Photographer: Luke Sharrett

Here's Why Super Bowl Ticket Prices Are Skyrocketing

Scalpers are scrambling as ticket prices rise higher than in previous years

The secondary market for Super Bowl tickets follows a predictable pattern. Prices sit flat in the $3,000 to $4,000 range, depending on where the game is being played, until two weeks before the game, when the matchup is set. Resale ticket prices then move up or down and the transaction volume is at its heaviest. A few days later, once the hometown fans have made their purchases, prices start the usual slide toward game day, when last-minute buyers get bargains from the leftover inventory.

Things are far stranger for scalpers this year. As game day closes in, ticket prices keep rising. Last Sunday, with a week to go, the average resale price jumped from $3,537 to $4,274, according to data from ticket search engine SeatGeek. By Monday the average price reached $4,573. On Wednesday it jumped again to $5,149 and now sits at $6,191. Look at the late surge for the upcoming game compared with the past four Super Bowls:

SBTIXREvise

Here's a look at the volume of tickets sold. Notice that the supply has dwindled dramatically as ticket prices rise:

SBVolumeRevise

"This is really something we never anticipated," said Will Flaherty, director of growth at SeatGeek. "The cheapest seat on SeatGeek right now is $8,000, but no site seems to have any inventory." Flaherty believes speculative buying is behind the spike. Ticket brokers frequently sell "air" to their customers, taking orders before they have tickets in hand. "We've noticed significantly more speculative selling activity than in recent years," Flaherty said. "Over the last few days, those sellers have been scrambling to buy up tickets to fill their orders, resulting in the Super Bowl ticket version of a short squeeze. Brokers with tickets in hand have been taking advantage of their leverage, raising prices dramatically and arbitrarily withholding some of their inventory."

Ety Rybak, co-founder of the high-end brokerage Inside Sports & Entertainment Group, has spent more than anticipated this time around to fulfill orders before the game. "I can tell you some ugly horror stories about what I have had to pay. But that’s part of the business," he said. "If I sold you tickets for $2,500, and I have to pay $7,500 to do it, unfortunately that’s the world that I chose to live in." The flip side to the high costs is a brisk business in late orders. 

While Inside Sports is not about to stiff its wealthy repeat customers, Rybak suspects there will be some disappointed fans come Sunday: "As the week goes on, it starts becoming a game of chicken to see which of the people that sold tickets at $2,500 and now have to buy at $4,000 are going to step up and do that, and which of them are going to tell their people sorry." 

So why the scalper squeeze this year? Rybak has some guesses: Arizona, the site of this year's Super Bowl, has traditionally been a weak destination. In 2008, the last time the Super Bowl was held in the state, resale prices collapsed despite what looked like a dream matchup between the undefeated New England Patriots and the New York Giants. Brokers likely had that disappointment in mind this year, when speculating on prices.

Those playing in the secondary market were also probably thinking of last year in New Jersey. Rybak recalls widespread expectations that tickets to the first Super Bowl played next-door to the nation's biggest, wealthiest city would trade at a high premium. But that market also fizzled out. (See the light gray line in first chart above.) "Last year people played it safe, and it didn’t necessarily work out the way they hoped it would," Rybak said of brokers. "And then this year they said, 'You know what, it’s in Arizona, I’m just going to speculate on the whole thing.'"

The matchup between the Seattle Seahawks and the Patriots has proved a strong draw, with big personalities and a dose of controversy driving demand from two dedicated fanbases and neutral spectators alike. The controversy over the use of slightly deflated footballs by New England could even be helping to, ahem, slightly deflate the ticket supply coming from within the Patriots organization. "They are being a lot more careful about the reselling of their tickets," Rybak said. "The last thing they need is for some story to come out about Robert Kraft’s son or some executive selling their tickets."

(This story was updated on Jan. 29 to reflect new data from Seat Geek.)

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