Super Bowl XLIX tickets: Why are they the most expensive ever?

Super Bowl XLIX ticket prices are through the roof, thanks to a buying frenzy driven by a questionable, yet common sales practice. Will the NFL make changes to keep future Super Bowl ticket prices in check? 

Elise Amendola/AP
Seattle Seahawks fan Liz Pauldine holds up tickets as she poses for photos outside of University of Phoenix Stadium before the NFL Super Bowl XLIX football game between the Seahawks and the New England Patriots on Sunday, Feb. 1, 2015, in Glendale, Ariz.

Thanks in part to questionable reselling practices and hundreds of heartbroken fans, tickets for this year’s Super Bowl matchup between the New England Patriots and the Seattle Seahawks are now the most expensive in the game’s 49-year history.

The two biggest purveyors of tickets, Stub Hub and NFL Ticket Exchange, reported respective average Super Bowl XLIX ticket prices  hit $4,600 and $4,131.

“If those numbers even seem low, it's because most of the tickets sold before Wednesday, when the price skyrocketed,” ESPN’s Darren Rovell reported Sunday. “By Thursday, it was nearly impossible to find a ticket for under $4,500. Come Saturday, scoring a ticket for less than $7,000 would be a feat.”

Another vendor, TiqIQ, listed the average price as of Friday morning at $10,352 – over three times last year’s $2,574 average, according to the company.

One might expect Super Bowl tickets to grow more expensive every year, but as this chart from Fortune shows, prices have actually been flat or on the downswing for the past five years.  And they tend to fall markedly in the days leading to the game – $921 per ticket on average in the last two weeks.

That trend has been so steady, in fact, that secondary sellers Like Stub Hub have for years been selling tickets before they actually have them. Such vendors make their money by selling a ticket at a certain price, and then, as the price drops, buying the tickets at the lower price and delivering them to the customer. The make their money from the price difference.

But this year, for  still-mysterious reasons, the prices never dropped Instead, they went up. That left resellers with a choice: Either buying the higher priced tickets at a loss, or refunding customers’ money, but don’t deliver a ticket. StubHub, which has a ticket guarantee,  lost an undisclosed, very large chunk of money buying up tickets. But hundreds of fans who bought tickets from vendors without guarantees are missing out on the game – and those sellers are going bankrupt trying to refund their money, or avoid lawsuits.

It’s unclear whether the NFL will crack down on resellers to avoid such problems in the future, but there are things the league could do to alleviate issue, like releasing more tickets later in the lead-up to its biggest game. 

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