- Tickets for Sunday's Super Bowl final trading for thousands of dollars
- Corporate customers and 'bucket listers' willing to spend high for luxury package deals
- "Guy-based events" and VIP parties fuel excitement for those with deep pockets
(CNN)It's a modern day gold rush.
A trip to Super Bowl XLIX in Phoenix will cost even the most discerning fans thousands of dollars, while providing a hefty windfall for business owners riding one of the biggest consumer spending weekends of the year in the U.S.
Victoria's Secret models hosting $25,000 tables, shady ticket deals, and risky online trading for Super Bowl seats have become as much a part of the annual celebration of America's favorite sport as the ceremonial opening coin toss.
With so much at stake, many fans won't be leaving anything to chance in the race to book luxury hotels, limos, and some of the year's most lavish parties -- not to mention, tickets to the big game itself.
As a result, a throwback solution from pre-Internet days has emerged as a winner: the hospitality package deal.
"It's a value-add situation," says Anbritt Stengele, owner of Chicago-based Sports Traveler, who sold out of her few remaining Super Bowl packages last Friday.
"Hotels are just not available," she says, explaining that there is extra demand for four and five-star accommodation over the weekend because of the Phoenix Open, a four-day PGA tournament featuring Tiger Woods, which concludes on Super Bowl Sunday.
For Sports Traveler clients, drinking can start as early as at 11.30 a.m. on game day with a "Touchdown Club Tailgate Party" that includes an open bar and buffet that lasts until kickoff at 3.30 p.m.
Understandably, a premium is placed on hassle-free transportation from the resorts of Scottsdale to the University of Phoenix Stadium, a 40-minute drive away.
"People want to have some fun; they don't want to be the designated driver," she explains. "They just want the whole thing taken care of and guaranteed. Yes you can do it yourself, but a lot of people choose not to."
Working her 15th Super Bowl since starting her company as a student at Saint Xavier University in Chicago, Stengele reserves blocks of hotel rooms in Super Bowl cities 12 months in advance. She has already launched her search for rooms in San Francisco, in preparation for Super Bowl 50, to be played in nearby Santa Clara. Providing that scarce availability, along with a game ticket, provides an advantage over hotel booking sites, she says.
At this late stage, the basic package deals left on ticketing site SBTickets.com begin at $6,000 for one 'Upper Level End Zone' (i.e. nosebleed) Super Bowl ticket, four nights at a three-star hotel, game day shuttles, and pre-game festivities. The quote is per person based on a double occupancy room. Singles start at $7,000 and airfare is not included.
The cheapest Super Bowl "get-in" price on ticket aggregator SeatGeek at the time of writing stands at $3,507, valuing the add-ons and convenience of a package deal at $2,493 per person.
Seventy percent of Sports Traveler's clients are corporates, many of whom have asked for golf tee times and PGA tickets to be lumped onto their deals. The remaining batch encompasses 'bucket listers' looking to attend any Super Bowl, international fans (mainly Australians), and of course, rabid Seattle Seahawks and New England Patriots supporters who waited to see whether their teams would qualify (only the highest spending season ticket holders are allotted seats to the big game).
Bunnies and bubbly
Then there are the partiers; lots of them.
The concept of staging bachelor party-themed events leading up to the Super Bowl began over 10 years ago and has taken on a new realm of competition. Each year, the likes of Rolling Stone, Maxim, and Playboy try and outdo each other to attract the most famous bands, models, and personalities to their parties, granting access at eye-watering prices.
"The Saturday night before the Super Bowl is really when everyone wants to go out," says Stengele, adding that the Playboy party is often at the top of her corporate clients demand list.
"It's a guy-based event, absolutely," she says, about the bash which advertises 24 Playboy bunnies mingling with guests, while the rapper Nelly plays Master of Ceremonies. All tickets include an open bar and buffet.
But what else could make the $850 entrance fee worthwhile?
"You can use your imagination," she says. "There are lots of girls in there and lots of drinking. It's an experience."
"Every superstar player that's not appearing in the Super Bowl will make a [paid] appearance at one or two of those events prior to the game," says Ahmad Tahoun, who organized the New York Giants Super Bowl victory party in Phoenix in 2008.
"Imagine a nightclub two nights before the Super Bowl with nothing but multimillionaire young athletes competing on what they spend," he adds. "It's just champagne and sparklers everywhere."
This year's hot ticket is the Rolling Stone Magazine party, with performances by Steven Tyler of Aerosmith and Charli XCX. Tickets start at $1,045 and hit $56,238 for a Platinum Center table on rukkus.com.
The Victoria's Secret hosted Leather and Laces party starts at $495 for a lounge seat, climbs to $2,500 for a meet and greet with the likes of Adriana Lima and Lily Aldridge, and hits $25,000 for a 'Celebrity Cabana' (includes 14 tickets, 10 bottles of premium liquor, and three bottles of Moet Champagne).
Although Tahoun stresses that soirées attended by A-listers are closed to the paying public, some parties advertised as invite-only are anything but. General admission tickets to "DirecTV's Super Saturday Night Invite-Only Bash," featuring a performance from Rihanna, are offered on vividseats.com for $970.
While arranging tickets to parties is usually a straightforward process for agencies (promoters offer them first dibs), procuring Super Bowl tickets is another issue entirely.
Stengele says she sources some tickets via corporate sponsors, but declines to reveal exactly how she fulfills the remainder of her ticketing obligations.
Forging ties with those who have access, along with playing the secondary ticket market (tickets resold online at prices that fluctuate based on supply and demand), are two methods, according to Will Flaherty at SeatGeek.
"A lot of the teams cut deals with ticket brokers and sell their tickets in advance," he says, pointing to a controversy last year when the Denver Broncos and Seahawks both sold Super Bowl tickets to Prime Sport. "It's not something that teams want people to know that they are doing, particularly teams that have qualified."
In addition, Flaherty says many agents work the secondary ticket market speculatively, like stock traders. Without holding inventory, they will enter agreements to sell tickets in the two weeks leading up to the playoff semifinals.
Once the Super Bowl opponents are determined, prices normally fall by over $1,000 in the two weeks leading up to game day, Flaherty says. The drop allows agents to cover their end of the deal by purchasing cheaper tickets closer to game time at a healthy margin. The trend has been consistent over the last four years, according to data provided by SeatGeek, which places a value score on tickets available across the web.
During this year's run-up, however, market forces have worked the other way, pushing the average sold ticket price up 40% from a week earlier to $4,126, potentially leaving risk-takers in turmoil only days before the Super Bowl.
The wiliest brokers, however, eschew market speculation for less scrupulous means.
"It's not uncommon to hear stories of agents with briefcases full of cash flying down to Phoenix to buy Super Bowl tickets in hotel lobbies off of players," says Flaherty, noting that every NFL player and coach is allotted two Super Bowl tickets to purchase at face value. Reselling the tickets for profit is against NFL rules, a violation for which former Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Tice was fined $100,000 in 2005.
Flaherty advises fans to wait until a few days before Super Bowl Sunday to make their purchases, when last minute deals can often be procured. Tahoun suggests the same to party goers: "Once you get there and your boots are on the ground, you can negotiate better deals for sure," he says.
For some fans, competing for the best deals off the field is part of the fun. Most, however, would prefer to revel in what Phoenix has to offer and leave the strategizing to the professionals.