Recession drives down Super Bowl ticket prices

CHICAGO Wed Jan 21, 2009 6:48pm EST

1 of 2. Arizona Cardinals owner and chairman Bill Bidwell holds the NFC championship trophy after his team's win in the NFL's NFC Championship football game in Glendale, Arizona January 18, 2009. The Cardinals will face the AFC champions in the Super Bowl in Tampa.

Credit: Reuters/Lucy Nicholson

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CHICAGO (Reuters) - Tickets for the National Football League's Super Bowl could be the most affordable in years as a recession drives down prices, top ticket exchange executives said.

Ticket prices to watch the Pittsburgh Steelers battle the Arizona Cardinals in the championship game have slumped as much as 40 percent in the secondary market due to weak demand. The face-off is scheduled for February 1 in Tampa, Florida.

"The most obvious thing to point to is the economy," said Eric Baker, chief executive of viagogo, a London-based secondary ticket exchange. "There's no question that at the high end of the market, when things are softer, you get fewer people. Fewer corporations are going to shell out big bucks."

Ticket prices overall are down about 38 percent to about $3,100, the lowest level since 2006, when the Steelers won their last title, Baker said.

Prices just at viagogo, which is backed by European venture capital firm Index Ventures, are down about 40 percent to $2,900.

The NFL, like most sports globally, has been hurt by the recession. Last month, the NFL, the U.S. sports league with the strongest television ratings, said it would cut 14 percent of its work force.

Tickets to the Super Bowl carry a face value of either $800 or $1,000, with about 1,000 tickets priced at $500 this year in response to the slumping economy. However, prices to popular sporting events are often resold at prices far higher than face value.

"We're seeing downward pressure on pricing across the board, no matter what the event is, including the Super Bowl," RazorGator CEO Jeff Lapin said. The Los Angeles-based ticket exchange is owned by several venture capital firms, including Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.

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Super Bowl ticket prices at RazorGator are off about 15 percent from last year, but the recession's impact is even more stark at the high end, Lapin said. The maximum price paid for a ticket so far this year is $5,250, down from $9,850 last year.

Just since January 4, prices have fallen 30 percent, LiveStub CEO Michael Hershfield said. LiveStub is a new company backed by Danish investor Morten Lund, the first investor in Internet telephony company Skype that is now owned by eBay Inc.

Prices may still go up since more than half of Super Bowl tickets in the secondary market tend to be sold in the final two weeks, according to industry executives. However, prices typically fall in the final days before the game.

Sean Pate, a spokesman for eBay's StubHub, another ticket exchange, said he is seeing more tickets priced under $2,000 than ever before.

"We don't normally see these prices until a few days before the game," he said. "For single tickets, face value is a realistic possibility."

The lower prices have attracted a wider audience for StubHub, with volume doubling and gross dollar volume jumping 40 percent, Pate said.

This year's Super Bowl is already StubHub's sixth-highest grossing event ever, and Pate says it may top this year's college football championship game between Florida and Oklahoma as No. 1.

Ticket exchange executives agreed this year's match-up lacks the big-city allure of last year's game, when the New England Patriots, trying to complete its unbeaten season, lost to the New York Giants in an upset.

The Cardinals, in their first appearance in a Super Bowl, lack a national following.

"It's a dog matchup in a terrible economic year," viagogo's Baker said.

But things could be worse, according to Baker.

"The average Super Bowl (ticket) price has gone down to 2006 prices. In the stock market, you've gone to 1999 prices," he said. "It shows you if you had to invest in something, the Super Bowl is still sacred."

(Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe )

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