On Sunday, when Super Bowl LIII arrives at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, many of the individuals attending won’t be the average football fan. The Super Bowl has become an increasingly exclusive event attended by a mix of current and former players, team employees and their friends and family alongside corporate bigwigs and celebrities who have the best access to the most coveted tickets and events.
This is not unique to the NFL, said Bernie Mullin, founder and chairman of the Aspire Group, a sports and entertainment marketing firm that counts the LA Chargers among its clients. Similar situations play out at the World Cup Final as well, he said.
“The Super Bowl is where the NFL can continue to build relationships with all of their constituent groups,” he said. “There are very few opportunities for anybody, including the NFL, to really embrace and involve all of their partners, which includes the teams, players, all of their sponsors and the licensees. What it does, depending on the event and the venue, is it means a considerably high percentage of ticket inventory goes to those partners as part of the relationship.”
When the Super Bowl first launched in 1967, ticket prices topped out at $12 (or $90.26 in 2019 dollars). As years have passed, the game’s enhanced popularity coupled with the NFL’s stranglehold on tickets has left everyday fans with little choice but to pay thousands of dollars just to get inside the building — even though prices dropped significantly after the teams were set.
For the fans who actually make it inside the Super Bowl, an event unlike any other awaits.
“Everybody in the world that loves football comes from all over to one place. You see everybody — singers, actors and politicians. You are rubbing elbows with all these people, especially when they are in your city,” said Atlanta radio personality Kaedy Kiely, host of the Morning Drive on 97.1 The River, which is owned by Cox Media Group, parent company of the AJC. Kiely has been to three Super Bowls, including Miami in 1999, when the Falcons played in their first Super Bowl, and in 2000 when the big game came to the Georgia Dome. She attended most recently in 2006, when the Super Bowl took place in Detroit.
That year, the Rolling Stones played the halftime show. Her brother, who was CEO for Miller/Coors beer at the time, got tickets for Kiely and her mom. They were seated behind the actors from ABC’s “Desperate Housewives” and attended events with Lionel Richie and Kid Rock, who were part of the entertainment and were milling around with the crowd.
“It is such entertainment,” said Kiely, who despite hailing from Massachusetts is a Falcons fan and season ticket holder. She purchased early bird tickets for Super Bowl LIII that are close to the field and in the end zone but is now hoping to sell them. “I was thinking it would be easy, but I’ve never sold anything in my life,” Kiely said.
After the championship games resulted in a matchup between the Rams and Patriots, Kiely might find it even more challenging to find a buyer. The Rams, a team that only returned to Los Angeles in 2016 and has shared a city with the Chargers since 2017, is still searching for a fan base. Patriots fans, now on their fifth Super Bowl in a decade, may be experiencing fatigue.
But some Atlanta-based fans have a personal interest in the game, and that alone makes it worth attending, they said. Chris Ashkouti, 32, a former Marist classmate of Rams head coach Sean McVay, said the game has created a huge buzz in their community and throughout the metro area.
“The main reason I am going is because Sean is coaching in the game,” said Ashkouti, who has never attended a Super Bowl. Ashkouti, whose family is in the real estate business, said he will attend with his immediate family. It’s expensive, but for him and his family, it is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, he said.
“Tickets are not cheap by any means. I think it is tough, but on the flip side … this is the second-biggest sporting event in the world after the World Cup. If you are a sports fan, it is on your bucket list,” he said. “It is tough, but I don’t think it is ever going to change.”
Skyhook, a company that uses a location network to access anonymous user behavior from mobile devices, analyzed the crowd at last year’s Super Bowl and learned that about 35 percent of attendees in Minneapolis had an annual household income of over $100,000. About 20 percent had an annual household income of $60,000 to $100,000.
Super Bowl LII attendees tended to be older, 30 percent were between ages 45 and 65, and almost half, 47 percent, held a bachelor’s or graduate degree.
Most game attendees stayed at hotels such as Starwood Hotels, Hilton Hotels and Marriott.
Already word has spread in metro Atlanta about hotels prepping for a weekend of high-income guests by beefing up security and creating personalized and curated experiences.
While there are many free and low-cost events surrounding the big game, there are also plenty that require an outlay of hundreds to thousands of dollars to attend. At Maxim’s annual Super Bowl Party, where the guest list is as likely to be as high-profile as the onstage entertainment, ticket prices start at $750.
There is no end to the lavish events, including one company touting a Million Dollar Condo experience that features 10 days of customized Super Bowl events curated by a team of hospitality experts. It comes complete with a Ducati Scrambler Classic motorcycle, two GTS Vespas and four tickets to the game along with every possible opportunity to indulge in fine dining, drinking and partying all for $999,999.
Former NFL players have compared the Super Bowl to a big reunion. Fans lucky enough to attend describe it as a huge party filled with nonstop celebrity sightings and entertainment. But for everyone else, even those who live in the host city, it is the big game they are most likely to watch on television.
WHO IS BUYING TICKETS?
According to data from Ticketmaster, the official marketplace of the NFL, 27.2 percent of tickets were purchased by NFL fans living in the South (Louisiana, Florida, Georgia, Arkansas, etc.) with Florida residents dominating sales as of Jan. 23. California fans accounted for 15.4 percent of total ticket purchases, and 8.4 percent of tickets had been purchased by residents of Massachusetts. Fans based in Arizona and Mexico accounted for an additional 7 percent of Super Bowl LIII ticket sales.
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