Seahawks fan Brian Hartline, who spent $1,750 each for two tickets to the Super Bowl, traveled to Phoenix before learning Friday he wouldn’t get any tickets. He’s not alone. Fingers are being pointed and lawsuits threatened after a huge ticket shortage caused brokers to default.
GLENDALE, Ariz. — Brian Hartline of Bellevue finally gave up Saturday trying to salvage a Super Bowl dream that became a nightmare.
Hartline, 39, and a buddy had purchased a pair of tickets to Sunday’s big game between the Seahawks and New England Patriots for $1,750 apiece from a private broker on eBay. But things headed south when Hartline, an assistant football coach at Issaquah High School and a program manager for a computer-software company, flew here Wednesday to pick up what he’d paid for.
The broker, claiming an unprecedented shortage in the secondary Super Bowl market, kept stalling before finally admitting Friday he had no tickets. Hartline and his friend looked into buying new tickets Saturday, but gave up after seeing them priced at $10,000 and higher online.
“This was definitely a bucket list item for me, so it’s terrible,’’ said Hartline, who decided Saturday to drive to Las Vegas instead and watch the game on TV. “We didn’t grow up thinking Seattle was going to ever make a Super Bowl. Or, that we’d ever have the money to even afford to go to a Super Bowl. It’s not the end of the world, but at the same time, it’s pretty tough.’’
Super Bowl tickets:
- Super Bowl ticket claims by Washington residents reach $820,000
- Super Bowl ticket brokers reneged on orders, sold nearby seats for far more
- State sues Super Bowl ticket broker that failed Hawks fans
- Seahawks move to limit season-ticket sales by brokers
- Washington AG targets Super Bowl ticket 'scammers'
- Super Bowl tickets disappear in an imperfect storm
- Fans still reeling from Super Bowl ticket nightmare
- Ticket shortage ruins Super Sunday for many fans
- Super Bowl dream becomes nightmare for Seahawks fans
Hartline was fortunate in that the broker he bought from, Noah Weinberger of SuperBowlTicketSource, refunded their money and travel costs. But hundreds of other furious fans have yet to see any refunds and are threatening lawsuits against brokers scrambling to save their businesses and reputation.
The Seattle Times spoke to three other Seahawks fans — none wanted their names used in this story — who had already arrived here expecting to pick up pre-purchased tickets only to be told brokers couldn’t fulfill their orders. None had yet been reimbursed.
Accusations are flying about what’s caused the ticket shortage, which has sent Super Bowl prices soaring to record levels. Some blame it on affluent fans from Seattle willing to pay whatever it takes for a seat, while others say the NFL has deliberately manipulated the market by withholding release of Super Bowl tickets it typically gives teams, players and sponsors.
NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy denied any change to “the process or distribution’’ of how tickets are handed out. McCarthy said NFL Ticket Exchange, run by Ticketmaster, is the only broker affiliated with the NFL and it’s “buyer beware” for fans shopping elsewhere.
As of Saturday at noon, the cheapest ticket on StubHub was $9,205.25 for a seat in the corner of the end zone.
That price surge has caused the near-collapse of a common Super Bowl resale tactic known as short selling, where orders are taken by brokers who don’t yet have tickets in hand. Instead, they typically wait until the week before the game, when street prices usually drop, to acquire tickets to fill orders.
The broker’s goal is to buy the ticket at a lower price, fill the higher-priced order already paid to them by credit card and turn a profit.
Instead, the scarcity of available tickets this year caused prices to climb. Brokers are now being forced to buy tickets at a huge loss just to cover their orders.
And some, like Weinberger, who sold Hartline his tickets, are simply throwing up their hands in defeat. Weinberger wrote Hartline an email on Friday admitting he can’t fulfill the order and blaming the NFL.
“This year, the distribution of tickets by the NFL (teams, corporate partners, coaches, player agents, etc.) was delayed longer than it ever has been before,’’ Weinberger wrote. “The lack of supply until very late in the process has made it impossible for us to be able to replace the tickets that have been canceled and reneged by our sellers to us.’’
Weinberger did not return telephone messages Saturday.
He’s not the only broker suggesting the NFL fueled the ticket scarcity to squeeze them out and drive business to NFL Ticket Exchange.
The secondary Super Bowl resale market is fueled partly by thousands of tickets released at cost by the NFL each year to current and former players and other businesses. Rather than go to the game, these recipients often hang around merely for Super Bowl parties and events, then sell their tickets to brokers for several times face value.
On Saturday, a source working directly with NFL players confirmed that two clients only got their ticket allotment Thursday. The players had arrived in town Tuesday expecting to pick up tickets, but were told none were available until Thursday or Friday.
“They were really angry about it,’’ the source said, adding that the players had arranged to sell their tickets in advance. “Usually, they just come in, get their tickets, play a few rounds of golf and go home. This time, they had to wait around all week.’’
It’s the sale of those player, sponsor and alumni tickets that largely keep the secondary market supplied. And even the biggest online-resale sites, like StubHub, are feeling squeezed, since smaller brokers like Weinberger often supply most of their inventory.
“They are sellers that we have a history with,’’ said Cameron Papp, a spokesman for StubHub. “For whatever reason this year, some of the larger sellers that list on our site did not come through with their obligations.
“We’re not entirely sure why. But it’s an across-the-market thing.’’
Instead, StubHub as of Saturday had spent $5 million on tickets to avoid defaulting on orders. StubHub policy guarantees that fans will get a ticket to the game if a seller can’t provide a ticket.
By holding off on releasing tickets until the last minute, the NFL would severely limit the ability of brokers to engage in “short selling’’ tactics.
NFL spokesman McCarthy said the league is aware of the problems incurred by fans purchasing tickets on websites unaffiliated with the NFL.
“Our understanding is that the issues that are being reported are the result of brokers who speculated on tickets — in other words, they were selling tickets they didn’t have.’’
Some players and alumni have also said the ticket shortage might be the result of the NFL getting more vigilant in trying to prevent reselling.
A letter sent out by Seahawks alumni director Paul Johns last week reminded former players: “If you purchase Super Bowl tickets, please don’t resell the tickets. You must personally use one of the two tickets you are purchasing for the game.’’