College Football Playoff: Epic ticket demand has prices high, fans facing dilemma
Fans with tickets and those without have some tough decisions to make ahead of Monday's game
ATLANTA – The voice on the other end of the line played for Alabama, coached at Alabama and wants no part of seeing Alabama on Monday in the College Football Playoff National Championship.
There is too much money to be made in the most robust ticket market in CFP history.
And The Voice -- he doesn't want to be fully identified -- has two up in the nosebleed section of Mercedes-Benz Stadium for $1,500 each if you're interested.
"You kind of weigh the fact that can you get this much money, or do you want to go to the game? One of the two," The Voice said. "That's really what it comes down to. I guess I'd rather have the money than go to the game."
That's really the central question for those holding tickets or who want to hold tickets for Monday's game.
What's it worth to ya?
The cosmic convergence of Georgia and Alabama meeting here in the football capital of the South, driving distance from each campus, has created a ticket market somewhere between nuts and bonkers.
For the buyer, there's seemingly no price that won't be paid. The week started with those upper level tickets going for $3,000 each. The latest on StubHub says you can get a pair up top in a corner for $1,300 each.
For the seller, it's a chance to make a car payment -- or even a mortgage payment -- if the price is right. Two down low behind the Georgia bench will fetch $9,400 as of late Friday afternoon.
A StubHub spokesman says the only comparison is the demand for Chicago Cubs tickets in the 2016 postseason.
"That was the highest-selling World Series that we had, there's no question," said Cameron Papp of StubHub. "I think the story is definitely the Georgia market right now."
StubHub's highest-selling college title game was the 2013 BCS Championship Game between Notre Dame and Alabama. This one is on pace to outstrip that run on tickets.
That demand was driven by Irish interest. Monday's is driven by the average Atlanta native who is a Georgia grad being able to fall out of bed Monday into Dawg Heaven.
Any price gets the interest of Kent Cohen, an Atlanta emergency room physician who was a student at Georgia the last time the Dawgs won it all in 1980.
"We'll spend and we'll travel. We're starved for it," Cohen said. "If you told me at the beginning of the year I could give you $6,000 [for tickets] and be guaranteed Georgia would go to [play for the] national title, I would have paid it."
The top Rose Bowl price on Monday hovered around $400, spiked by that Georgia interest. The top Rose Bowl price ever was $627 per seat for the 2016 Iowa-Stanford game, according to SeatGeek.
This is different. This is the heart of the SEC, Hot-lanta. Nearly 90,000 Georgia alumni live in the metro area.
"It's essentially a [home] game for Georgia," Papp said. "Regardless, that market was going to drive a lot of the sales anyway. But given the fact Georgia, it has been 30 years since they had a shot, you would expect demand."
The Voice will only go as far as to tell you he played under Ray Perkins, lives in Tampa, Florida, and loves the Crimson Tide. But only to a certain extend. His tickets that he bought through his alma mater have a face value of $475. If he gets $1,500, that's a 315 percent profit.
"I don't see a moral issue with it," he said. "That's the way tickets work."
There has to be a certain amount of Alabama Fatigue, perhaps, even for Crimson Tide fans who are being asked to pay top dollar for a BCS/CFP shot for the fifth time since 2009.
"I think so, especially with two [playoff] games," The Voice said. "A lot of people have to make the decision. Do I go to the Sugar Bowl then fork out more money for the national championship? Two games really hurt it. If I don't go to the Sugar Bowl and they don't win, I'm screwed out of either one of the them."
Yeah, but the heart usually wins out over the wallet in these situations. Georgia fans filled at least 60 percent of the 92,000-seat Rose Bowl this week. That ratio could grow in 75,000-seat Mercedes-Benz Stadium going against one of the most rabid fan bases anywhere (Alabama).
"I went to the Notre Dame game in September. We spent $800 for a ticket," Cohen said. "Georgia, we are starving for a national championship. We lived with Mark Richt for 15 years. I was tired of going to the Outback Bowl. … I was there in New Orleans when we won in 1980 [Sugar Bowl vs Notre Dame]. I want to experience that."
The Georgia General Assembly voted overwhelmingly in 2001 to allow ticket scalping as long it takes place at least 1,500 feet away from the venue. Since that time, the legal secondary market (see: StubHub, et al.) has exploded.
Georgia state law says you can't resell a ticket unless you're the original ticket holder or a licensed broker.
The likes of StubHub don't set the price. It is merely a digital marketplace to do business -- while collecting a service fee, obviously.
I cold-called The Voice, who told me he posted his tickets on Craigslist. Ticket prices have fallen this week, but he's going to stick it out.
"I had a couple of people ask me, 'What will you come down to?'" The Voice said. "I'm sticking at $1,500 until at least [Saturday]. Maybe I'll find an alumnus who wants to sit in [the] former player section."
What's different this year is the CFP, which has a ticket brokering service itself, has gone to mobile ticketing.
"If you buy a paper ticket, it is a fraud," warned Bill Hancock, the CFP executive director.
That sort of eliminates the shady guy on the street corner yelling, "Who needs tickets?!" doesn't it?
"The ticket thing, we don't get that in here," said Sunday Norman, a server at STATS Brewpub, the biggest, closest sports bar to Mercedes-Benz Stadium. "You know, certain kinds of people are out scalping tickets. I try to sway people away from that. What's worse is seeing good people get taken."
Norman is preparing for worst -- or best -- either way. Business was booming Monday when folks starting lining up outside STATS at 8:30 a.m. for New Year's Day bowl games. The joint didn't open up until 10 a.m.
"It was so cold, we let them in early," she said. "They will sit here and they will count the minutes and the seconds until it's time."
Don't forget certain complications with President Donald Trump coming to town.
"There's going to be so much more police," Norman said. "I think they were going to be putting up with way less stuff."
That may include inside STATS itself. Norman said the Secret Service just about took over the place for a Trump speech to the NRA at the nearby World Congress Convention Center in October.
"There were sharpshooters," Norman said. "They come in here first and check us out. You don't even want to make any kind of movement."
Dawg Heaven awaits in this sophisticated Southern capital. Former CBS Sports columnist Tony Barnhart -- a.k.a. "Mr. College Football" -- is a Georgia grad. As soon as the Rose Bowl concluded, "my phone blew up," he said.
As a journalist, the only access he had to championship tickets were those the CFP allows media to buy at face value. He snatched up enough for him and his family.
The few local sports events that matched this level of anticipation, he said, were the 1996 women's Olympic gymnastics final as well as the 2007 (LSU-Tennessee) and 2008 (Alabama-Florida) SEC title games.
The last time Georgia was this close, its fans were brutally teased. In the 2012 SEC title game, the winner went to the BCS Championship Game.
The Dawgs drove to the Tide 5-yard line with time running out. Georgia's hopes died there when Chris Conley caught an Aaron Murray pass he should have dropped to stop the clock. With no timeouts, Georgia watched the seconds run out on a 32-28 loss 15 feet away from Alabama's end zone.
That was in Atlanta, too.
"Georgia people have been waiting so long," Barnhart said.
They can wait a little longer until Monday. Those record ticket prices continue to drop.
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