- NFL championship game features strong mix of attractive market, strong fanbases, renovated stadium
- Endeavor-owned On Location Experiences controls roughly a sixth of total ticket inventory
- Last-minute buys from both San Francisco, Kansas City markets fueling historic pricing levels
All the ingredients for a potent resale market for Super Bowl tickets were easily in place this year.
Super Bowl LIV, the National Football League championship game set for February 2, features one of the most popular US travel destinations in the tropical climate of Miami, Florida. It has a strong matchup in the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers that has large fanbases willing to travel, and in the case of the Chiefs, a major star with last year’s league Most Valuable Player, Patrick Mahomes.
There is also plenty of pent-up demand for a championship, given the 49ers haven’t hoisted the Lombardi Trophy in 25 years, and the Chiefs haven’t in 50 years, beyond the age of many of the team’s current fans. And the Hard Rock Stadium, the Miami Dolphins’ home stadium and the venue for this year’s Super Bowl, recently completed a more than $500m (€453m) renovation project that substantially upgraded the venue.
The 65,326 capacity of the venue also makes it one of the NFL’s smallest, and has in turn, constricted the ticket supply somewhat.
Indeed, those ingredients have blended to create historic levels of pricing for Sunday’s game. And prominent resale marketplace StubHub said the average price of a ticket sold for the Super Bowl is $6,390, a whopping 41-per-cent higher than a year ago, and some of the highest pricing ever for the event.
Low-end get-in pricing for the upper deck of the stadium starts at about $4,500 per ticket, a figure not unlike the overall average resale price for the Super Bowl in many other prior years.
And unlike most years where Super Bowl resale pricing tends to sag in the final days leading up to the game, as resellers look to not be left with unused inventory, this year’s market trends have held firm and actually crept upward as the game approaches.
“We’re seeing prices rise over time this year, creating incentive for people to buy earlier,” said Akshay Khanna, StubHub’s general manager of sports.
But there is much more going on with this market than simply a strong host market, a good venue, and championship-starved fans. The other key factor at play is the sharply increasing presence and sophistication of On Location Experiences, the league’s official hospitality partner, and an entity partially owned by the NFL.
Offering various travel and ticket packages for the game that offer access to various parties, tailgates, events and lodging, in addition to game tickets, On Location singularly controls by various industry estimates at least 11,000 seats to Sunday’s game, amounting to roughly a sixth of the total attendance. Its packages for the Super Bowl start at more than $5,500 per person and quickly escalate from there.
And because of its direct ties to league and close access to ticket supply, as the NFL is a minority shareholder, the company has an outsized ability to help shape the overall resale market for the game. On Location’s heightened presence also exemplifies the increased role many sports rightsholders are now having the ticketing of their own events.
“On Location has really figured out how to go to market and manipulate prices,” said Tony Knopp, chief executive and co-founder of California-based Ticket Manager, which works with many corporate clients. “They really know what they’re doing, and they’ve got everybody else on their heels.”
Adds Patrick Ryan, co-founder of Texas-based ticket distribution company Eventellect, “On Location now has some really powerful analytics around managing Super Bowl supply, an understanding of that supply-demand curve, and have a significant base of corporate customers. There is now a much more stable method happening around this. And they’ve simply got a lot of the supply out there.”
“A Perfect Storm”
It wasn’t always like this for On Location. Formed a half-decade ago, the company first battled against established players in the sports corporate hospitality space, including QuintEvents and PrimeSport, as well as the established resale marketplaces such as StubHub, SeatGeek, Ticketmaster, and Vivid Seats.
On Location then began to scale significantly in late 2017 with the acquisition of chief rival PrimeSport. That deal also brought in Sam Soni, formerly PrimeSport’s president and now On Location’s chief revenue officer, and a key figure in the company’s heightened ascendancy around the Super Bowl.
The company is now targeting further growth under the new ownership of Endeavor. The NFL increased its equity stake in On Location in that long-anticipated deal and retains a board seat.
Soni describes “a perfect storm” around the game that features all the potent demand ingredients around the game, but also On Location’s ability to offer differentiated products that for prices not entirely unlike base ticket costs elsewhere also provide additional fan experiences such as the pre-game parties.
“We have a more comprehensive and cohesive offering than ever,” Soni said. “And we’re seeing unprecedented levels of demand in all areas, and the impact of what we bring to the table.”
And like most years, very little in the way of Super Bowl ticket inventory is available at face-value pricing on the primary market. The league distributes tickets through a complex formula that gives 17.5 per cent of the available inventory to the two participating teams to distribute as they see see fit, largely going to to key business partners, and ticket lotteries for season ticket-holders. The host team gets 5 per cent, and the other 29 NFL teams getting a little over 1 per cent each.
The NFL controls the remaining percentage, meaning any ticket hitting the market must originally come through one of those sources, and giving an NFL-aligned property such as On Location a potent advantage.
And several industry sources said that for On Location, seats that don’t necessarily fetch targeted prices on the open market can easily be redistributed back to league sponsors and business partners at face value, at once creating a flywheel effect to buttress the NFL’s sponsorship business and maintaining the premium-level pricing publicly for the Super Bowl.
Soni also says roughly half of On Location’s sales for Super Bowl LIV have occurred since the conference championship games on January 19, an unusual late run of activity since it first went on sale with Super Bowl access last spring.
But Soni and other executives said fans from both San Francisco and Kansas City are continuing to pour into Miami in recent days, further buoyed by the open availability of hotel rooms and Airbnb lodging in and around Miami, and the ability to get into the market through two major airports.
“The late push has been interesting, but Miami is a market you can get to readily from a lot of other places,” Soni said.
The last-minute arrivals have pushed Ticketmaster’s average ticket price for the event since those conference championship games to $8,594 per ticket, up by half from the comparable time period a year ago.
“Interest from fans willing to travel thousands of miles to be at Hard Rock Stadium hasn’t waned,” said Clay Luter, Ticketmaster’s executive vice-president and co-head of sports.
And industry executives are already looking ahead to future Super Bowls where it will be another small-capacity venue next year in Tampa, Florida, with Raymond James Stadium, and then the new SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles, California, a major market which will undoubtedly draw massive amounts of fans.
“We’re sort of looking at the new normal for at least the next few years,” Knopp said. “Big warm-weather markets, lower capacities, lots of demand, and On Location having a big presence.”