Why Real Fans Can't Go To The Super Bowl

In a New York Times article earlier this week, CBS’s Jim Nantz said that the Super Bowl “takes on the atmosphere of a game being played on a Hollywood soundstage.”

The crowd is overwhelmingly corporate, or at least neutral, which kills any buzz in the stadium. As a live experience, the biggest football game of the year takes on the feel of an exhibition.

This is an excepted fact of life in the NFL. But it’s still strange that no “real” fans go to the Super Bowl.

Here’s why.

First, the obvious: the game is held at a neutral site and tickets are incredibly expensive, even at face value (the cheapest ticket is $US500). This automatically eliminates a significant portion of fans who would otherwise want to go to the game.

But the most important factor in the makeup of the Super Bowl crowd isn’t price or location, it’s distribution.

Who goes to the Super Bowl is largely a function of who has access to buying Super Bowl tickets at face value.

There’s no mass public sale of Super Bowl tickets. You can’t just hop onto Ticketmaster at 12 p.m. and luck into seats. Instead, the tickets are divided among the NFL and all 32 NFL teams.

Here’s who gets to sell Super Bowl tickets, and how many:

Right off the bat, one quarter (25.2%) of all tickets get distributed by the NFL, mostly to corporate partners. So that’s roughly 21,000 seats to this year’s game that are going directly to people with no rooting interest who are there through a business connection.

This year, the NFL made 1,000 of its tickets (1.2% of all tickets) available to the general public via lottery at a cost of $US500 each. It was the only way for a regular person to get Super Bowl tickets. The vast majority of NFL-controlled tickets didn’t go to the public.

Another ~32,000 tickets (39.8%) go to the 30 NFL teams not participating in the game. The host teams — in this case the Jets and Giants — each get a 3.1% share all tickets, and the 28 remaining teams get 1.2% each. These teams typically sell to their own season ticket holders — many of whom turn around and sell the tickets on the secondary market at a steep mark-up. Right now the cheapest ticket on Stubhub is $US2,4000.

When you do the maths, about 53,000 of the 80,000 tickets to this year’s game are controlled by the league and non-participating teams, and they’re mostly going corporate sponsors and people with no rooting interest.

The two teams participating in the game get 17.5% of tickets each, which works out to about 28,000 total tickets controlled by the Seahawks and Broncos. These tickets are typically sold to season-ticket holders via a lottery. You’d think these are your diehard fans, but some of these seats will end up on Stubhub as well — it’s just hard to justify turning down a $US2,000+ profit.

Price matters. So does the fact that you have to travel across the country and all the other, logistical annoyances. But when you look at who the NFL is selling tickets to, it’s a mirror image of what the typical Super Bowl crowd looks like.

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