PHOENIX -- Hundreds of fans won't be going to Super Bowl XLIX after brokers and resale sites reneged on tickets that they already sold.
In most cases, those selling tickets never had them to begin with. The practice, called short selling, has become common for big games over the years. Brokers sell tickets and buy them cheaper closer to the event to make their profits. But the idea of selling before having anything in hand became more commonplace as the returns consistently came in for previous Super Bowls.
That was until this year, when too many brokers sold tickets they didn't have and for lower prices than in previous years, making it impossible to get the real ticket for a price that was affordable when it came time to pull the trigger. By last Sunday, brokers were buying the worst seats for $5,000 just to save their company. Five days later, finding a ticket even for $10,000 was a challenge.
It's unknown exactly how many were affected, but many stories have heartbreak.
Daryl Kikucki, a 37-year-old regional service manager for a jet company in Seattle, is a Seahawks season-ticket holder who sold his ticket to the NFC Championship Game so that he could afford to go the Super Bowl.
He bought a $2,100 ticket listed on SeatGeek, which pulled the seat from a company called Prominent Tickets.
"Due to unforeseen circumstances, we have not received our normal allotment of Super Bowl inventory," read an email sent from the company to Kikuchi. "In our 26 years of business, we have never seen a market with such limited availability to the public ... If the tickets were out there, we would rather pay to fill your orders, but we cannot buy tickets that do not exist."
The company's terms and conditions, which a customer must check, absolves it from liability but does not represent that tickets that are listed might not be in its possession.
"Now when I think about this game, I get sick to my stomach, knowing I'm not going to be in the stadium," said Kikuchi, who added he had no choice but to take the company's offer of two times what he paid.
Luke Kassi of Phoenix said he paid $1,750 to Ludus Tours the week before the NFC Championship Game for the right to buy two tickets at face value ($950 each) if the Seahawks won.
Kassi was assured he was getting his tickets until Thursday, when he received an email from company owner and founder Brian Peters.
"I have bad news to report from Scottsdale," the email read. "I do not believe that my suppliers are delivering tickets to me ... I am sincerely sorry for this situation. For what it is worth, I will not have a functioning business once the dust settles from this event. I assure you that I am not profiting from this circumstance, and that I will do everything in my power to resolve it for you."
Peters offered a refund of the money paid plus an additional 20 percent. Kassi said he doesn't want it.
"I want the tickets I was promised," he said.
When reached, Peters said he ordered the tickets in December and did not receive them.
"I'm looking to make good on everyone involved," Peters said.
Patriots fan Josh Helms and his friends bought six tickets two days after the team punched its ticket to the Super Bowl. He paid $1,650 for four tickets from one broker and $1,950 for two more from another.
"The guy who sold us four tickets said all he was obligated to do was give us a refund, which he did," Helms said. "And the lawyers we spoke to say that we don't have much of a case because he did that."
But Helms isn't happy.
"This is the first time we've had the money to go to the Super Bowl and I basically emptied out my bank account for this. This was my dream vacation and now I'm in Arizona with nothing."
Backed by parent company eBay, StubHub ponied up what it had to pay to fulfill its guarantee that if a seller doesn't come through with a ticket, the site will offer a replacement. Spokesman Glenn Lehrman said there were a couple hundred cases where this occurred and everyone will have tickets.
Some brokers are understandably having problems with proposed settlements. One broker, who did not want to be named, said his company offered two times the money back to his customers who paid for more than 30 tickets to the game and only one person accepted the offer.
Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich told ESPN.com that, at least right now, it looks like "a civil matter where there might be damages between the patron and person who sold them the tickets," but Brnovich said that his office wouldn't have jurisdiction unless it could be proven that a certain company had a habitual record of fraudulent activity.
NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said the league has no role in the secondary ticket market.
Although the NFL hasn't changed the fundamental allocation of the tickets, Brnovich suggests that it's possible for the league to help alleviate market manipulation in the future by holding back tickets and releasing them closer to the game, just like some high-profile entertainers have been known to do.