TAMPA — Janis Gagner wanted to go to the Super Bowl, not the poorhouse.
As an Arizona Cardinals season ticket holder, she and her daughter Rhonda got tickets for the big game at face value: $800 each.
But after seeing round-trip air fares from Phoenix to Tampa as high as $2,400, they thought, let's fly to Fort Lauderdale instead. Rent a car. Drive five hours to Tampa. Stay with a relative.
Then air fares to Fort Lauderdale shot from $320 to $720. They couldn't reach their in-law. Now it doesn't look good.
"We wanted to go in the worst way," said Gagner, 61, a licensed practical nurse at the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix.
That's the thing about the Super Bowl: Even this year, as the recession puts corporate high rollers on injured reserve and drives down ticket prices, it remains a rich man's game.
"It's, shockingly, still a lot of money, so the average fan is being priced out of the game," said Michael Hershfield, the co-founder and chief executive of LiveStub, a Web site that seeks to give fans more comprehensive information on ticket supply and trends in prices.
But some say it would cost even more in a robust economy.
"If anyone was ever thinking of going to a Super Bowl, I would say this would be the year to do it, because I don't think you'll ever see the pricing like this again," Sharyn Outtrim said.
Outtrim is vice president of special events for PrimeSport, a company that books fan travel and stages an annual Super Bowl pregame party.
This year, PrimeSport and DeBartolo Sports and Entertainment will transform an airplane hangar near Raymond James Stadium into Club 009. The James Bond-themed party for 800 to 1,000 will be hosted by former NFL great Jerry Rice, with music, food, an open bar, plasma screen TVs and "chalk talk" interviews with former NFL players.
Typically, Outtrim said, tickets for such parties cost more than $600. This year, you can get into Club 009 for $450. And that's after PrimeSport cut the price from $495 "to follow the market."
"We're very sensitive to the economy," she said. "We're going to ride this year out."
Despite the discount, prepare for sticker shock if you peruse PrimeSport's four-night hotel packages at resorts like Innisbrook, the Sheraton Sand Key and the Tampa Marriott Westshore.
Yes, you get a ticket to the game (upper level in the corner or end zone, unless you upgrade), plus transportation to and from the game, breakfast and entry to the pregame party at Club 009.
Price: about $5,100 to $6,500 per person.
Put two people in a room and the cost drops to the $4,000 to $4,900 per person range.
Those prices reflect the Super Bowl's knack for drawing corporate heavy hitters. Surveys at the last two Super Bowls found that visitors spent, on average, more than $600 per day on lodging, food, drinks, transportation, entertainment and souvenirs.
That's expected to drop this year. Corporate and visitor spending could decline $30-million, or about 16 percent, according to hospitality analysts at PricewaterhouseCoopers.
Companies that typically book rooms and buy tickets six months before the game are waiting until the last minute this year, Outtrim said.
Meanwhile, there appears to be an influx of regular fans, and Outtrim said she's trying to accommodate them. One group of six wanted a three-night stay — not the standard four — at the Sheraton Tampa Riverwalk Hotel. She made it work.
Meanwhile, the market for Super Bowl tickets rises and falls like the Nasdaq.
In early January, the average ticket price on LiveStub, which tracks tickets offered by its own users and through the NFL's ticket exchange, was $6,000, Hershfield said.
But it dropped steadily to less than $4,000, picking up after the Cardinals and Steelers clinched their conference championships.
Early last week, the site's average ticket price was nearly $4,200. On Wednesday, it peaked at $4,370, then started to dip again. By Saturday, the average was $3,750. (The cheapest tickets on the NFL ticket exchange Saturday were $1,579 each, down from $1,814 on Monday.)
As big games get closer, ticket prices fall, Hershfield said. At this Super Bowl, he expects to "see things that are probably unique, at least in the last two years."
"At kickoff, we may see potentially tickets at close to face value," he said.
Face value is $800 for three-quarters of the game's tickets and $1,000 for the rest.
This year, selling tickets on the secondary market — once known as scalping — is legal, thanks to a 2006 act of the Florida Legislature.
But if you plan to venture into that market, beware, the league and police say.
Authorities urge fans to buy tickets from established businesses, not from someone on the street. That way, there's someone to go back to if there's a problem.
Real tickets will have a hologram of the Tampa Bay Super Bowl XLIII logo, NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said.
Police will have undercover officers out looking for counterfeits.
Look at the ticket, Tampa police spokeswoman Andrea Davis advises.
During the last Super Bowl in Tampa, some fans thought they scored real tickets from scalpers. At the gate, they discovered they had actually bought tickets to the NFL Experience, a fan fest outside Raymond James Stadium.
But for middle-class fans facing four days of world-class profiteering, scalpers might be the least of the problem.
"The normal fan," Janis Gagner said, "who pays for the tickets all year and loves their team and wants to go to see them win and doesn't want to go to just see all the hoopla and the celebrities, they can't afford to go. And that's really sad."
Richard Danielson can be reached at Danielson@sptimes.com or (813) 269-5311.