make up roughly 25 percent of your total cost and that's doing it frugally.