The Internet and the American entrepreneurial spirit have combined to create one sure thing about any sporting event played across the land:
Tickets are always available – if you’re willing to pay the going rate on the secondary ticket market, where previously purchased tickets are resold.
And so it is with the hottest ticket in town, for the Buffalo Bills upcoming season.
After selling a franchise record of more than 57,500 season tickets for this season, the team has no individual game tickets available in the lower and upper bowls for their first seven regular-season games. Two weeks ago, the Bills announced that limited individual game tickets remained only for the New York Jets game on Jan. 3.
There’s both good and bad news for fans without tickets who want to see the sold-out games.
Ticket brokers estimate that roughly 10,000 tickets are available on the secondary market for each game. But depending on the popularity of the game, a buyer might spend two to five times the face value to purchase a ticket.
One broker estimated that a 50-yard-line seat in the lower bowl for the Sept. 20 game with the New England Patriots game could fetch three to four times its $100 season-ticket price.
Why so expensive?
The sellers, whether they’re individual season-ticket holders or brokers who do this for a living, take advantage of the limited supply and the booming demand to make a huge profit.
Also, the licensed brokers themselves charge a hefty fee – from 15 to 25 percent per ticket.
StubHub, the nation’s largest ticket broker, announces on its website that it charges the seller 15 percent and the buyer 10 percent. Those fees are included in the price the buyer sees on the site.
While 25 percent may seem like an excessive return on the dollar, ticket brokers point out that they take losses and risks – on preseason games, cold-weather games and in cities where ticket demand is weak. Brokers also can get stuck selling some tickets at a huge loss, especially when a home team plays itself out of contention early in the season.
The nation’s secondary ticket market is estimated as a $10 billion to $15 billion annual industry.
That market is complicated and fluid, as seen from these figures last week for the Bills-Patriots game here:
StubHub listed 6,082 tickets available for that game. Three other sites – the NFL Ticket Exchange, TiqIQ and VIPTIX.com in Williamsville – have a combined total of about 24,000 tickets for the same game. And thousands of other tickets are listed on other smaller sites.
That doesn’t mean you can add up all these numbers. Instead, many pairs of tickets appear on multiple ticket-selling sites.
As the Bills approach their self-imposed cap of about 60,000 season tickets, the question remains: How many seats are available on StubHub and other secondary ticket sites for the most popular games, including the Patriots game?
While there’s no definitive answer, three ticket experts interviewed for this story came up with remarkably similar estimates: all between 8,000 and 11,000.
Individual ticket holders can put their tickets on any sites they choose.
While StubHub and the NFL Ticket Exchange, a collaboration between the league and ticketmaster.com, don’t put their tickets on other sites, one expert explained, most of the smaller brokers put their tickets on every site they can, including StubHub and the Ticket Exchange.
“Just because you see 6,000 tickets [on our site], that doesn’t mean my company owns those seats,” said Nick Giammusso, president and CEO of VIPTIX.com, on Main Street in Williamsville. “They may be coming from other brokers and individuals who list tickets with us.”
So what happens if two different people buy the exact same pair of seats from two different ticket brokers?
One of those companies will give one of the buyers a similar pair of seats, maybe a row or two, or a few seats, away.
Giammusso, a ticket broker whose company has a “few hundred” Bills season tickets, was asked how many fans going through the Ralph Wilson Stadium turnstiles might be using resold tickets.
“I would guess that this year 20 percent of the people entering the Bills games will have bought them on the secondary market,” he said.
Those resold tickets include season tickets owned by various brokers, extra tickets those brokers could purchase as season-ticket holders, tickets bought by tour companies and travel agencies and seats that regular season-ticket holders sell for various reasons.
And those brokers are aggressive. If season-ticket holders can buy individual game tickets starting at 9 a.m. on a designated day, brokers with those tickets hit the phone lines and Internet hard to buy as many additional tickets as possible, by 9:01 a.m.
With today’s technology, regular season-ticket holders also have become very active on the secondary market, reselling tickets they either can’t use or want to make money on, Giammusso said.
Like any market, there’s money to be made at every stop along the secondary ticket market.
Giammusso pointed out that his company has had Bills season tickets for years. “We ride out the bad years with the good years,” he said.
Chris Matcovich is vice president of data and communications at TiqIQ, which lists tickets from other brokers and is considered a Kayak of ticket brokers. After ordering a $7 bottle of Coors Light in midtown Manhattan recently, he and a friend calculated the markup for that beer, at about 1,400 percent.
“That’s a nifty little markup,” he said. “For tickets, there’s like a 20 percent markup. I’m not going to say it’s not a lot, but it’s a lot less than other industries.”
Individuals selling their tickets on the secondary market also can make a huge profit, although maybe not as much as it might seem on the brokers’ websites.
For example, for the Bills-Patriots game here, the asking price on StubHub last week ranged from $105 to $12,844 per ticket, with more than 100 tickets listed at over $10,000.
But that can be misleading.
First, the prices offered on these websites are not the going price for tickets, as some media outlets routinely report. Instead, these are the asking prices sought by the seller. Those prices often go down, sometimes way down.
The $12,844 per-ticket asking price for the Patriots game isn’t realistic, even if New England quarterback Tom Brady is reinstated for that game.
“If you’re seeing $6,000 a ticket, or any other price that’s out of whack, the seller has probably loaded his inventory [onto the site] but has yet to price those tickets,” Giammusso said. “Sometimes they put a ridiculous price on them so they don’t sell. That gives them a chance to price their inventory later.”
The whole idea of tickets being resold at a huge price, well above their original cost, rubs some people as unfair to fans who can’t afford those prices.
Giammusso, from VIPTIX, has a different view.
“Why should an individual walk up to the Bills ticket office and believe they have the right to purchase a ticket for the same price as a season-ticket holder who has ridden out the good years and the bad years?” he asked. “That’s why we have a secondary market.”
One more point: In the Internet age, the reselling of secondary tickets is far from a local business.
Buying a resold Bills ticket may mean buying from a company headquartered in Williamsville, Oklahoma, New York City, California or virtually any state.
As an example, VIPTIX.com, soon moving from Williamsville to downtown Buffalo, has more than 100 season tickets for what might seem like an unlikely team: the Chicago Blackhawks of the National Hockey League.