Monday, February 3, 2014

Seattle Seahawks 43 vs Denver Broncos 8 (Super Bowl XLVIII) - February 2, 2014


My NFL Road Trip is now officially over. The last game was fittingly the Super Bowl, which turned out to be rather anticlimactic as a contest but still a great experience for a fan. No need to talk about the stadium or the game here, but I will describe the process in getting a ticket as well as the day itself, in the event any of you are considering a future trip yourself.

Finding a Real Ticket

The NFL issues all the tickets for the Super Bowl, with the participating teams getting 35%, the Jets and Giants splitting 6%, the other 28 teams taking 33.6%, while a quarter are reserved for NFL sponsors and other hangers-on. Add up those numbers to get 99.6%, leaving 0.4% for the general public. This is all laid out in an article about a fan suing the NFL for the high price of tickets. Frankly, I don't think a single ticket is sold to the public through traditional means. The attendance at the game was 82,529; 0.4% of that is 330. I don't believe that 330 tickets were told on TicketMaster at face value, but I could be wrong. Speaking of face value, there were, as far as I can tell, 3 pricing levels: $800 for the upper deck, $1500 for the lower bowl, and $2500 for the club seats. I have read about $500 seats, including in that NY Times article linked above, but have seen no visual evidence of this. All pictures of upper deck seats that I saw posted showed a face value of $800.

Before the teams were set, prices on StubHub were about $2,500 for upper deck seats with the row TBD. This was far more than I was willing to pay - I had pegged my limit at $1,500 and was expecting to get a seat in the high upper deck if prices came down to that level. Even after Championship Sunday, prices stayed high for a few days, but slowly dropped for a couple of reasons. First, at that time the forecast was for chilly temperatures on Super Bowl Sunday. The more important reason though is that season-ticket holders in both Denver and Seattle had been awarded tickets through the lottery and this "flooded" the market. I use the term "flooded" loosely because, according to Darren Rovell of ESPN, only 20% of tickets are made available on the secondary market (read point 7 in that link, which is admittedly quite old, given that it is on ESPN's Page 2).

Many lottery winners in Denver and Seattle did not want to pony up for flights and hotels in New York and chose to sell their tickets on StubHub, Craigslist, or NFL Ticket Exchange to make a bit of cash. Once they had their tickets in hand, there were far more options for us buyers and the market nearly crashed (again a loose version of the word). Upper bowl seats dropped to $1,500 and this was essentially the floor the rest of the way. There were cheaper offers on occasion, but many of these were too good to be true and turned out to be scams, such as people offering two lower deck seats for $600 total. Sure.

Once the market had stabilized, I spent much of the next few days in front of my computer, checking prices on StubHub as well as the Craigslist sites in Denver, Seattle, and New York. This constant monitoring paid off on Tuesday evening, when I found a person in Denver with an extra pair at a relatively low price, less than my maximum budget. The tickets were in row 7 of section 329. Coincidentally, this was just two rows behind where I sat for the Jets/Patriots game back in October, so I knew that we would be in the third row of the section. Considering that seats 15-20 rows further back were going for $1,500 and up, this seemed too good to be true. Still, with the forecast changing for the better and prices starting to rise, I contacted the guy by email.  He told me he had a few offers and would let me know the next day. I tried to help my case by telling him about my trip, thus ensuring he knew that I was not a broker, and on Wednesday morning, he said the tickets were mine.

I called to confirm everything and discovered that he actually lived in Washington D.C. but had posted on the Denver site to attract more buyers. As I had not paid him yet, my concerns about this being a scam were alleviated. The guy even offered to drive me to the game as he had also purchased a parking pass and would be driving up from Washington, so it was fairly obvious he was just another fan. We agreed to meet at his hotel in New Jersey for the exchange, leaving me with one problem: I now had an extra Super Bowl ticket.

I immediately placed my own ad on Craigslist offering a ticket I did not have in hand for $400 more than I had paid, and received one reply from a broker. When I phoned him, he told me the best he could offer was $200 less than I had paid as there were "18,000 tickets floating around". I began to worry; had I entered the market too early? I only received one other reply to my ad, from a fan, who was willing to pay $300 more than I had paid. Before I could negotiate the logistics though, I met a friend, Andrew, a fellow sports road tripper who was visiting New York for the NHL Stadium Series that day. He told me he would take the other ticket off my hands for the same price I paid. This would save me a lot of hassle and it would be much better to attend the game with a buddy, so I agreed. Problem solved.

