|Even the Big Easy can't lure fans
By Darren Rovell
NEW ORLEANS -- There's still plenty of time, but if early returns are any indication, the market for ticket brokers at this year's Super Bowl figures to be off by at least 30 percent from last year. Last year, opening broker prices began at about $1,750 for a $325 face value ticket, thanks in part to the cities involved -- New York and Baltimore. Tickets to the big game this year in the Big Easy haven't risen much, according to brokers, some of whom were selling upper deck end zone seats for as cheap as $950 (face value: $400) Monday afternoon. By game time last year, the worst seats had risen to $2,600, which -- at least right now -- could buy a bargain-seeker a good seat on the 30-yard line in the lower level of the Superdome. But the brokers aren't necessarily surprised that tickets this year are going for less, even in New Orleans, the Super Bowl's most frequented location. "Some people don't want to travel because of Sept. 11 or because of the state of the economy," said Jeff Johnson of Night on the Town Ticket Service, a California-based ticket brokerage, which has opened ticket offices in the local Super Bowl city since 1988. Brokers also say that corporate clients who don't mind paying the broker premium aren't as plentiful as they have been in past years. "Companies that normally take blocks of tickets and treat other people are just not doing it this year," said Ram Silverman, owner of Golden Tickets who has worked the last 13 Super Bowls. "Corporate America is the buyer of the tickets for the Super Bowl," said Robby Raitt of Atlanta-based Empire Tickets. "If the companies don't buy, the prices will drop. And, this year, there's no dot-com money, and I think especially after the Enron situation corporate accountants are now saying, 'Wait a second.' " Because Mardi Gras celebrations also are taking place this week, brokers say that lack of hotel rooms also is a problem. That, of course, somewhat contradicts the fact that fewer people are traveling due to Sept. 11. "New Orleans has its mystique, but there's Mardi Gras going on at the same time, and hotels are already at a serious premium," said Russell Lindmark, owner of Ticketsolutions.com. "There were a lot of hotel rooms in Tampa (and in nearby Orlando) last year, so people had no problem going down there without a ticket because there were enough rooms available. That really drove the ticket price up." Those brokers who are offering packages (rooms and tickets) in New Orleans are charging between $350 and $800 per night for rooms, a hefty price for the middle class fan. Other brokers only managed to arrange for a block of rooms in Mobile, Ala., 144 miles away from the Superdome, which is proving to be too long of a trek for some. Finally, some brokers say the match-up just isn't that enticing. One broker said the Patriots' upset of Pittsburgh hurt more than it helped. "A lot of Pittsburgh fans were ready to go, and they planned," Raitt said. "Going on the fly, especially this year, is hard." Erik Farmer, general manager of TicketsUS.com -- which was selling more than 300 tickets Sunday night -- wanted an all-Pennsylvania (Philadelphia Eagles vs. Pittsburgh Steelers) Super Bowl, because he remembers being stiffed by Rams fans two years ago. "St. Louis proved that they were not too devoted two years ago," said Farmer, unwilling to give the fans the benefit of the doubt for the inclement weather in Atlanta. "That was one of the worst Super Bowls that I have ever done. Right before the game, you could get in for $650 to $700 apiece." Another broker called the Rams fans "soft," saying too many fans from their Los Angeles history no longer follow them. Although Super Bowl XXXIV was disappointing for brokers two years ago, Super Bowl XXX, between the Steelers and the Cowboys in Arizona, became known as one of the worst outings by ticket brokers over the last decade. Darren Rovell, who covers sports business for ESPN.com, can be reached at email@example.com.