Remember last year’s Super Bowl ticket debacle, when fans who thought they had seats never got their tickets? Many factors that led to it — primarily too many tickets in too few hands — are still in place.
One year after a Super Bowl ticket nightmare, many of the factors that contributed to seats not being delivered to hundreds of Seahawks and Patriots fans haven’t changed.
The Glendale, Ariz., debacle prompted threats, lawsuits and bankruptcies after “short selling” ticket brokers, stunned by inflated street prices, didn’t deliver to customers who had traveled thousands of miles to the game. And despite safeguards introduced by online-ticket exchanges like StubHub, TiqIQ and TicketNetwork, potential looms for future trouble.
Super Bowl tickets remain concentrated among a few powerful, NFL-affiliated companies, and some brokers who were unable to deliver last year are still engaging in speculative practices.
“There’s nothing systematic in the change, which is really tragic from a consumer perspective,’’ said Jesse Lawrence, president of New York based TiqIQ. “It’s tragic in the sense that nothing was really learned.’’
Lawrence mentions some positives, estimating that “short selling” has declined 75 percent from last year after burned brokers quit the industry or refrained from past practices. Otherwise, he said a flawed system remains ripe for abuse.
“Short selling” was commonplace at Super Bowls as brokers sold seats before having them. They’d sell tickets they didn’t have at top dollar, then wait until the week of the game for prices to fall so they could buy cheaper seats to fill orders and profit off the difference.
But last year’s prices soared beyond $10,000 without falling as supply plummeted. Brokers endured heavy losses filling orders, or abandoned customers who’d spent big getting to Arizona.
By Monday afternoon, TiqIQ tracking of resale exchanges nationwide showed ticket prices for this year’s Super Bowl averaging $4,861.95, down from the weekend and from this point last year. Supply was at 5,876 available tickets compared to 4,322 the Monday before last year’s game.
But in 2015, the crisis didn’t erupt until midweek. That’s because available seats plunged from 4,755 on Wednesday last year to 1,592 on Thursday, causing prices to soar from $5,622.50 to $8,051.21.
This year, those involved in the secondary market are holding their breath hoping the supply chain isn’t similarly disrupted. But with so many tickets concentrated in so few hands, they know anything’s possible.
Brokers and those running online ticket exchanges say that the league deserves part of the blame for last year’s disaster.
The NFL releases only 500 Super Bowl seats annually to the public via lottery, while individual teams may give their season-ticket holders additional ones. Each Super Bowl team gets 17.5 percent of tickets, the host team gets 5 percent while all other NFL teams get 1.2 percent each. The NFL keeps 25.2 percent, mostly for sponsors, media partners, executives and staff.
That drives fans to a secondary market supplied by those same league sponsors, business partners, employees and players selling their tickets.
But last year, the supply chain was disrupted.
It began with Seahawks fans flocking to Arizona in droves and spending big on tickets. But the NFL and its partners also contributed.
The league partners with Ticketmaster on NFL Ticket Exchange — touting it as the “safest” place to acquire resale seats. Brokers accuse the league of squeezing them out and pushing customers to their official resale partner.
With the NFL controlling Super Bowl distribution, one way to tinker with supply, drive up street prices and squeeze brokers is for the league and teams to delay the release of tickets.
The NFL says nothing changed last year with how it distributed tickets. But one agent source told The Seattle Times that the Seahawks and several teams released tickets to his player and alumni clients only a few days before kickoff instead of the usual five to 13 days before. By then, prices had soared.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell told The Seattle Times last April that the league wasn’t at fault and didn’t plan to make changes to ticket-distribution policies or procedures.
“When you say we control 100 percent of Super Bowl distribution, at some point we hand those tickets to another entity,’’ Goodell said. “We have a difficult time maintaining control once that happens.’’
Goodell added: “Secondary ticketing is here to stay. It’s something we don’t control. It’s something we don’t have any influence over. We have tried to be responsible in all of our ticketing practices in all of our events, including the Super Bowl.’’
