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Has the booming economy led to pricier Super Bowl tickets this year?

At $3,000 for a nosebleed seat, has the booming economy led to pricier Super Bowl tickets this year?
Image: U.S. Bank Stadium ahead of Super Bowl Sunday, on Jan. 31, 2018, in Minneapolis.
U.S. Bank Stadium ahead of Super Bowl Sunday, on Jan. 31, 2018, in Minneapolis.Matt Slocum / AP

With Super Bowl ticket prices at a record high this year — topping $5,000 on ticket exchange sites — what's pushing up the cost? And with low unemployment and a booming economy, are more Americans willing to splurge this year?

The Super Bowl is one of the biggest spending occasions of the year, with the National Retail Federation estimating that Americans will spend $15.3 billion celebrating the big game. People will be dishing out dough on dough (well, pizza), wings, booze, and possibly a new big-screen TV.

And hey, why not? After all, it's not like the vast majority of us can actually afford to go to the game. The cheapest seat in the run-up to Sunday's game was going for a whopping $3,145 on ticket reseller StubHub. And for that price, you'd be sitting in the upper end zone, which is about as high up and as off-center as you can get. Consider purchasing a pair of binoculars as well and a major zoom lens for your smartphone camera.

That's a record-high price for the big game, StubHub told NBC News. "According to our current data, this year’s game will have the highest average ticket price [$5,415 on StubHub] of the last 10 years — and since StubHub has been tracking," said communications manager Cameron Papp.

That’s more than six times the face value price of a 2018 Super Bowl ticket, which is a minimum of $900, said Michael D. Colangelo, assistant director of projects for University of Southern California's Sports Business Institute, adding that even that face value price is “something a normal middle class family couldn’t get.”

Because the game isn't designed for fans

More interestingly, perhaps, is that not only is a $900 ticket something the average American cannot afford, it’s not a ticket that the average American can even access. Unless they have “connections,” or unless they win the NFL lottery, your everyday fan is pretty much unable to buy a ticket at face value.

This makes the inflation of secondary markets like StubHub all the more feasible. Sure, some resellers infamously jack up prices for their own profit — but consumers don't really have much of a choice; they can't just log on to the team's or the NFL's site and buy tickets. The system just isn't designed that way.

Colangelo explained that it all has to do with the way the NFL divvies up Super Bowl tickets. The home team gets 5 percent of the tickets, while 17.5 percent of the tickets goes to the AFC Champion and another 17.5 percent goes to the NFC Champion. Roughly 1.2 percent goes to each of the remaining NFL teams who aren’t in the big game. There are also tickets available through the NFL’s On Location Program, which anyone can purchase — but these packages are also in the several-thousand dollar range. And then there’s the 25 percent the NFL reserves to sell to its partners. What’s left for the average gal who saved up roughly a grand for a ticket? Well, nothing. She has to go to StubHub or some other secondary marketplace.

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Resellers must be feeling pretty confident that they can make $5,000 or so on a ticket that cost a thousand bucks tops. And they have reason to; according to StubHub’s Papp, ticket sales were up 66 percent compared to the leadup to the 2017 game. Keep in mind that this ticket price surely doesn’t include all the other bells and whistles, like food, travel, and accommodation.

Have prices seen a Trump bump?

One wonders whether it’s not a robust economy that’s driving ticket sales (and anything you need to go along with them), but Dr. Joseph Mahan, associate professor at Temple University’s School of Sport, Tourism and Hospitality Management, doesn’t see much of a connection between the two.

“It is difficult to draw any direct correlation between price of Super Bowl tickets and robustness of the economy,” Dr. Mahan said. “The Super Bowl is a — or perhaps the — signature sporting event spectacle in the U.S, [and] scarcity of tickets is a factor. There is a finite number available for the game each year, and about 66,000 tickets this year. While prices may vary slightly from year to year, the price point is likely to stay high despite changes in the economy.”

Colangelo adds that he also doesn’t see a strong link, noting that the economy has been doing well for a while now, and that Super Bowl pricing was similarly absurd in 2015. “The day before that Super Bowl, the average price on the secondary market was almost $11,000 — astronomical,” said Colangelo. “I went to the game trying to buy a ticket with $3,000 cash in my pocket. Nobody would bite. Another person there was willing to give up a brand new Kia in exchange for a pair of tickets. That was a crazy year.”

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The enthusiasm this year is in the same ballpark so to speak, in part because the Eagles haven’t been to the Super Bowl since 2004 (when they had their second loss at the championship title), and they have a pretty ravenous fan base, with StubHub reporting that of all the states, Pennsylvania is leading for sales, accounting for 14 percent (followed by Massachusetts at 10 percent, and then Minnesota at 9.1 percent).

“Philly hasn't been in the game for years, and you can feel the buzz here, 15 miles outside of the city,” says David Fiorenza, an economics instructor at Villanova University in Pennsylvania. “Philly has long been considered a blue-collar town, and they only have eight home games a year, so they're rabid for it — but there’s much less supply than there is demand. And really, it’s mainly the very rich people who get to go and have a good time.”

But it's still a blast to watch at home

It’s a bit dismal to realize that yes, you need a massive amount of money to get to this game (especially if you’re coming from out of state), and that virtually none of this day is set up to prioritize the fans. But dry that grease strip under your eye because team spirit remains as vital as ever, and people are ready to party NFL-style from the comfort of their own home. And ironically, it’s what the NFL wants.

“The NFL has made ‘homegating’ (throwing tailgate-style parties at home) a focus of its marketing push in recent years, encouraging fans to bring a lot of the behaviors of attending the game — decking out the house in team gear, making a full spread of food and drink from NFL sponsors — into their living room,” said Kyle Bunch, managing director at marketing and advertising firm R/GA. “That has coincided with the increased cost of attending a game, meaning a number of fans who might previously have attended a game are now conditioned to go all out, even when they’re viewing at home.”

And while the NRF’s spending breakdown finds that adults will spend an average of $81.17 each for Super Bowl Sunday, some are of course hoping to spend far less.

For 32-year-old Anthony Cosenzo in St. Petersburg, Florida, he’ll be partying with fellow Eagles devotees along with “a big keg of Yuengling beer and orders of hot wings and cheese fries.” He estimates that so far, he’s spent about $20.

So, although you may be able to buy a Super Bowl ticket if you can scrounge up several thousand dollars, you can’t necessarily buy a great day.