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Why there might not be any last-minute bargains for Super Bowl tickets

Super Bowl tickets
David J. Phillip | AP

Fans have saved millions of dollars in the past by waiting until the last minute to buy Super Bowl tickets and it's a strategy that has worked because brokers and fans would rather get something than nothing for their tickets. But there are new marketplace dynamics at play this year and it appears as if that last-minute strategy may not work.

In those first 24 hours after the championship games were played, determining that Super Bowl LI would be between the New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons, ticket prices hit an all-time high, with an average listing price close to $6,000.

A week later, prices are down to an average $4,643. In historical context, that's the third most expensive average listing price that we've tracked in eight years.


"According to Priceline.com, flights from Atlanta and Boston are both averaging close to $700. That would make the cheapest all-in cost for a Super Bowl weekend close to $3,000. Most fans will pay closer to $5,000, which will be a lot more than previous years with low demand match-ups."

Demand, however, is historically weak, according to industry analysts. Between Patriots Super Bowl fatigue and the Falcons' relatively small fan base, it stands to reason that prices should be lower and in line with other "low-demand" Super Bowls, where prices have touched $1,000 on game day. Given the disconnect between demand and prices this year, ticket buyers and market observer are all asking the same question: Where will prices go from here?

The foundation of any commodities marketplace is supply and demand, and the ticket market is no different. When Derek Jeter announced that he'd be retiring at the end of the 2014 season, prices for his final game immediately skyrocketed because of increased demand. When Tom Brady was suspended following Deflategate, prices for the Patriots first four games dropped.

For this year's Super Bowl, however, demand seems to have taken a back burner as a regulator of price. The NFL and OnLocation, the league's official hospitality partner, are keeping a much tighter control on inventory in order to avoid the kinds of market blow-ups that have happened in past years. The issue is that no one knows how many tickets are actually available for sale. (We track the data in the TicketIQ dashboard and Alexa skill in real time but no one knows in advance.)

The morning after championship Sunday, just over 1,200 tickets were available for sale, which was the lowest quantity available two weeks from the game, by 67 percent. As Darren Rovell wrote in ESPN a week ago, new supply chain dynamics accounted for the lower inventory and higher prices. Since then, quantity has more than doubled, but prices have held, and even inched up. This again seems to defy the basic rules of ticket-market economics that consumers have been trained on over the last 25 years.

The lowest day-of prices we've tracked in eight years of monitoring the market was $1,062 in 2013 for the San Francisco 49ers vs. the Baltimore Ravens. It's likely that prices will not get anywhere close to that number, which means fans looking to see the "Big Game" will have to pay up.

According to Priceline.com, flights from Atlanta and Boston are both averaging close to $700. That would make the cheapest all-in cost for a Super Bowl weekend close to $3,000. Most fans will pay closer to $5,000, which will be a lot more than previous years with low demand match-ups.

For ultra-high demand events like the Super Bowl, this may be the new reality. Festivals have long used this approach of actually raising ticket prices as the event gets closer, and in foreign markets like Italy, fans that wait have to pay more, not less.

If this approach works for the biggest event on earth, we may see other teams and events here adopt the same playbook. For fans, that would require a new way of thinking about the ticket market that could mean demand is no longer the most important driver of price.


Commentary by Jesse Lawrence, the founder and CEO of TicketIQ. Follow the company on Twitter @Ticket_IQ.

For more insight from CNBC contributors, follow @CNBCopinion on Twitter.