St. Petersburg Times Online: Sports

Weather | Sports | Forums | Comics | Classifieds | Calendar | Movies

They have arrived

Thinking of trying to join the team for the big game in San Diego? The real deal won't come cheap.

By CHRIS TISCH, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 21, 2003

With the Bucs' NFC Championship in hand, Keith Newman logged onto his computer.

He booked a beachfront hotel in San Diego for $300 per night. Flights to San Diego were $1,100, so he booked one to Los Angeles for $500.

Newman then placed an ad in the St. Petersburg Times classifieds offering $1,800 cash, or season tickets for next year, for a pair of Super Bowl tickets.

On Monday, a man called and offered his championship tickets in exchange for four season tickets next year. Newman, of St. Pete Beach, took a limousine to Tampa to buy the tickets, which sold for $400 each.

The total cost of Newman's Super Bowl trip will run well north of $3,000. But his shrewdly brokered deal netted him something any Bucs fan heading to San Diego would covet: The security of knowing the tickets are genuine and the accommodations are set.

That hasn't been the case for some football fans with travel plans to big games.

"Somebody is always trying to make a buck on somebody's back," said Lloyd Miller, a Winter Park travel agent. "Especially Tampa Bay fans who have had 20 years of nothing and now this."

Just ask the thousands of University of Wisconsin fans who flew to California in 1994 for the Rose Bowl, only to learn when they arrived that their travel packages did not include game tickets.

Or the hundreds of New England Patriots fans who had to watch the 1997 Super Bowl from Bourbon Street bars. Game tickets thought to be included in travel packages to New Orleans were never provided.

"You have to read the fine print," said Edith Salter, leisure manager for Bowen Travel in Tampa.

Beware those packages that offer hotels close to the stadium, vouchers for public transportation to the game and commemorative game programs.

Though the inclusion of game tickets may be implied, they may be absent from the package.

A good indicator? The price.

Bowen Travel on Monday received several package deals from brokers. What looks to be a nice five-day package runs only $1,695 per person. But there are no tickets included.

To get a seat to the big game, a Bucs fan probably would need to shell out anywhere from $1,300 to $3,200 per ticket in San Diego, Miller said. Tickets, which have a face value of $400 and $500, have gone for up to $5,000 in previous Super Bowls.

Although some ticket brokers are unreliable at best, most are honest, said Dave Hjalmquist, operations manager for Event USA in Green Bay, Wis., which has planned trips for two Packer Super Bowls, one in San Diego.

Sometimes, eager fans skim over important passages in trip materials.

"Sometimes, it's not the tour operator trying to scam the public, it's the public that's making assumptions about the tour," Hjalmquist said.

Still, the U.S. Department of Transportation issued a consumer alert Jan. 6 urging fans to ensure tickets are included in packages.

If a ticket is not mentioned in an advertisement, it probably isn't included in the package, the warning states. Tour operators are required to have tickets in hand or have a written contract for the tickets before they advertise them.

Although it would be good to have game tickets in hand before leaving for San Diego, travel agents said that would be difficult to accomplish with only a week between conference championships and the Super Bowl.

In lieu of tickets, fans could ask for vouchers, said Miller, president of the central and north Florida chapters of the American Society of Travel Agents.

The league disperses 171/2 percent of the tickets to each team in the game, along with a percentage to each team in the league. Those tickets usually are sold in a lottery to season ticket holders. The host team and the league itself also get a share of the tickets.

Salter said the packages that include tickets were running at about $3,000 Monday, though some were as high as $4,000. And Salter said those game tickets appeared to be in the end zone. Other agents said packages with terrific game seats were running as high as $5,900.

Florida law forbids selling tickets for more than $1 over the cover price, unless a trip or other arrangements are part of the deal. Then the price can change to wherever the market takes it.

Salter said her office received about 20 calls from Bucs fans by Monday afternoon.

"Most of the people have not taken them. Too much money," she said. "The average Joe, no. Once you quote them, they're like, "Okay, thank you."'

The National Football League will be watching out for fake ticket stubs, which officials say are hard to duplicate because of a special hologram and a number of other anticounterfeit measures.

"Counterfeit tickets were a bigger problem years ago," Hjalmquist said. "The NFL has made it very hard to counterfeit the tickets. They're probably as difficult to counterfeit as a $100 bill."

Salter and Miller said working though a travel agent is the best way to get tickets or packages. They can ensure that ticket brokers, who buy blocks of tickets months in advance of the big game, are reputable.

Auction sites like eBay also are an alternative. About 650 sets of Super Bowl tickets have been sold on the site in the last month, said Kevin Pursglove, a company spokesman.

He said there will be brisk ticket business on the site all week.

"They'll find everything from a single ticket at face value to a package that may have been put together by travel agents," Pursglove said.

More than a dozen buyers on that site were tricked before the Fiesta Bowl when they paid for tickets that they never received. The seller in that case collected the money first, then set up a rendezvous at a diner near the stadium with the buyers. He never showed.

Pursglove said the deal should have struck buyers as suspicious. He said buyers should check feedback forms on sellers and use credit cards to buy tickets.

Of course, there is one other option.

"I would rather sit home, drink beer and watch it on television," Miller said. "The camera works a lot better than my eyes."

Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Chris Tisch can be reached at 445-4156 or .

© Copyright, St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved.