Super February offers tickets galore for sports fans

By Ben Klayman

CHICAGO (Reuters) - February is a crowded month for U.S. sports fans as prices for top events like the NFL's Super Bowl have remained relatively flat overall this year and the number of available tickets has soared.

With such other top attractions as NASCAR's Daytona 500, the Vancouver Olympics and the National Basketball Association all-star game, the sluggish economy is creating lower ticket prices than usual and also driving more deals, top executives in the secondary ticket market said.

"2008 was an extraordinary high water mark for prices for these events and then in 2009 things came down considerably and that downward pressure remains on price pretty much across the board," RazorGator.com Chief Executive Brendan Ross said.

Many secondary market websites report prices ranging from down slightly to up the same amount depending on the event. Meanwhile, ticket volume is soaring, all sites report.

"All of a sudden, going to great events is within the reach of the regular fan," said Mike Janes, CEO of FanSnap, a live event ticket search engine.

Any discussion of February starts with the National Football League's Super Bowl championship, which will be played Sunday in Miami between the Indianapolis Colts and New Orleans Saints.

Janes said his company sees 7,000 tickets available on 23 different websites at an average price of $2,500, up about 10 percent from last year. Meanwhile, the number of searches for Super Bowl tickets has more than doubled from last year.

At industry leader StubHub, a unit of eBay Inc, average ticket prices are up slightly at just under $2,600.

The small increase is a big improvement for StubHub from last year's 40 percent decline and still better than the company's overall average ticket price decline this year of 4 percent.

"There will always be a dedicated fan base that will want to go see the events, but the size of that fan base and how much they're willing to spend will vary depending on the economy," StubHub President Chris Tsakalakis said. "I don't think there's anything that's 100 percent recession-proof."

SUPER DUD

Not everyone is happy, however. Ticket Network CEO Don Vaccaro said prices on his site are off about 7 percent at an average of $2,115. He bemoans the "dud matchup" in this year's big game as the New York Jets would have meant the inclusion of the largest U.S. market.

"If it was the (Minnesota) Vikings-Jets, it would be huge," he said. "That's not the case with these two teams. It seems very much a lackluster Bowl."

RazorGator said its average price for Super Bowl tickets is similar to last year, while volume is almost double.

Prices for the Daytona 500 race, dubbed the Super Bowl of NASCAR, and the NBA all-star game -- both set for February 14 -- are off due to the large number of seats available, executives said. FanSnap said Daytona prices are off 10 percent, while executives said the NBA's move to a football stadium from a smaller NBA arena last year was bound to depress prices.

Prices for the Olympic Games, which begin February 12, vary depending on the events, with the hottest tickets for the opening and closing ceremonies, as well as the gold medal hockey game, ice skating and speed skating, executives said.

With corporate spending still below previous levels, more pain is likely, Vaccaro said. "Even with the economy coming back, we still haven't seen the bottom of ticket prices for entertainment events yet."

Ross is more optimistic, saying things cannot be worse than last year. "2009 was a pretty depressing year to be in the business of hard-to-get tickets because they weren't hard enough to get."

(Reporting by Ben Klayman, editing by Matthew Lewis)