As it turned out, I had entered the market at the right time. The weather forecast turned relatively rosy and tickets started to rise in price as a result. I never saw another ticket for less than what I had paid (obvious scams excluded) and given that I was able to miss the mass transit debacle, it couldn't have transpired any better.

Getting to the Game

My seller was staying at a hotel in Paramus, about an hour from Manhattan by NJ Transit bus, while Andrew was driving up from Philadelphia. I arranged for Andrew to meet me at a mall near the hotel and drive us to the hotel together. This worked without a hitch and we arrived at the hotel at about 2:30. The exchange was made and I finally had the ticket in my hand. I would be going to the Super Bowl.



Expecting heavy traffic, we left the hotel immediately and made our way to the stadium. As we got closer, the traffic did not pick up at all. The parking pass was for lot J2 and after clearing the security perimeter, which involved a cop making sure we had game tickets, we drove unimpeded into the parking lot, which was nearly empty. Most of the other cars there were limos and their drivers, not permitted to leave until after the game, wandered around completely bored.



This lot was next to J1, which was reserved for charter buses. Just three hours before the game and few of them had arrived either. I had a couple of beers with everybody while we marvelled at the ease of our entry. Was this really the Super Bowl?

It turns out that the extended security perimeter eliminated about 16,000 parking spots from the usual total of 29,000. Assuming 2 passengers per car, it meant that about 32,000 fans more than normal would be taking some form of transit. One of those was another friend, Eddie, who texted me about the situation in Secaucus Junction. The NFL had expected more fans to arrive by charter bus, but the majority chose the train. There is only one way to get to Meadowlands by train, and that involves a transfer at Secaucus. The system was not designed for that many people and with security also being performed there, a bottleneck developed with people literally unable to move. Eddie told me of fans collapsing in the heat in the midst of a two-hour wait to get on the train. I had been incredibly fortunate to avoid that nightmare. When Eddie finally arrived, he told me that security was taking about an hour at the gates, so I left my group a few minutes early to deal with it as I wanted a chance to tour the stadium if possible.



Unlike a typical NFL game, the security cordon was set up some distance from the stadium itself. There were six pavilions around the perimeter which functioned as a funnel. Thousands of fans stood outside and were slowly allowed in, going from 16 lanes to 8 to 4 to 2 to 1. Everyone was well behaved, even the gentleman in front of me, whose hairstyle was the most dangerous thing I had seen all day. At the front of the line, one security officer directed fans to a screening line, kind of like at an airport. A metal detector and wand check was all that was required and then my ticket was scanned successfully. Yes! I was in the Super Bowl! Small packets of M&Ms were being handed out (the only food I would eat at the game as prices were more exorbitant than usual) and then I walked the last 200 meters or so to the actual stadium entrance.



My plan to tour the stadium was quickly dashed as the concourse was incredibly crowded, as you can see above. Instead I hurried to my seat to soak up the atmosphere. That's the view I had below.



Atmosphere

Although there were plenty of Bronco and Seahawk fans, the overall atmosphere was quite muted as many in attendance are not really football followers at all, but those who have connections with the league and go just to say they have been there. Many of the people around me seemed like they had never been to a football game before. There was one hardcore Bronco supporter sitting at the rail in front of me, but otherwise there was little drinking or cheering in my immediate vicinity. If I had to compare, it really reminded me of a regular season game between a couple of ho-hum teams with no playoff aspirations. There was an announcer welcoming everyone to the game and trying to get the fans to make some noise, but only the Seahawk 12s made an unprompted cheer when their team emerged on the field before the game.



The teams warmed up as usual, with far more cameras on the field the only noticeable difference. I really never got the impression that I was about to witness the biggest sporting event in the nation. Peyton Manning looked serious though.



Both cheerleader groups appeared, their costumes a testament to how warm it was.





The Game

I'm not going to recap this one, but I do have a few pictures. Below is the opening kickoff, the only play to begin and end with the game tied.



Russell Wilson played well, but the Denver defense never really threatened him.



Peyton Manning set a Super Bowl record for completions and Demaryius Thomas is now the holder of the record for receptions, mostly during garbage time, i.e. the second half.



Unlike many fans, I stayed until the end.



Halftime

There was a 30 minute halftime during which Bruno Mars performed along with the Red Hot Chili Peppers, who did not actually play their instruments. Sitting so far away, I didn't really feel like I was part of the show, even though all fans were given a toque with lights that were controlled remotely. It was an interesting effect as the lights switched from white to blue to red section by section, but it didn't add to the actual performance. As you can see in the pictures, there were beams of light and fireworks too!