Brokers also say last year’s price surge was fueled by Atlanta-based PrimeSport Inc., a sports travel company receiving huge ticket allotments from sponsorship deals with multiple NFL teams — including the Seahawks — and holding back seats from the resale market. Once prices escalated, PrimeSport unloaded its stockpile for top dollar.
Two sources confirmed that PrimeSport sold 200 tickets for about $2 million to StubHub days before the game so it could fill seat orders on its site. PrimeSport spokesperson Kristin Celauro said the company does not talk about tickets or ticket sales.
StubHub global communications chief Glenn Lehrman also wouldn’t confirm purchasing from PrimeSport. But he said that PrimeSport was one of a few companies wielding serious ticket clout in Glendale during what he calls an “artificial market’’ with prices not driven by consumer demand.
StubHub now limits Super Bowl short selling to 10 carefully selected brokers. It also requires sellers to prove they have tickets by posting seat and row numbers 2½ weeks before kickoff, instead of one week last year.
TicketNetwork has also implemented tighter sales rules and screening. TicketNetwork CEO Don Vaccaro told Bloomberg he’s personally approving all Super Bowl brokers selling through his company.
A Seattle Times investigation last year found that one TicketNetwork-affiliated broker that broke Super Bowl orders, DEM Ticketing of Pennsylvania, had formed only months earlier. The company’s officers, David Marks and Brian Miller, had never worked in ticket resales and relied on a silent partner for inventory.
TicketNetwork sued DEM last year for $150,947.63 to recover reimbursements paid to the startup’s customers for 21 busted ticket orders.
The Washington State Attorney General’s Office logged $120,000 in Super Bowl consumer claims against DEM, second most of any company.
SB Tickets of Melville, N.Y., generated the most claims at $205,000 and was sued last March by Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson and in a class action by Seattle law firm Keller Rohrback. SB Tickets sought bankruptcy protection in May, then settled the class action for $100,000, pending court approval. The AG’s case remains pending.
Court documents show that before the bankruptcy filing, SB Tickets owner Paul Jones engaged in more Super Bowl short selling — taking a dozen orders for a total amount of $112,497.95 for this year’s game.
Jones wasn’t the only Super Bowl broker that burned consumers last year and is still short selling.
On Monday, Phoenix-based broker William Furniss of TicketLobster.com was selling Super Bowl 50 tickets he doesn’t have in hand. Last Feb. 1, he sold Heidi and Steve Van Boven, of Grandview in Yakima County, two last-minute seats for $25,000 total — after breaking Super Bowl deals with other Washingtonians, claiming a bailing supplier left him no seats.
Furniss later said the Van Bovens bought tickets a customer had asked him to sell “on consignment” for a commission.
Texas broker Brian Peters is also back-selling tickets he doesn’t yet have as part of Super Bowl travel packages. He’s renamed his Ludus Tours company “Bucket List Events” after running a Super Bowl “options” market that failed to deliver promised seats last February.
Fans last year purchased “options” on certain teams reaching the Super Bowl and were promised face-value tickets by Peters if those squads got there. But days before the game, Peters claimed his ticket supplier had pulled out.
A company representative confirmed by phone last week that some current travel packages offered by Peters include tickets not being delivered by suppliers until Thursday.
Sammamish resident Clay Stephens, 57, agrees little has changed from last year.
Stephens paid $6,700 for four Seahawks-Patriots tickets months in advance from 1st Row Seating of San Diego. Two days before the Super Bowl, with those tickets worth $40,000 on the street, company owner Scott Bruyneel broke the order, claiming a supplier canceled.
But screen grabs by Stephens of 1st Row Seating’s website the day before the Super Bowl showed similar seats being offered for several times what he’d paid. 1st Row Seating last fall was again “short selling’’ tickets to the upcoming Super Bowl for under $3,000. With prices nearly double that today, Stephens fears brokers will break more deals to sell elsewhere.
“I still have nightmares over this,’’ Stephens said. “I’m still burning because I know nothing at all has changed. The same people that perpetrated this last year are still out there doing this and down the road, some poor family will get burned again.’’