Tickets? You’d better have deep pockets

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Forty-five years ago, 10 bucks got you into the Super Bowl.

The inaugural NFL vs. AFL clash in 1967 was a far cry from the 21st-century edition, a star-studded spectacle that slices a football game between an endless slate of parties and performances. The very first Super Bowl wasn’t even televised across most local markets, and the game failed to sell out the Los Angeles Coliseum.

More than four decades later, a ticket into the big game is the hottest commodity in sports.

In 12 days, the Super Bowl makes its first stop in Indianapolis, and in a telling sign of the skyrocketing popularity of the NFL and its signature event, fans will pay up to $200 just to park before the big game on Feb. 5

An actual ticket that gets you inside the doors at Lucas Oil Stadium runs a bit steeper. As of Monday, the average Super Bowl XLVI ticket was selling for nearly $3,000 on the secondary market. Fans lucky enough to snare them at face value would pay between $800 and $1,200.

“What a difference it is between now and then,” said Don Vaccaro, a 30-year veteran of the ticket industry who serves as the CEO of TicketNetwork.com, a digital destination that aggregates sellers and buyers on the secondary market for events like the Super Bowl.

“I can remember when the NFL had trouble selling out the Super Bowl. Now, it’s the premier ticket in American sports. The prices reflect that.”

Typically, the NFL reserves up to 25 percent of total Super Bowl tickets to distribute to affiliated companies, charities, networks and sponsors. This year’s competing teams, the New England Patriots and New York Giants, each will dole out 17.5 percent to their fans, and the rest of the league’s teams divvy up the remaining 40. Only 1 percent is released to the general public.

The bad news for Vaccaro on Monday was that demand wasn’t as high as it was a year ago. His company did roughly $3.7 million worth of business on the Monday after the conference championship games last year; he said his company would be lucky to hit $1.5 million this time around.

Despite the abundance of storylines lingering over this year’s rematch between the Giants and Patriots, and the fact that both squads hail from major urban markets, ticket prices were down this year compared with 2011.

According to TicketNetwork data, the average price on the secondary market for admission into this year’s game was $2,796 as of Monday, a slight dip from last year’s $2,946 average. The highest average over the course of the past five years was Super Bowl XLII in Glendale, Ariz., in 2008, the last time the Giants and Patriots squared off with the Vince Lombardi Trophy on the line. Tickets for that Super Bowl sold for an average of $3,134.

Still, one eager spender dropped $11,883 on at least one ticket for this year’s big game, according to the NFL’s Ticket Exchange site. That price is the highest sold so far for this year’s tilt, according to the NFL. The league’s official ticket exchange boasts an average asking price of $4,183, nearly identical to last year’s $4,140.

Limiting sales for ticket brokers this year is the fact that Lucas Oil Stadium will offer far fewer seats than the 103,219 at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, for Super Bowl XLV. At a capacity of roughly 63,000, the Indy Super Bowl would be among the three smallest in the event’s 46-year history.

That is far fewer seats than the 70,000 that Indy promised when it made its Super Bowl bid in 2008. Brian McCarthy, vice president of communications for the NFL, said the league won’t have a final attendance number until a few days before the big game, a typical occurrence for the Super Bowl.

Although Indianapolis won’t match the attendance numbers of last year’s game, it certainly has a chance to trump it on fan satisfaction. Last year’s Super Sunday was marred by a ticketing fiasco that left 1,250 fans livid after their temporary seats were deemed unsafe.

“There are 254 temporary seats currently installed into Lucas Oil Stadium at this point, and all have been inspected and passed by the safety crews,” McCarthy said.

Lower resale value for tickets this year is the result of Indianapolis’ cold climate and perceived lack of amenities, as well as a pairing of two teams without the national following of last year’s competitors, ticket brokers say.

“Unfortunately, we’ll be lucky to do half the business we did last year,” Vaccaro said. “It has a lot to do with the teams. Last year’s two teams, Pittsburgh and Green Bay, have enormous national followings. This year’s teams, despite coming from big markets, have very localized fan bases.”

The second issue, according to Vaccaro, is the role played by the host city. The Super Bowl, after all, is far more than just a football game.

“Dallas is a much warmer climate, a much more appealing destination for fans,” he said. “Indianapolis is a smaller city with a smaller stadium, and it’s perceived by a lot of folks as a place without much to do.”

The lower ticket prices come as a bit of a surprise to David Harrington, an economics professor at Kenyon College whose class lessons include examining Super Bowl ticket data.

“I believe with the Giants and Patriots winning, ticket prices would rise this year,” Harrington said. “One of the biggest determinants of the demand is the size of the market. What you’ve got with Boston and New York are big cities and much bigger demand than if Baltimore or San Francisco had won.”

When, if ever, will the prices drop? Harrington expects that to happen in the days just before the game.

“Once the initial sales take place, there will still remain plenty of sellers with tickets they want to get rid of,” he said. “As the game approaches, those sellers will risk ending up owning a worthless piece of paper. That’s when you’ll see prices go down.”

And some of those sellers could very well end up being Colts season ticket holders. As the game host, Colts fans that renewed their season tickets for 2012 were automatically entered into a raffle that would allow a certain number to purchase Super Bowl tickets at face value. Suite owners, for instance, were offered the chance to purchase up to 20 percent of their seats, while the NFL maintained the remaining 80 percent.

Thomas Carr, a fan who has held season tickets since the team moved to Indy in 1984, hasn’t had his name called in the Super Bowl raffle just yet. He holds out hope nonetheless.

“We haven’t really talked about what we would do with the tickets if we got them,” Carr said. “I suspect we’ll probably see how much value they have. With these two teams and the big cities they come from, you’d think the demand would be very, very high.

“I’m not so sure if I want to be in the building when the Patriots win another Super Bowl on our home field, anyway.”

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