NFL’s Deflategate Seen Inflating Prices for Super Bowl Balls

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Deflated footballs may lead to inflated prices when the National Football League auctions off some of its Super Bowl game balls for charity.

The controversy over whether the New England Patriots intentionally let some air out of footballs they supplied for their conference championship win against the Indianapolis Colts garnered the nickname “Deflategate” and has dominated media coverage leading up to the Feb. 1 Super Bowl.

The scandal has pervaded the national consciousness, providing comedy fodder from late-night television talk shows to the White House, where Press Secretary Josh Earnest poked fun at the news conference held by Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. That awareness could raise prices as much as 50 percent when the NFL sells many of the 108 official balls set to be used in its championship game, according to Dan Imler of California-based sports memorabilia company SCP Auctions.

“These balls from this game will have added interest beyond what the Super Bowl game balls have had in the past for collectors,” Imler said in a telephone interview. “The whole Deflategate thing adds a little intrigue to it and would make them more of a conversation piece.”

During the regular season and the first three rounds of the playoffs, each team provides 12 footballs per game, preparing the pigskins to their liking before turning them over to the referee for approval. For the Super Bowl, both the Patriots and defending-champion Seattle Seahawks were given 54 Wilson brand footballs that will be used on game day.

Ball Protocols

Both teams were able to practice with those balls and prepare them for their quarterbacks throughout the week before returning them to the NFL yesterday. Chicago Bears equipment manager Tony Medlin will have control of the game balls until he delivers them to the officials’ locker room three hours before kickoff tomorrow.

The 108 footballs will be approved or rejected after being inspected by referee Bill Vinovich, who among other things will check that they’re inflated to the required pressure of 12.5 to 13.5 pounds per square inch. The game balls will remain in control of the officiating crew until being given to the ball attendants minutes before kickoff.

“During the first half we rotate footballs in as much as possible,” said Dean Blandino, the NFL’s vice president of officiating. “Those balls are used for charities and NFL auctions. That’s been in place for several years.”

The difference this year is that people are paying closer attention to the footballs, thanks to Deflategate. The NFL is conducting an investigation into whether 11 of the 12 balls supplied and used by the Patriots’ offense in the AFC championship game fell below the inflation limit, which Blandino said has been in the NFL’s rule book since at least 1940.

Auction Prices

“In recent years, they’ve gone for anywhere from $1,500 to $3,000 or $4,000 with a marquee signature on them,” Imler of SCP Auctions said of the auction prices. “This makes them more fun than your average Super Bowl game ball.”

Each Super Bowl football will be tagged with synthetic DNA ink that’s invisible to the naked eye, a security measure to protect against counterfeiting. The sideline pylons and the coin used for the game-opening toss will also be marked by the synthetic DNA strand that has a 1-in-33 trillion chance of being accurately reproduced by counterfeiters and can only be seen when illuminated by a specific laser frequency.

Each ball is cataloged throughout the game, from the one used for the opening kickoff to the one used on the final play, said Joe Orlando, president of PSA/DNA Authentication Services, which was hired by the NFL in the late 1990s.

Piece of History

“You know exactly what the football was used for and what play it pertains to,” Orlando said by telephone. “The more important the play was in the game, the more valuable the ball could be. It all goes to a good cause and it’s a lot of fun for collectors who can get a real tangible piece of history.”

Beyond Deflategate, this year’s game features Brady trying to win his fourth Super Bowl title and tie Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw for the most by a quarterback. He’ll continue to set NFL career postseason records with every throw and needs one more touchdown pass to become the first quarterback in league history with 50 in the playoffs.

The Seahawks’ Russell Wilson, 26, is the youngest quarterback to start two Super Bowls and Seattle is seeking to become the first team to repeat as champion in 11 years.

“Whether the fans believe Deflategate has been overblown or not, it will bring more attention to game balls,” said Orlando, who is also the editor of the monthly Sports Market Report price guide magazine. “But there could be a lot of historical things that could take place as well. You have Tom Brady, who has been so outstanding in the playoffs, or we may be looking at a new dynasty with the Seattle Seahawks. It’s a very intriguing game, even without Deflategate.”