I'll admit it looked cool, but I was rather detached as the game had been so one-sided. I spent most of halftime lying to myself, saying the Broncos still had a chance. Of course, 12 seconds after the game restarted it was all over.

Postgame



With the game decided, many fans began to leave midway through the third quarter. What surprised me was that some of them were wearing Seahawks' gear. To me, the highlight of sports fandom is having your team win a championship and you cannot pass up the chance to see the trophy awarded. The happiest days of my life were in 1992 and 1993 (Blue Jays if you don't already know). Don't worry, my wife never reads this, so I can make statements such as this without worry.



Anyway, I stayed and watched as the confetti flew over the field and they presented Pete Carroll with the Lombardi trophy. This is really a made-for-TV moment, again sitting so far away makes it seem like you are not even there. When the Stanley Cup is presented it is paraded around the ice by all the players and nothing will ever top seeing that live. Unless I see the Maple Leafs do it.



Can you see the trophy in the photo above? Football stadiums are just too big for meaningful celebrations. Maybe those fans that left early had it right after all.

Getting Home

With the festivities over, we made our way back to the parking lot. As we walked down the ramp, we noticed thousands of fans trying to get on the train.



Andrew and I got a ride back to Paramus with the seller and Eddie joined us, happy to avoid the situation depicted above. We were on the highway within 5 minutes of starting the car and at the hotel around 11. Andrew dropped Eddie and me off at Newark where we took the PATH train back to Manhattan and switched to the subway. I finally arrived home around 1 a.m., tired but happy to have seen the big game. This was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience, I doubt I'll ever go again. It was an incredible bit of luck for me to be have moved to the city where the game was held. If you happen to live in Phoenix (2014), Santa Clara (2015), or Houston (2016), I would suggest planning to attend that game. Avoiding the costs associated with travel make it quite an affordable experience after all.

Advice

First, I firmly believe that if you are an NFL fan, you should attend one Super Bowl in your lifetime. Since you are unlikely to be living in one of the cities where it is being held, here are a few pieces of advice. If money is an issue, take $2 a day for 3 years and put it aside as your ticket fund; you should be able to get in for less as I did. Splurge on the parking pass and book hotels outside the city. In many cases, hotels just a few miles away from the stadium can be booked for not unreasonable prices if you are a good shopper. Save up points with a loyalty program if you can, many chains do not raise point levels during big events. Flights generally do not rise in price for the Super Bowl, at least from what I noticed over the past couple of weeks. Of course, much depends on the matchup. Denver and Seattle are about as far from NYC as you could get for these playoffs and that drove prices down somewhat. If it was New England vs Philadelphia, the situation would have been completely different. Good luck!

Notes

For the 36 games I saw on this trip, I spent about $3600 on tickets. Not a bad average when you include the Super Bowl.

There were 267 NFL games played this year and I saw 13.4% of them. I am sure that such a statistic is nearly impossible in the other sports. You would have to see 328 MLB games in the 6-month regular season, which isn’t going to happen. In the NHL and NBA, you would have to attend 166 games during the season, which are about 170 days long and thus not inconceivable, but it is unlikely to be accomplished. It might be a bit easier with the playoffs but even then you would have to see a game every day of the playoffs. That’s not going to be cheap. So at the end of this trip, that is my claim to fame. Nobody has seen a greater percentage of games in a Big 4 sports league season than I have. Number of people who will be impressed with that statistic: 0.

I have now witnessed each of the Big 4 championships. In 1995 I was at the Meadowlands to see the Devils win over the Red Wings; 2001 saw my MLB Road Trip finish in Arizona with Game 7, I happened to be in Miami when LeBron James took his first title in 2012, and now the Super Bowl, back at the Meadowlands. I also attended the World Cup Final in 2002 (won by Brazil) and the 1998 Nagano Olympic gold medal hockey game (won by the Czech Republic). All that's left now is the Grey Cup, being played in 2014 in my old stomping ground of Vancouver. Hmmm, CFL Road Trip anyone?

Next Up

My road trips are going to be short and boring from now on. I pretty much blew all the points I had built up with the wife on the NFL trip, so I'll be hanging close to home for the most part. That won't stop me from writing boring posts on occasion, so please keep checking back and if you are ever on your own sports road trip in the northeast, drop me a line. Thanks for following along!

Best,

Sean

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