Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Tice admitted last week that he sold Super Bowl tickets for profit this year. Tice, who made $750,000 last year, apologized and promised to change his ways. The NFL said it was investigating and that commissioner Paul Tagliabue might discipline the coach. But the news did not exactly shock the ticket underground, where brokers and street scalpers have known for years that Tice, who also acknowledged that he scalped as a Minnesota assistant in the 1990s, brazenly eats from the trough of ticket profits. "If you were involved in the ticket business," one longtime broker told SI, "you knew that Mike Tice was a ticket scalper who didn't have any discretion."
The Tice Affair, exposed on SI.com last week by Don Banks and George Dohrmann, pulled back the curtain on a thriving--and in some states illegal--business that is as much a part of the Super Bowl as overblown halftime shows and as much a part of the Final Four as Billy Packer. These are among the toughest tickets in American sports. While a large portion of tickets for the World Series and the NBA Finals are gobbled up by season-ticket holders, many of the best Super Bowl and Final Four seats are controlled by insiders (NFL coaches and players and NCAA coaches) with little desire to attend the games.
For Super Bowl XXXIX the NFL made only 1,000 tickets available to the public. The remaining 76,000 were distributed by the league or the local organizing committee. Players and coaches from the Super Bowl teams could purchase 15 tickets each, and players from nonparticipating teams were offered the chance to buy two each, all at face value. Coaches and assistants from non--Super Bowl teams can buy tickets as well.
Players' and coaches' tickets are the most consistent source for brokers. One broker told SI, "The [guys] who aren't in the game almost never go, and the ones in the Super Bowl never use all their seats." Brokers told SI that $500 and $600 Super Bowl XXXIX tickets were selling for $3,000 to $4,000--meaning a member of a Super Bowl team who sold 10 of his tickets could make $20,000.
For the Final Four, the National Association of Basketball Coaches gets more than 3,000 tickets from the NCAA for its membership. Many Division I coaches receive two tickets (good for all three games) at face value (up to $170), but almost every NABC coach, down to the lowest Division III assistant, has the chance to buy one. The tickets are distributed at the NABC convention, held in conjunction with the Final Four, and the coaches' hotels swarm with brokers and hustlers. Many coaches sell tickets through intermediaries. "It's important to them to be anonymous, and it's important to us to have their business," says a broker. Those tickets are worth from $1,300 to $4,000 on the open market.
Jim Haney, executive director of the NABC, says, "It's a problem. The coaches are given something very valuable, and some do scalp their tickets. We've told our members that scalping could result in losing their ticket privileges for five years. But in reality it's a very hard thing to control."
According to Haney about 100 coaches have had their tickets rescinded by the NCAA over the last eight years. In the weeks before Super Bowl XXXIX the NFL faxed a letter to Gary Adler, general counsel for the National Association of Ticket Brokers, asking him to remind the membership of the NATB that NFL players and coaches are forbidden from scalping their Super Bowl tickets. Sources in the ticket industry said this letter was sent after two ticket brokers flooded NFL teams with mailings, soliciting their Super Bowl tickets, a practice the NFL apparently felt lacked the decorum of the old system. But if the NFL and the NCAA are serious about halting the scalping, they need to stop putting valuable tickets in the hands of people who have no intention of using them.