ATLANTA – As the Delta flight departed from Los Angeles to Atlanta on the afternoon following the Rose Bowl, the flight attendant congratulated the throng of Bulldogs fans on their thrilling victory over Oklahoma. After the passengers erupted in a cheer, she slipped in a question: “If anyone has an extra ticket for the game,” she said, “please let me know.”
With Georgia playing for the national title for the first time in a generation, a confluence of geography and circumstance have made tickets to Monday’s College Football Playoff National Championship in Atlanta perhaps the hottest and most expensive in college football history. The chance to see No. 3 Georgia play No. 4 Alabama at Mercedes-Benz Stadium has driven the ticket market to unprecedented levels for a college football championship game.
According to data from StubHub, the average price of tickets sold is $2,454, the most for a collegiate championship since the site opened in 2000. Monday’s game is nearly $1,000 per ticket on average higher than the second-highest mark for a college football championship: Notre Dame’s title-game appearance against Alabama in January 2013. (For comparison, this year’s game is about $1,000 below last year’s Super Bowl average).
And it’s obvious who is leading the charge. According to StubHub, more than 50 percent of the ticket sales have come from within the state of Georgia, compared to 4 percent from Alabama. According to TickPick, another ticket marketplace, the number is 66 percent in Georgia compared to 6 percent in Alabama. “Mama is giving up her shoes to go to this ballgame,” said Randy Cohen, the CEO of TicketCity.
The demand started in earnest. Georgia fans crashed StubHub’s site not long after the culmination of the Bulldogs’ double-overtime victory against Oklahoma in the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day. StubHub spokesperson Cameron Papp said the site went down for 20 minutes. Since then, it has been selling tickets at high levels, as a suite went for $94,000 and the highest single ticket went for $12,080. Face value for the tickets range between $375 and $875. The lowest price to get in the game on the secondary market is $1,250.
No one has realized the demand of Georgia fans more than Alabama fans, who are savvy in the market from the Crimson Tide being part of six of the past nine national title games. The theory in the ticket industry is that Alabama fans, sensing the ability to make a profit, are putting their tickets on the secondary market to exploit the lust of Georgia fans. Georgia hasn’t played in a national championship game since the 1982 season.
While the secondary market sellers can’t specifically identify where the tickets are coming from, TickPick director of client relations Jack Slingland said there’s “a lot of rumblings within the industry” that Alabama fans are exploiting the demand. “There are Alabama fans out there receiving tickets from the school,” Slingland said. “They’re a little more willing to sell.” He added about Alabama’s championship fatigue: “It’s something that’s always going to creep in. That’s always a factor in these.”
Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity told Yahoo Sports that there doesn’t appear to be an imminent stadium takeover like Georgia did at Notre Dame this year. But the demand is obvious, as Alabama athletic director Greg Byrne joked, “I think right now if we put two Bryant-Denny Stadiums together, us and Georgia would have no problem filling it.”
Both schools are given allotments of 20,000 tickets to divide among their constituencies and season ticket-holders. Tim Cearley, Georgia’s associate athletic director for ticket operations, said season ticket-holders alone requested 40,000 tickets. (He requested a reporter email him questions because he’d been so inundated with phone calls and ticket requests.)
Cearley said this could be considered the most difficult ticket in the history of Georgia football, although the SEC title game this year proved close. The fact that many Georgia fans wouldn’t require hotels or flights to attend the game has also driven demand. “Geography plays a huge part in demand,” he said. “Many fans have spent a mint on travel and tickets this year when you consider the Notre Dame game, SEC championship tickets and Rose Bowl travel and game tickets. Despite premium face value on [national championship] tickets, it’s manageable when fewer fans require flights and hotels.”
Chris Besanceney, Alabama’s associate athletic director for ticketing, noted that Alabama fans have become more judicious in choosing their championship opportunities. In 2009, Alabama fans were mortgaging their houses to pay for flights and tickets to the Rose Bowl against Texas.
The addition of a semifinal game and the dates of games conflicting with work schedules have made it trickier for fans. “Even our fans have become a little bit more choosy in what they’re going to see and when,” he said. “We’ve heard from our fan base that the flight factor is significant and so is taking off work. These games are also coming after the holidays. Those are real factors.”
While the unprecedented demand is known, the lingering unknown is whether the market will dip or spike as the game gets closer. The introduction of electronic ticketing makes last-minute purchases more nimble. With the forecast in Atlanta on Monday showing cold and the potential for snow, there likely won’t be as brisk of a seller’s market outside the stadium.
Considering the demand among Georgia fans, it’s difficult to forecast a buyer’s market on Monday.