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Rose Bowl: Granddaddy of All Tickets

Times Staff Writer

For about $3,500, a Texas resident could pay a year’s tuition at the University of Texas at Austin -- or buy a Rose Bowl ticket.

Seats have sold for more than $3,000, and at least one online marketplace has been asking as much as $6,900 for a spot in a private suite at Wednesday’s national championship game between Texas and USC.

Many seem undaunted by the prices.

“I’ve waited 42 years for this,” said Ted Burton, an Austin public relations executive.

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Burton said he was too young to attend or appreciate Texas’ last national championship, which was in 1970 when he was 7.

What price glory? In early December, Burton paid $1,450 for two tickets. For a few weeks, he said, he was nervous that he might have overpaid, but now has no regrets.

“Five years from now, am I going to look back and think I wasted $1,500, or am I going to thank God I was at the game?” he asked. “It’ll be worth it.”

The face value of the 89,000 Rose Bowl tickets is $175 apiece, no matter where the seats are. But that price is now meaningless in the scramble for seats.

Even lower-end Rose Bowl tickets are selling for more than $900 each. By contrast, seats at last year’s national championship game between USC and Oklahoma at the Orange Bowl were available for about $200, said Kenneth Dotson, chief marketing officer for online marketplace TicketsNow.

The average asking price for Rose Bowl tickets on his site Thursday, Dotson said, was about $1,250. The next highest-priced bowl tickets were for the Fiesta Bowl, averaging $390.

A rare convergence of history, geography and timing has pumped demand.

“You really have a unique set of circumstances,” said professor David M. Carter, executive director of USC’s Sports Business Institute, which studies such issues.

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“The three Heisman finalists are in the game, USC is seeking its third national title, Texas is wanting to see if its storied program can come back and win it, and you have a shortened supply of tickets. All of these elements make it a must-see game.”

Jim Boon, executive director of the University of Texas alumni association, estimated that “at least 22,000" Texas alumni will travel to California for the game, which as an alumni event “might be the biggest thing in a decade.” In addition to the Longhorns traveling from Texas, the university has about 6,000 alumni in the Los Angeles area, one of the largest concentrations outside Texas, Boon said.

Dotson of TicketsNow said that along with eager Texas alumni, demand was spiked by the unusual circumstance of No. 1 USC playing for the national championship in the Los Angeles area.

Early this month, only 1,000 Rose Bowl tickets were offered for sale to the general public, far fewer than in previous years when the Rose Bowl was not a championship game. Those tickets were snatched up in minutes from Ticketmaster. The rest of the seats went in bulk to the universities, the Tournament of Roses and entities such as the Pac-10 Conference.

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Though the institutions that received blocks of tickets dispensed them mainly at face value, individuals who acquired tickets have been selling them on the aftermarket for much higher prices.

Scott Landry, an Austin landscape architect, purchased his tickets from a University of Texas student. Landry said he paid a bit more than triple the $175 official price, but declined to specify how much.

He is a bit self-conscious about spending so much on a football game. The Louisiana native said his family had “been dealing with Katrina. It would seem really extravagant to them. I’d never tell my mother.”

Landry also kept mum at work about his purchase.

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“I don’t want my employees asking me for a raise,” he said. “They’ll think if I’m wealthy enough to go to the Rose Bowl.... “

Even more embarrassed is Russ Huffington, an Austin investment banker, who said he fell victim to a scam.

Looking for tickets on Craigslist, the online site, Huffington found a pair of tickets for $400 each. He was a bit skeptical but spent an hour on the phone with the seller, who said his name was Charles, in Georgia. The man told Huffington he was willing to sell the tickets at a low price for a fellow Longhorn fan.

Huffington was willing to buy even when the man told him he did not have a bank account and would need the money wired through Wal-Mart. Huffington said his judgment was clouded by his promise to take his three college-age children to the Rose Bowl.

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At the last minute, Huffington told Charles he would first send him $400 and follow with the rest after the first ticket arrived. Charles agreed; it was the last time they spoke. After wiring the initial payment, Huffington called Charles to get a Federal Express tracking number for the tickets. There was no answer.

At this point, Huffington may wind up enjoying a California vacation with his children while watching the game on monitors outside the stadium with other Texas alumni -- unless, that is, he can find tickets for $750 per seat or less, he said.

Some of the tickets for sale online are coming from Pasadena residents, who may be violating a city ordinance. Burton said the person who sold him his tickets on EBay indicated that he had acquired them from a Pasadena resident, who had bought them at a public sale.

Some Pasadenans got tickets at face value from a public lottery sale in December or from Pasadena City Council members. The mayor and seven council members each are allotted 90 tickets for sale at face value, and it is up to the officeholders to determine how to distribute them.

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Given the demand for tickets, some members held a sale lottery or raffle for residents in their districts. Councilman Paul Little said he had asked constituents to mail requests to his office and drew the winners from among envelopes. He is personally delivering the tickets to the winners.

Little warned residents not to resell their tickets. A recently passed Pasadena ordinance would require residents caught reselling tickets to give whatever profit they made to the city, he said. But he acknowledged that the city could do little to enforce the restriction.

One seller who advertised tickets for sale by posting a flier outside the Rose Bowl said he had purchased them at the sale for Pasadena residents, which was held Dec. 4 at the Pasadena Convention Center.

“I went to the lottery to get tickets and sell them. That was my goal,” said the seller, who declined to be identified because of the questionable legality of his sales offer.

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He hopes to get $3,000 for two tickets, knowing firsthand that demand was strong when he left the convention center after buying them.

“I was two steps out the door when a gentleman approached me and said he would buy them for $1,000,” he said. He was still looking for a customer at the higher price.

It is possible that prices could soften closer to the game if ticket sellers are not getting bites. Guofu Tan, a USC economist who studies pricing, said game tickets “are perishable goods, like airline seats.... Once the plane takes off, the seats are gone.”


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