Super Bowl tickets: A tough game for fans to win

Houston’s NRG Stadium, site of the Super Bowl, awaits fans. (Curtis Compton/
Houston’s NRG Stadium, site of the Super Bowl, awaits fans. (Curtis Compton/

Credit: Curtis Compton

Credit: Curtis Compton

Buying tickets to the Super Bowl is unlike buying tickets to other major sports events, both in price and in process.

Neither the NFL nor the participating teams put Super Bowl tickets on sale to the general public or even to season-ticket holders in any substantial number, meaning relatively few fans get access to the game at face value.

“The Super Bowl really stands alone because the demand is unmatched for any other sporting event,” said Joris Drayer, a Temple University sport-management professor who researches ticket pricing. “The supply and demand don’t match and won’t until you have a 200,000-seat stadium.”

Even with games played in 70,000-plus seat stadiums, much of the ticket supply is gobbled up by the NFL’s corporate and media partners.

The league holds an annual lottery that gives 500 fans the right to buy a pair of tickets at face value, while the teams in the game generally hold lotteries to make an undisclosed number of tickets — “certainly not a big number,” Drayer said — available to season-ticket holders at face value. But for the vast majority of fans, the only way to secure tickets to the big game is through the secondary market or in “hospitality packages” that bundle seats with pregame parties, concerts and other perks.

The NFL divvies up the Super Bowl ticket inventory this way: 17.5 percent to each of the participating teams, 5 percent to the host team and 1.2 percent to each of the league’s other 29 teams, with the remaining 25.2 percent allocated to the league.

In a 70,000-seat stadium, each participating team’s allotment is approximately 12,000 tickets — some of which go to players’ families, some to team employees, some to sponsors and business partners, some to a hospitality-package provider and some to a relatively few lucky season-ticket holders.

“I don’t even know the exact number (of tickets the Falcons got). It’s not as many as we need, I’ll tell you that,” Falcons owner Arthur Blank said.

The Falcons wouldn’t say how many tickets they made available to season-ticket holders at face value.

“Like all other participating teams, we conducted a drawing from an allotment of Super Bowl LI tickets for our season-ticket holders,” the Falcons said in a prepared statement. “We added weight in the drawing for consideration to our longer tenured season ticket holders. Additionally, all season ticket holders were then offered a member discount off of the ticket packages available to fans via NFL On Location, the official hospitality provider of the NFL.”

The marketplace changed this season because the NFL allocated 9,500 tickets to On Location Experiences, a company 20-percent owned by the league’s venture-capital-arm 32 Equity.

“A subset of those tickets came from the participating teams,” said John Collins, CEO of On Location. “The rest were from the overall league allocation.”

Approximately 3,000 tickets to On Location reportedly came from each participating team’s 17.5 percent allotment.

The NFL has said the change didn’t affect the number of seats available to season-ticket holders because teams in past seasons made a corresponding number of Super Bowl tickets available to brokers and other hospitality-package providers. The league also said it took steps to ensure inventory remained available for fans of the participating teams once the matchup was set.

“We had 9,500 tickets total, but there was an obligation to hold a certain amount back for exclusive offering to the participating teams’ fans,” Collins said. About one-third of the company’s packages were made available to Falcons and Patriots season-ticket holders, he said.

“There was more of a focus on making sure the best experiences and some of the best inventory in the stadium were available to the fans once you know who is in the game,” Collins said. “That is one of the benefits I think fans will see from the On Location partnership.”

To get tickets that way, though, fans have to pay for more than the seats.

On Location bundled game tickets with pregame parties and other perks, such as postgame access to the field, and sold the packages starting in September for $5,949 to $12,749. Falcons and Patriots fans were offered discounted packages in the past two weeks, with Falcons-specific plans ranging from $3,514 to $9,499.

Drayer noted the NFL’s face value for Super Bowl tickets — $850 to $1,800 last year for non-club seats, up to $3,000 for club seats — is far below what can be fetched on the re-sale market. “So the ability to create these bundles through On Location allowed them to charge significantly more to get more of that revenue,” he said.

For fans seeking tickets without bundles, StubHub and other secondary-market exchanges continue to offer stand-alone tickets that are being re-sold for a profit by people or businesses that got them in one way or another from the league’s or various teams’ allotments.

As of Thursday, StubHub had 2,000 tickets listed for sale to Sunday’s game, starting from about $2,200. Tickets have sold in a range from $1,500 to $15,432 on the site, according to StubHub.

The bottom line is that fans have a lot of well-heeled competition for tickets.

“There has always been an enormous interest around the Super Bowl from the corporate group,” said Collins, a former NFL and NHL executive. “There are a lot of people who are less concerned with who is in the game and just want to be in the event. That’s always a big part of the Super Bowl. It’s unique, I think, to any of the big-time sporting events in the country.

“There’s also a lot of bucket-list fans from around the world. We’ve got a huge contingent from outside the U.S. who are interested and are able to access the Super Bowl for the first time through On Location. Whether they are corporations who have a partnership with the NFL … or fans who perhaps have been to an NFL game in London and have heard about the Super Bowl and now want to experience it, there is a huge demand.”

Drayer said loyal season-ticket holders “can probably stake a claim to deserving” access to their team’s Super Bowl tickets, but he also noted corporate partners “spend millions and millions of dollars in NFL sponsorships and advertising.”

“Those are the customers they do really want to incentivize,” he said, “and the Super Bowl is kind of the crown jewel of that.”

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