BCS Championship tries end run around scalpers

A view of the Sun Life Stadium ahead of the Discover BCS National Championship on January 5, 2013 in Miami Gardens, Florida.

Tonight’s BCS Championship game between college football’s top contenders, Notre Dame (12-0) and Alabama (12-1), will be hard to get to see live at Sun Life Stadium in Miami — at least if you don’t already have a ticket. Over the weekend, good seats at the 30-yardline were selling for upwards of $2,000 from an online broker. Or, you could pay a scalper — whatever he or she asked on the sly outside the stadium.

But earlier in the season, there were some options — futures options — to get to the game in person.

Here’s how it worked: You could go the BCS/Orange Bowl website and purchase an option to buy a ticket later, at face value, decent seats cost a few hundred dollars. But you'd only get to buy the tickets if your team made the championship in January. The service — also available this year for the Rose Bowl — was provided by TeamTix in collaboration with the travel website Orbitz.

Russ Calkins, who is a University of Oregon Ducks (12-1) fan, checked out the service in November. At that point, the Ducks looked like they had a decent shot at the BCS Championship, and Ducks options were going for around $200 per ticket.

“So I would pay them $200 for the potential to buy a $500 ticket a month in the future,” Calkins explains.

His total outlay would have been $700 — better than paying a couple thousand dollars per ticket later, if he waited until the end of the season to purchase from a ticket agency online, once he knew if his team had made the game.

“Honestly, when I looked at the [TeamTix] market, it felt like gambling,” says Calkins. It wasn’t a gamble he was willing to take on his beloved Ducks. They didn’t make the BCS Championship in the end, and he’d have lost his $200 bet if he’d purchased an option on them in the fall.

It’s worth noting, though, that because this is a futures market with an associated secondary market in team-specific ticket options, Calkins could have mitigated his loss if he’d been able to resell his Ducks option to someone on the TeamTix site who was willing to purchase it later in the season at a discount.

This market isn’t much of a financial gamble for game organizers, says Kenneth Shropshire, a sports-law expert at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.

“Here’s another source of revenue for them, allowing them to take up some of the space of scalpers and ticket agencies,” Shropshire says.

And, to look at the ticket prices agencies and scalpers can command in the days before a bowl game, they’re doing very nicely for themselves.

About the author

Mitchell Hartman is the senior reporter for Marketplace’s Entrepreneurship Desk and also covers employment.

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