The Super Bowl ticket shuffle

The middle-aged man with the thick New York accent, beady eyes and thinning, reddish hair is seated directly to my left at a downtown Tampa hotel bar rifling through a stack of cash that would make Randy Moss grin with approval. This gentleman’s bankroll—which consists of nothing but crisp, freshly minted hundred-dollar bills—must be worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $15,000-$20,000. The year is 2009 and in four days, the Arizona Cardinals will play the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLIII just a few miles down the road at Raymond James Stadium.

The gentleman is flashing his roll like an undergrad at the Spearmint Rhino because he’s trying to establish a point. I’m in possession of something he wants and he doesn’t want me thinking he’s just another windbag capable of lots of talk and little action. If all goes according to plan over the next four days, the gentleman will flip his cash into a highly sought-after commodity, and then flip the commodity into an even bigger stack of cash. All it will take is a little hustle and a lot of negotiating.

We finish our drinks and the gentleman gives me his business card before departing, with a reminder to call him if I decide to change my mind. I assure him I won’t, because I’m not looking to sell. The only reason we even struck up a conversation was because the gentleman had witnessed me picking up the commodity he was seeking just a few minutes prior.

As I make my way for the exit, I notice the gentleman has already moved on to his next potential seller. I smile, thinking to myself that he couldn’t have picked a better spot to work his bankroll.

After all, we’re in the lobby of a downtown Tampa hotel, just one floor below a room filled with thousands of Super Bowl tickets that will be picked up by their rightful owners over the next 72 hours.

Some will briefly stand in awe at their acquisition, stoked by the realization that in four days, they’re going to the Super Bowl.

Others will talk to the middle-aged man with the thick New York accent.


The Super Bowl is an event for the rich, powerful and well-connected. It is not an event for the die-hard, jersey-clad fan who spends five months living and breathing his team’s every move. The irony is that the die-hard fans are the ones who most deserve to attend their team’s biggest game of the season. But the die-hard fans do not own yachts. Only the rich own yachts. And if you can afford a yacht, you can afford tickets to the Super Bowl.

At the current moment, the cheapest Super Bowl ticket selling on the website is listed at the ridiculous price of $2,165.00. A willingness to pay that price gets you one upper end zone seat for an outdoor game that will be played in New Jersey in early February. To put that figure into perspective, a four-day Carnival Cruise to Mexico for two that departs Los Angeles the day after the Super Bowl can be purchased for approximately $300.

But should the die-hard, jersey-clad fan be working with a tight budget and an unparalleled desire to watch his or her beloved Seahawks or Broncos play in Super Bowl XLVIII, there’s a way to make it happen for far less than what they think is possible.

You just need to know the game.

1. Stubhub is for suckers: If you want to land tickets to the Super Bowl at the best possible price, stay as far away from places like Stubhub as humanly possible. When it comes to the Super Bowl, Stubhub is for the rich. The rich don’t want to hit the streets of New York and New Jersey looking for a deal. The rich want their tickets and peace of mind before they come anywhere close to boarding that flight to the northeast. You’re working with a budget, so you don’t have this luxury.

2. Know when to strike: Every player and coach in the NFL has the option to purchase two Super Bowl tickets (upper level), which translates to thousands of seats, the majority of which will find their way onto the secondary market. The key is to know when these tickets will become available, and that generally happens on the Wednesday before the game. You see, it’s all about supply and demand. I’ve been on the streets of Tampa, Miami, Dallas and Indianapolis talking to Super Bowl scalpers over the years. And in every instance, the price of tickets begins to drop the moment the player/coach tickets flood the market. For Super Bowl XLIV in Miami between the New Orleans Saints and Indianapolis Colts, the cheapest individual tickets were selling for somewhere north of $1,800 prior to Wednesday. That price point dropped to $1,500 by Thursday morning and continued to fall right up until kickoff. If you were willing to wait until three hours before the game to make your move, you could haggle the scalpers down to $1,000 or less. Remember, these guys can’t afford to fly home with a dozen Super Bowl tickets. And they begin to get desperate the closer you get to kickoff.

3. Know where to strike: If you were a scalper, where would you go to offload your arsenal of Super Bowl tickets? In Miami, it was Ocean Drive, right in the heart of tourist country. In Indianapolis and New Orleans, it was everywhere, as the hotels and stadium are within walking distance of the nightlife scene. But this year’s Super Bowl poses a bit of a problem. The action will be taking place in the city, while the game will be played across the river in New Jersey. The scalpers won’t make their move toward the stadium until Sunday, so they’ll likely be looking to offload where the action is located. And that’s Manhattan.

4. “I need tickets”: Translates to, “I’ve got tickets.”

5. Understand the law: CLICK HERE for a quick lesson regarding each state’s ticket scalping laws.

6. Don’t get hustled: Big wads of cash attract big-time scam artists, many of whom are looking to sell you counterfeit tickets. It’s imperative you know what to look for. Here’s a quick guide on the difference between real Super Bowl tickets and the bogus trash that will no doubt find its way onto the market.

7. Collect business cards: Most scalpers carry some type of low-level business card. Acquire as many of these as possible as you’re working the market during Super Bowl week. Remember, the closer you get to kickoff, the faster the price begins to plummet. Check in with your contacts throughout the week to monitor their prices. You want options and you never know which guy will be the first to panic and undercut the market.

8. Patience is a virtue: We’ve touched on this point already, but it’s imperative that you understand the mind of a scalper. These guys know that people don’t want to spend thousands of dollars to travel across the country, only to panic over the thought of failing to acquire tickets. That’s why most people make their purchases early in the week at the worst possible price. The longer you’re willing to wait, the more you will be rewarded. I acquired first base seats to a sold-out Yankees-Angles game in Anaheim back in 2006 for $7, simply because I waited until the game had started to make my move. Sure, I missed the first inning. But once the demand for tickets dries up, those le ft with the supply find themselves without a paddle. Obviously, you won’t want to miss kickoff. But you get the point.

Now seems like the perfect time to mention that we’re not advocating the use of scalpers to acquire Super Bowl tickets. We simply understand that some of you want to attend the game, but don’t possess the necessary means to utilize outlets like Stubhub. In a perfect world, this game would be for the fans. But it’s not a perfect world. We just wanted to shed some light on the scalping industry for those of you who opt to take this approach.

Happy hunting.

Hit me up on Twitter: @JoeFortenbaugh

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