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Hot ticket: Seats to Alabama-Clemson game going for $900, $1,000 — and more

TAMPA — Want tickets to Monday night's College Football Playoff National Championship game between Alabama and Clemson?

Get ready to pay about $1,000 — and possibly a lot more — on the resale market.

That's hundreds of dollars more than you'd likely pay for a cheap seat to see Hamilton on Broadway this weekend. But it's far less than the current $4,200 entry-level resale ticked price to next month's Super Bowl in Houston.

Now in its third year, the championship game has much of the pomp and circumstance you would expect when big media and big sponsors roll into town.

There will be three days of free concerts, a pregame show and country stars Little Big Town singing the national anthem. As during the Republican National Convention, the historic Kress building in downtown Tampa is being turned into an exclusive party venue, this time by ESPN and Allstate.

But the game's top organizer does not pretend the event is something it's not.

"There is only one Super Bowl," says Bill Hancock, executive director of the College Football Playoff. "We don't try to be a Super Bowl. We're different. We're college sports. … We want it to have a college feel."

So the halftime show?

Don't think Beyoncé or Katy Perry. Think marching bands.

At the low end, ticket resale websites like StubHub were offering a few tickets Thursday for $900 each. A lot more were priced at $1,000 and up. For the best seats, the asking prices could cover the cost of a used car.

"Off the charts," Hancock said of the ticket demand. "Probably the highest I've seen in my career."

But just like a stock exchange, the ticket market fluctuates. The average ticket price rose from about $2,500 Tuesday to nearly $3,400 Wednesday, then dropped to $2,860 by late Thursday afternoon, according to TicketIQ, a resale aggregator based in New York.

Organizers have distributed about 71,000 tickets, with face values ranging from $450 to $650:

• 20,000 each went to Alabama and Clemson, making up about 60 percent of the total.

• About 4,000 were distributed through a random online drawing held over the summer. Each person selected in the drawing had the right to buy up to four tickets at face value. Most did.

• 3,000 — again, half to each team — were awarded through a system where fans of particular teams could sign up to reserve tickets months in advance of anyone knowing which schools would play in the title game.

• A "relatively small number," according to Hancock, of premium ticket packages were made available to companies such as the Colonnade Group, a company based in Birmingham, Ala. Ranging in price from about $1,900 to $4,500, the packages include tickets, hotel rooms, pregame hospitality with drinks, gift bags and, sometimes, access to former players or the chance to take photos on the field after the game.

Ticketmaster is the official "Fan-to-Fan Marketplace" of the game, offering verified tickets.

Reselling tickets has been legal in Florida since 2006, and when the Super Bowl was last in Tampa in 2009, about 300 independent middle-men, known as "hustlers" or "diggers," converged on the city. They put ads on Craigslist, talked to bartenders, hung around hotels and held up cardboard signs saying, "I need tickets," then resold what they bought to brokers who did high-volume business.

This week, authorities cautioned prospective buyers to be wary.

"I would ask folks to be really careful if they get their tickets from any other source other than from us or the two schools," Hancock said.

Tampa police Chief Eric Ward said he would discourage fans from buying tickets on the street. Plainclothes officers will be searching for con artists selling fakes.

During the 2001 Super Bowl in Tampa, some fans paid scalpers game-ticket prices for what turned out to be tickets to the NFL Experience, the fan fest outside Raymond James Stadium. Monday's game has a similar fan fest, Playoff Fan Central at the Tampa Convention Center, which has its own tickets.

"On the street, you're kind of taking matters in your own hands," Ward said.

For bay area tourism leaders, one similarity between the College Football Playoff and the Super Bowl is that it has the potential for both short- and long-term benefits.

"A monumental opportunity," said Rob Higgins, executive director of the Tampa Bay Sports Commission, the nonprofit organization that put together Tampa's bid to host the game. "We do think there will be about 60,000 hotel visitor room nights. … We're really excited with the two teams that are coming and their strong fan bases."

But two schools from the South might not attract the same interest as a matchup with teams from different regions, said Welch Suggs, associate professor of journalism and sports media at the University of Georgia.

Last year, in the second year of the championship, an average of 25.7 million viewers watched Alabama defeat Clemson on ESPN, according to the New York Times. That's 23 percent fewer than in the first year of the championship, which featured Ohio State and Oregon.

And this year, with a rematch of last year's game, there's a chance some viewers might think they've seen this show before.

It's a big deal any time you can get 20 million people to watch something on TV, Suggs said, but "quite frankly, I'd be surprised if the ratings did any better this year than last year."

And ratings matter to ESPN. This year, buying 30 seconds of advertising during the broadcast of Monday night's game is expected to cost an estimated $1 million to $1.1 million, according to Navigate Research, a Chicago-based company that evaluates and measures spending on marketing, primarily in sports and entertainment. (By comparison, a similar ad cost $5 million during last year's Super Bowl.)

A rate of $1 million for 30 seconds is what the same ad cost two years ago during the first year of the championship. Rates went up last year to an estimated $1.2 million to $1.3 million for a 30-second ad, but then TV ratings for the game broadcast dropped.

This year, the cost of advertising has probably come back down to reflect the lower ratings or stayed flat at the very least, said Brandon Korody, Navigate's manager of data strategy.

"Considering the fact that ratings dipped so much last year, I don't think ESPN could guarantee the higher ratings from the first year that might justify an increase in price this year," Korody said in an email to the Tampa Bay Times.

For their investment, he said, advertisers likely would receive exposure for their brands worth an estimated $900,000 to $1.2 million, depending on how many viewers watch the game.

But for local boosters, the bigger picture is not just about this year's game. It's about getting the College Football Playoff to make the same decision as the Super Bowl, NCAA Men's Frozen Four and NCAA Women's Final Four — to come back.

"The goal with this event is to have a long-term relationship," Higgins said.

Contact Richard Danielson at rdanielson@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3403. Follow @Danielson_Times.

Hot ticket: Seats to Alabama-Clemson game going for $900, $1,000 — and more 01/05/17 [Last modified: Friday, January 6, 2017 12:33pm]
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