Super Bowl shuffle: Fans pay thousands for tickets that never show up

It was supposed to be the trip of a lifetime.

Football fans dipped into their savings and shelled out thousands of dollars to attend Super Bowl 49 only to be stiffed at the last minute by brokers who never had the tickets in hand.

Lauri Olson of Tacoma burst into tears when she saw an email from her vendor telling her she wouldn’t be getting her pre-purchased ticket hours after arriving in Glendale, Arizona, for the Sunday game between the Seattle Seahawks and the New England Patriots.

“I’m a huge Seahawks fan and to be able to go was the trip of a lifetime,” Olson said this week. “This wasn’t something I ever thought I’d get to do. I spent most of Friday night in tears. I was devastated.”

Olson was fortunate that the broker she bought the tickets from refunded her $2,300, but she didn’t get to watch the game from inside the stadium as planned.

She is one of thousands affected by the shortage of Super Bowl tickets, which saw a record price surge that kept most fans from being able to get their hands on last-minute seats.

Two days before the game, the cheapest ticket to be found was nearly $10,000 — about quadruple the price from last year ($2,480), according to StubHub.

Heidi Moore and her husband paid $4,135 for a pair of tickets and flew to Arizona, calling their broker several times to verify their tickets were ready for pick up. They were told yes.

The Lacey couple’s first inkling of trouble was the day before the game, when they arrived at a hotel to pick up the tickets and found a crowd of angry people but nobody from the broker firm.

The Moores were told to wait until Sunday morning to learn where they could pick up their tickets. Then came the email — no tickets.

They couple tried, but couldn’t find affordable tickets. They watched the Super Bowl on television.

“It was horribly disappointing from a fan perspective but it’s infuriating from a financial perspective,” Heidi Moore said.

Their vendor refunded their ticket purchase, though not for the 125 percent guaranteed on their website, and the Moores were still out travel expenses and time taken off of work.

Accusations are flying about what caused the ticket shortage, which sent Super Bowl prices soaring to record levels.

Some blame it on affluent fans from Seattle willing to pay whatever it took for a seat, while others said the NFL deliberately manipulated the market by withholding release of Super Bowl tickets it typically gives teams, players and sponsors.

NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy denied any change to “the process or distribution’’ of how tickets are handed out. He said NFL Ticket Exchange, run by Ticketmaster, was the only broker affiliated with the NFL, and that it was “buyer beware” for fans shopping elsewhere.

The day before the game, the cheapest ticket on StubHub was $9,205.25 for a seat in the corner of the end zone.

The price surge caused the near-collapse of a common Super Bowl resale tactic known as short selling, where orders are taken by brokers who don’t yet have tickets in hand.

Instead, they typically wait until the week before the game, when street prices usually drop, to acquire tickets to fill orders.

The broker’s goal is to buy the ticket at a lower price, fill the higher-priced order already paid to them by credit card and turn a profit.

Instead, the scarcity of available tickets this year caused prices to climb. Some brokers were forced to buy tickets at a huge loss just to cover their orders; others estimated they’d go out of business because of the loss of reputation and financial hit.

“I swear, now I can give a master’s degree in how Super Bowl ticket brokerage works,” said Aaron Stewart, senior pastor at University Place Presbyterian Church.

He sought out a large, reliable company to buy tickets for himself, his brother and a friend. The trio paid $2,300 each and made their way to Glendale.

“The reason you go through these larger companies is so you don’t get ripped off and you don’t lose a ticket,” he said. “We thought we did everything right.”


Not everyone was as unfortunate though.

Shelly Chenier of University Place spent $3,204 for two tickets and heard from her broker just before the game that they might not be able to provide them.

Chenier argued. She cried.

And she got the tickets, which on game day were selling for more than $9,000 each.

“I’m just happy I was able to witness an almost victory,” she said, “But the process of getting the tickets almost ruined my experience.”