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BCS Title Game Ticket the Most Expensive in US Sports History

Jan 9, 2011 – 7:40 PM
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Clay Travis

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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The great ticket search of 2011 began the moment Auburn and Oregon fans landed at Phoenix's airport. Descending the escalator to baggage claim on Friday evening, a bedraggled man in a white t-shirt and baseball cap accosted arriving passengers. "Anyone got any tickets. Tickets for sale? Tickets." No one on the escalator responded and the man worked his way back in the direction of baggage claim, making eye contact with anyone in Auburn or Oregon apparel, continuing his plea for available tickets.

It's come to this in the Valley of the Sun.

There are no tickets to be had anywhere.

As a result, prices for the 2011 BCS title game have entered the stratosphere, the highest prices ever recorded on StubHub.com and other online ticket brokers. CNBC sports business reporter Darren Rovell told FanHouse, "It's the most expensive any ticket has been since they've been for sale online." (It's hard to gauge the ticket prices for events before online listings because the ticket marketplace was not as transparent then).

How expensive are tickets?

By Sunday, the cheapest ticket on StubHub.com was more $2,000. And that was a bargain, down from nearly $5,000 in the moments immediately before the largest online ticket broker was forced to pull the game off its site on Wednesday, a first in the company's 10-year history. Pulling the game off its site left StubHub scrambling to cover the tickets that had been sold on its site thanks to a fan protection guarantee that StubHub provides for all transactions.

How wacky was the ticket market crash? StubHub attempted to buy back the tickets that had already been purchased on its site. They e-mailed all purchasers this offer, like one that went to Steven M.: "StubHub is willing to give you a full refund of your purchase price, including shipping and service fees as well as an additional cash sum of $2,760 per ticket."

The scalper got scalped.

"StubHub was stubbed," said CNBC's Rovell.

And that was just online. One fan, Steve, who didn't want his last name used, reported that he'd contacted an Alabama ticket brokerage a month ago about selling his six tickets to the ticket reseller for $1,000 each. But after that phone call, Steve had second thoughts because his formerly sick mother was pronounced cancer-free. Steve decided to celebrate by retaining the tickets and taking his family, mother included, to Glendale.

"The ticket broker was furious," he said. "Calling me at all hours of the day and night. He wouldn't stop. He said he'd already sold my tickets to someone else and he had to have them. I told him he couldn't sell what he didn't have."

Steve thought that was the last of it until the ticket broker sent a large man from Alabama to knock on the door of his home three hours north in Tennessee and demand the six tickets. Steve had to call the police to get the Alabama ticket broker off his property.

"It was just like the mob," he said, "I'm still scared."

Put plainly, many ticket brokers, shadowy underworld figures trading in an underground market, made promises they couldn't keep. They sold tickets they didn't have too cheaply to too many customers. The demand from Auburn fans, seeking their first national title since 1957, and to a lesser extent Oregon fans, seeking their first national title ever, was too much.

Once these ticket brokers realized they couldn't procure tickets without losing vast sums of money, they reneged on their deals, cut the cord, left the would-be ticket holder in the lurch, often with hotel and airfare already purchased.

That's what happened to Auburn fan Lauren Ingold. On Dec. 4, the night Auburn won the SEC title, she purchased two title game tickets on eBay. Her card was immediately charged for those tickets. Before making her purchase Ingold had researched the seller -- over 2,000 positive reviews -- to protect herself. She felt confident in making her hotel and airfare reservations for Phoenix.

None of that research protected her when she received an e-mail on Thursday of this week, barely four days in advance of the title game that read as follows:

"Dear BCS Championship Purchaser,
I regret to inform you due to domestic and business reasons, Events Worldwide, Inc. is unable to fulfill your order for the BCS Championship Game on January 10, 2011. A number of instances occurred that cannot make this possible. Much of the fault lies with various suppliers not delivering tickets to us."

All of these ticket messes raise interesting questions. Chief among them: how is it that an industry of sophisticated brokers can escape contractual agreements with unsophisticated fans? Effectively, tickets bought a month out from a sporting event are option contracts. The seller is gambling that he can get the tickets cheaper than he's sold them for. If he can do that, he turns a profit. If he can't, he takes a loss. But in the ultimate rigged game, many Auburn fans discovered that they'd been participating in a one-way option. If a broker couldn't fulfill the order, he simply refunded the money and moved on to the next event. To hell with the fans who'd been expecting the broker to deliver.

It may be months ahead, but the Alabama attorney general's office is going to be flooded with complaints. Thousands of Auburn fans have similar stories and it's likely that the attorney general's office will undertake an investigation that may do a great deal to shed some light on the dark and mysterious world of ticket sales. But that will be in the future.

In the meantime CNBC's Rovell warns of an impending counterfeit disaster that may arise in time for Monday's game.

"There's no hologram on the tickets, there's no real counterfeit protections. This may well be another thing that the BCS has bungled," Rovell said.

Already stories are spreading of fleeced fans desperate to get into the game of their lives paying cash for worthless tickets. Yesterday ESPN.com's Ivan Maisel tweeted: "Fan bought six BCS National Championship Game tickets in Scottsdale for $15,000. Tickets were fake. Money was real. Be careful."

With every location in the Valley of the Sun turning into a de facto ticket market -- Auburn fan Dow Smith solicited fans in school colors at the foot of Camelback Mountain on Sunday afternoon -- the potential for thousands of fleecings is high.

Eventually it may take an investigation to uncover exactly how the ticket market collapsed in 2011. But that investigation will come too late for many Auburn fans. Including, perhaps, 81 year old Dial Gibbs, who drove himself all the way from Auburn, Ala., to Scottsdale, Ariz., in his 2004 Mercury Marquis.

Gibbs, who has been an Auburn fan since 1968, purchased his title game tickets for nearly $1,000. He asked that his tickets be sent to his hotel in Arizona and embarked on a one-month journey to the game, stopping to visit friends and relatives along the way.

Then, you guessed it, just as he arrived in Arizona he received an e-mail informing him that his ticket wasn't coming. He'd get a refund instead. But if Gibbs wished, he could buy a ticket for $4,000 instead.

How convenient.

Gibbs said he couldn't pay that much for a ticket. So he spent Sunday at an Auburn pep rally and was planning on heading out to a local bar to watch the game on Monday. "But that Auburn crowd at the bar was a little too wild for me. I just want to watch the game," he said.

Right now he's planning on watching the game in his Day's Inn hotel room. Unless, he says, he can find a ticket near the price he paid.

"I keep hoping that I can find a ticket," he said, "but kickoff is not far away now."

Unfortunately, the hottest ticket market in sports history is showing no signs of cooling.

Follow Clay Travis on Twitter here. With All That and a Bag of Mail back on a weekly basis, you can e-mail him questions at Clay.Travis@gmail.com.
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