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Out of Bounds

In the scramble for Super Bowl tickets, even nosebleed seats fetch lofty prices

January 27, 2003|Mike Bresnahan | Times Staff Writer

One man's quest for a Super Bowl ticket.

Even given the constraints of a conservative boss trying to hold the line on company expenses, how tough could it be?

I had something just as valuable as money, though: time.

There was a full week to track the market before swooping in to nab a cheap ticket from some frantic scalper trying to dump his last few tickets at kickoff.

Here's how the week went:

*

Monday, Jan. 20

It was a national holiday for most of the country, but not for the Raider Nation.

As ticket brokers arrived for the start of the busiest week of their year, they were greeted by an onslaught of Raider fans looking for a way into Sunday's big game.

The conversations tended to be short:

"What are the cheapest Super Bowl tickets you have?"

"$2,100."

Stunned silence. Click.

Or, in some cases, defiance before the silence.

"How much? You're ... crazy!" Click.

For brokers involved in the multimillion-dollar industry of reselling Super Bowl tickets, profits hinge on a weeklong attempt to milk every last dime out of tickets with face values of $400 or $500.

At the onset of this who-will-blink-first game, tickets were in the $2,100-$7,800 range, a price that would fall, must fall, in the minds of Oakland fans who hadn't been to the Super Bowl since 1984.

The demand was there, but the wallets weren't opening.

"It seems that the people from Oakland don't want to spend a lot of money," said Sandy Simon, owner of Good Time Tickets in Hollywood. "I have a lot of friends waiting for the market to collapse, but I told them not to hold their breath."

A more affordable alternative was found online, on EBay auctions, where two lower-level end zone tickets at Qualcomm Stadium were going $4,850. The same tickets through a broker were priced at $6,500.

The same tickets for a San Diego Charger game cost $118.

*

Tuesday

Jeff and Sharon McCormack, Charger fans since childhood, learned to despise the Kansas City Chiefs, Denver Broncos and especially the Raiders, who have whomped their beloved Bolts more than any other AFC team.

But the San Diego couple will gladly sell their tickets -- even open their home -- to fans of the silver and black. The McCormacks have advertised in several newspapers, offering four end zone tickets and their three-bedroom home for three days.

A change of heart? Not exactly. Their hospitality has a price: $15,000.

"My wife and I feel a little guilty," admitted Jeff McCormack, a 49-year-old real estate agent.

"We're trying to think of ourselves as ambassadors of Charger Country, opening our doors for Raider Nation."

The McCormacks live 1 1/2 miles from Qualcomm and their price worked out to $2,500 a ticket and about $1,650 a night for lodging.

Among the early offers, one stood out.

"A guy called and asked if I would take two bags of cocaine as payment," Jeff McCormack said.

The offer was declined.

As for the rest of the market, brokers' prices increased almost 20%, to $2,500, for the cheapest seats. Prime tickets again topped out at $7,800.

EBay auctions weren't such a bargain, either, with nosebleed seats in the upper corner going for $2,225 each, almost as much as brokers were getting.

With only one week instead of two between the conference championship games and the Super Bowl, a panic was setting in.

Many fans were beginning to wonder if they'd have to reach for their credit cards.

*

Wednesday

Ticket brokers have a new enemy, and it's not the penny-pinching fan.

It's America's little Internet sweetheart, EBay.

With 61.7 million registered users, the online auction house has recently snared headlines with oddball users offering everything from the servitude of a family to the naming rights for a newborn baby.

Which makes EBay a natural stop for Super Bowl bargain hunters.

There were 1,345 tickets being auctioned on the site by mid-week, according to EBay officials, with a little something for everyone.

There were offers for the rich -- six tickets and a round-trip ride to the Super Bowl in a Lear jet for $40,000. (Nobody bid.) And there were offers for the not-so-rich -- a pair of upper-deck end zone seats went for a comparatively mild $3,000, binoculars not included.

While some brokers use EBay to sell tickets, others say the site destroys the value of a ticket.

"EBay has been so adverse to the market because people really believe that's the only way you can buy tickets," sniffed a broker in Oakland. "It sets a price that isn't real."

Brokers say they offer a safer way to purchase tickets: People can walk into their stores and hold the tickets in their hand before handing over credit card information.

EBay, though generally cheaper, doesn't guarantee the legitimacy of tickets sold by auctioneers.

Earlier this month, an arrest warrant was issued for a Salt Lake City resident who allegedly bilked dozens of fans out of $100,000 worth of Fiesta Bowl tickets offered through EBay.

"The reality is it's going to happen," EBay spokesman Kevin Pursglove said.

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