Monday morning was rough for the brokers and secondary sellers who got squeezed in this year’s Super Bowl ticketing fiasco. A number of big secondary markets were forced to hand over millions of dollars in refunds while leaving hundreds if not thousands of customers without tickets. Why couldn’t they deliver? Because of the naughty behavior of speculative ticket sellers.
First, what are spec ticket sellers? They’re people who go onto secondary ticket sites and try to sell tickets that they don’t actually possess. Once someone agrees to buy the tickets, the brokers then scramble to acquire them and fulfill the order. Sites like StubHub and SeatGeek let this take place because it means they can list tickets on their site the minute an event is announced — and sometimes weeks before any tickets actually go on sale. That drives transactions, fees and money. It’s liquidity, baby, and more importantly, it’s cash flow.
This usually works because the broker is smart enough to keep his final sale price above the actual price he’ll pay for the tickets he flips to the buyer. That wasn’t the case with Super Bowl XLIX.
The week before Sunday’s game in Phoenix, ticket prices went through the roof. Right after the AFC/NFC Championship Game, prices were hovering around $2,000 a ticket. By the time the week was over, ticket prices had spiked between $7,000 to $10,000 a ticket. Many brokers who had agreed to deliver a ticket for $2,000 were looking at a loss of at least $5,000 on each sale.
Why was demand so crazy? Well, some companies are starting to point the finger at the NFL for how it released the tickets (more about that below). Demand was also very high from fans of both teams. And of course all of the speculative orders drove the price up as brokers with tickets tried to gouge each other in a self-fellating greed fest.
Sadly, many fans innocently showed up in Arizona thinking “their guy” would be there with Super Bowl tickets, only to find out that nope, they wouldn’t be going to the big game. Some brokers simply walked away from the sales, while others tried to offer double-your-money refunds in hopes of salvaging their customer base. A lot of guys just threw in the towel.
“I have bad news to report from Scottsdale,” wrote Brian Peters from Ludus Tours in an email to customers that popped up on ESPN.com “I do not believe that my suppliers are delivering tickets to me… I am sincerely sorry for this situation. For what it is worth, I will not have a functioning business once the dust settles from this event.”
THE SPIEL — SO WHO SCREWED UP?
OK, here is a partial list of the companies that either couldn’t fulfill ticket orders or have now gone out of business
Prominent Tickets of New Jersey — Failed to deliver tickets
SeatGeek — The company failed to deliver at least some of its Super Bowl tickets on behalf of its brokers. “Continuum” actress Rachel Nichols took to Twitter to blast the company for not making good on tickets it sold her.
Vivid Seats — The Chicago-based brokerage site was unable to deliver some of its customers’ tickets — including a very irritated Seahawks fan named Sheila Kissel — and offered some fans a 200% refund. One Vivid Seats customer really lost it when he found out he wouldn’t be able to get into the big game. All of these folks are also extremely angry at Vivid Seats.
Ticket City — The company reneged on dozens of orders, issuing a statement saying that “partners were not going to deliver the tickets they were to supply,” they are “truly sorry,” and this was caused by “unprecedented demand coupled with an abnormally low supply.”
We’re currently looking into which individual brokers have gone out of business from the Super Bowl fiasco. A broker that had 25 ticket orders open and offered to pay 200% refunds is looking at $60,000 to $75,000 write down. A broker who tried to fulfill 25 short orders probably lost upwards of $200,000.
THE REAL — WHY DID THIS HAPPEN?
Was it speculators alone that caused the resale market to surge and suddenly crash, or were artificial shortages intentionally created to burn brokers?
Here’s what we know – first, the NFL maintains complete control over the distribution of the Super Bowl’s 72,000 tickets. About 17.5 percent are allocated to the two participating teams (Seattle and New England) and another 5 percent goes to the host team (Arizona Cardinals). About a quarter of the tickets are reserved for NFL sponsors, and a little less than a third of the tickets are reserved for the 32 teams that didn’t make the big game (about 865 tickets per team). Less than 1,000 tickets are actually made available to the public through a lottery.
So how do the brokers get their hands on the tickets? Many buy them from teams that aren’t playing the big game. Each team’s allotment of 865 tickets is sold to its players, coaches, staff and top-level sponsors. Instead of going to the game, many of these guys simply sell their tickets to brokers at two or three times markup. Tickets are usually released on the Monday or Tuesday before the game. This year, the NFL didn’t release the team tickets until Friday.
That’s a big disruption to the supply chain, and StubHub has already come out with accusations. “A consolidation of supply this year has led to a handful of sellers being able to manipulate the market and make it nearly impossible for last-minute fans to go to the game,” StubHub spokesman Glenn Lehrman told ESPN.
Why would the NFL want to manipulate the market? One reason could be to bolster its Ticketmaster-run Ticket Exchange. TM paid a lot of money for the right to sell those tickets, and it has a history of controlling supply to weaken secondary markets (paperless tickets, anyone?).
But that’s just part of the problem — over the last few years there’s been a surge in Super Bowl short-selling, which means more brokers selling tickets they don’t actually possess. Troy Kirby over at Tao of Sports calls these guys “Paper Cowboys.” Guys who sit in their kitchens listing and moving tickets to manipulate the price. If they get underwater on ticket orders they can’t fulfill, then they just pull out. Maybe pop up a couple months later with new profiles and new credit cards.
And let’s keep in mind that this was a high profile game and Phoenix is a short trip from Seattle. Lots of fans, known to travel for a game. Great weather, plenty of hotels and lots of demand for tickets.
Was there any one thing that caused this huge bungling of Super Bowl-resold Super Bowl tickets? Probably not. It started with some potential supply manipulation from either the NFL or a few key ticket sellers, and worsened as more speculative buyers entered the fray, with less experience and no qualms about walking away from an order. Add a ton of demand from Seahawks fans (and some Patriots fans) who get supremely mad when their tickets get yanked and take to Twitter and local media to announce their disgust, and you get the perfect conditions for a really nasty shit storm. One that really stinks, and leaves a monster mess to clean up come Monday morning .