Shutdown of major sports hasn't stopped fans from scouring online ticket markets

Online brokers say tickets are still in demand for major college football games this fall. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Online brokers say tickets are still in demand for major college football games this fall. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Even as the sports world remains on an indefinite pause, that apparently hasn’t stopped fans from dreaming of better times when thousands of people can pack into a stadium and scream for their favorite team. That’s especially true for college football fans, who are apparently making plans for the fall.

Major online ticket brokers say people are still buying tickets for the most high-profile games this fall despite the coronavirus outbreak causing a near complete shutdown of the sports world.

College football tickets on SeatGeek sold for an average price of $240 in the past month, which is up from $174 from the same time a year ago, according to SeatGeek communications manager Chris Leyden.

The biggest demand is being seen for some of the sport’s name-brand programs: Notre Dame, Alabama and LSU, all of which have either home games or neutral-site matchups scheduled early in the season against other top-notch programs.

There are also a few notable outliers, like Army, which is bringing in plenty of ticket sales for its highly anticipated Sept. 26 home game against Oklahoma.

It’s not to say the sport has been immune to the effects of the coronavirus. While the big matchups are getting some action, demand for tickets on SeatGeek is down roughly 75 percent year-over-year across college football.

“Those marquee games are still selling pretty well,” Leyden said. “More the drop is coming to almost what I would describe as secondary games for [teams]. People are still buying tickets at a good clip for the hot matchups and those more destination games.”

Fellow online ticket giant StubHub reported similar activity, saying some of its top-selling events right now include two college football games: Texas at LSU on Sept. 12 and Alabama at LSU on Nov. 7.

BATON ROUGE, LA - NOVEMBER 03: Alabama Crimson Tide fans cheer from the stands during a game between the LSU Tigers and Alabama Crimson Tide on November 3, 2018 at Tiger Stadium, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. (Photo by John Korduner/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

All this comes with the caveat that all these tickets could become meaningless in a few months if football season is delayed, canceled or played without fans. In these uncertain times, any scenario is possible.

“You can have 10 contingency plans but until you know which one of those is going to happen it’s very hard to predict,” Leyden said.

Both ticket retailers have already issued refunds for events that were called off, including the entirety of the NCAA basketball tournament. For the NBA, NHL and MLB, everything is in flux with their seasons on hold. It remains to be seen what kind of demand the NFL will draw when this season’s schedule is announced in May.

Tickets can still be purchased for certain NBA and NHL games, but it’s a risky venture to reserve a seat for a game whose date and status are “TBD.”

Both SeatGeek and Stubhub say sales are mostly coming for events scheduled for July or later.

“Overall, StubHub has seen fan demand shift to later in the year,” a company spokesperson said. “Demand for MLB games is concentrated in the July timeframe and demand for concerts concentrated in the September timeframe.”

One major event in July that appears relatively unaffected by the coronavirus shutdown is the MLB All-Star Game, set for July 14 in Los Angeles.

While it’s uncertain if the All-Star Game will take place, resell prices are listed at upward of $500 for a minimum ticket on both sites.

People appear to be buying tickets with at least the hope sports have resumed by then. And for certain events, those who are bold enough to snatch up seats now may be doing so at a bargain basement price.

While the MLB All-Star Game is an exception to the rule, list prices are significantly down across sports. And Leyden said he expects demand to spike significantly once the coronavirus begins to clear up and sports fans are hungry to get out of the house for a ballgame.

“There is definitely some drop and there’s an argument that now is a good time to buy,” he said.

One example is the Masters, which was originally scheduled for this week before officially being rescheduled for November.

Prior to its postponement, the ticket market for golf’s most prestigious event was extremely depressed while the pandemic took hold of the nation. Those who secured the unusually cheap tickets are now in business as those will be honored for newly scheduled dates.

“You probably got some of the cheapest Masters tickets you ever could have had,” Leyden said.

Some savvy shoppers might hope the same buy-low effect happens with football tickets in the fall while assuming very little risk because they’ll likely get refunds if games are canceled.

There’s no guarantee we’ll even see any football games this year. Yet, even with all the uncertainty, it’s clear not even a pandemic can dampen the powerful allure of a live sporting event.

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