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Super Bowl 50 resale ticket market much more than a function of teams

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Broncos start preparations for Super Bowl 50 (1:01)

Broncos coach Gary Kubiak met with players on Monday to go over the team's schedule and told them to take care of off-field issues such as, tickets and family travel plans, before the team returns to practice on Thursday. (1:01)

As the Super Bowl matchup was set Sunday night, fans undoubtedly went online to see what it would cost them to go to the game in Santa Clara, California, on Feb. 7. What they saw, in most cases, were prices higher than last year, which is not comforting given that tickets close to game time couldn't be had for less than $5,000.

In fact, the day after the conference championship games last year, StubHub's average Super Bowl sale was $3,042. This year? $5,461.

What is happening? How was the price so high before we even knew the teams and what does the immediate future hold?

The answer is not an easy one, but it can be explained.

For 11 years, Lee Shenker's company had sold the Super Bowl short. That is, they sold tickets at a higher price to fans a couple weeks out and actually bought the tickets closer to the game for a lower price.

The margin his company, ASC Ticket Co., yielded from playing this game turned into $1.3 million over 11 years of selling short.

And then came last year. So many brokers played the short game for Super Bowl XLIX, mostly by listing sections instead of specific seats on exchanges, that when they went to fill those seats closer to the game, they found that they had to pay much more than what they sold it for.

Many brokers ditched fans, offering refunds to what they originally paid, leaving the fan -- who had already traveled to Arizona -- out in the cold. Others who did their business on StubHub let StubHub's ticket guarantee cover them. StubHub paid $6 million to buy tickets to make sure customers who bought off the site had a ticket to the game. StubHub spokesman Glenn Lehrman said last year's Super Bowl was only the second event -- the 2011 BCS Championship Game was the other -- that the company lost money on. That's even with brokers agreeing to pay StubHub back for their share of the losses, with payment plans lasting years in some cases.

Then there were well capitalized brokers like Shenker, who said he sold 400 tickets for $1,375 and had to fill them at an average cost of $5,750. In a single year, he had wiped out 11 years of Super Bowl shorting profits.

"There's really no safe way to short, other than to make money when the market closer to the game goes down or to go out of business if it goes up," Schenker said. "That's not a good business."

Last year, ticket marketplaces were begging for Super Bowl listings, letting anyone who said they had tickets list whatever they wanted. Due to the exposure from shorting, things changed.

StubHub, for example, only allowed 10 sellers to list tickets on spec this year before they had seats in hand. Lehrman said the company determined who would be able to do it based on reputation and ability to finance filling them should there be a shortfall.

Last week, as actual tickets were sent to those who were lucky enough to get them on the primary market circulated, StubHub required that anyone listing tickets list the specific seat and row. Lehrman said the site normally does that in the week leading up to the game. With that requirement, the number of tickets that were listed on StubHub dropped by half in 24 hours.

As last year's situation manifested itself, many people blamed the NFL, even though the league does not control the secondary market.

The NFL only sets the face value of the tickets ($500 for the 1,000 lottery tickets, $850 to $1,800 for general admission, up to $3,000 for club seats).

It does however have a resale partnership with Ticketmaster called the NFL Ticket Exchange. Chris Hardart, vice president of corporate development, told ESPN.com that this year the league insisted that in order to list Super Bowl tickets on NFL Ticket Exchange, Ticketmaster had to have the ticket in hand. That has resulted in fewer tickets listed on the site, but also lessens the NFL's liability.

With new rules, shorting -- at least among reputable brokers who list on main sites -- becomes a much tougher business. That doesn't mean that the market is completely transparent. There's a game that is played with the Super Bowl that isn't played with any other game.

PrimeSport, which holds the most tickets on the secondary market and is an official partner of both the Denver Broncos and the Carolina Panthers, made a mint off filling orders from short sellers last year. As it got closer to the game, the prices reached astronomical levels, getting to the point where if they wanted to buy any seats, they'd have to go through PrimeSport.

PrimeSport senior vice president Scott Jernigan said he doesn't believe that the Super Bowl is different from any other marketplace or that his company does anything but follow the trends of supply and demand.

But finding out what the supply is and what the demand is is more complex than any other event.

There's no public ticket sale. A team's season ticket holders own the smallest amount of inventory for a championship in any sport. More tickets than ever -- for the players, for those that won team lotteries -- will be distributed at the event rather than in the mail, meaning it comes down to the last second.

That's why the price has something to do with the teams involved but that is hardly the complete equation.