NFL should do more to protect fans

There’s one Super Bowl story that’s even sadder than the final score.

It’s the story of fans who spent thousands of dollars on tickets to the game, hoping to see the Seattle Seahawks beat the New England Patriots, only to have those tickets fail to materialize at the last minute. Even if they got their money back, they were out the cost of air travel to Arizona and accommodations – likely purchased at premium prices.

State Attorney General Bob Ferguson is urging anyone who bought tickets from brokers who failed to deliver to file a complaint with his office (atg.wa.gov; click “Consumer Complaint” button). If it’s determined that the brokers violated state law, his office could take action against them. It’s also interested in helping consumers recoup their expenses incurred by traveling to Arizona.

Tickets to big events have long been sold on the so-called “secondary market” – a fancy term for scalping. Brokers or individuals scoop up tickets, hoping to sell them at a higher price as the event draws near. They’re betting that scarcity will drive up prices.

That happened at this year’s Super Bowl; fans desperate for tickets were willing to pay top dollar.

But some ticket brokers were playing a different game: short selling, or taking orders for tickets they didn’t even have (a violation of the state Consumer Protection Act). They were counting on the street price dropping just before the game – as it has in the past – and buying tickets to cover their orders.

However they weren’t factoring in Hawk Hysteria. Due to record demand, the price of tickets kept rising, and the brokers weren’t able to get enough to fill their orders. Thousands of fans who had traveled to the venue were left in the lurch, many learning as late as Super Bowl Sunday that tickets wouldn’t be available.

The problem shows the need for the NFL to exert more control over ticket availability. The league makes huge money off fans and has at least some responsibility to help ensure these kinds of ticket fiascoes don’t occur.

An NFL spokesman said that fans who buy from a seller other than the NFL Ticket Exchange (run by Ticketmaster) are on their own, that it’s a case of “buyer beware.” That’s not good enough.

One suggestion, made by Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich, would be for the NFL to consider what some big concert promoters and entertainers do to cut down on scalping: withhold a bloc of tickets and release them as the event draws near, preventing prices from getting too outrageous. That wouldn’t solve every case of ticket gouging, but it might help avert some of the more egregious deals.

Too many Seahawks fans found themselves on the short end of the ticket-sales stick. The least the NFL can do is study the problem and come up with a strategy for addressing it. That will help avert problems when the Seahawks return to the Super Bowl next year.