It is also my good fortune that Ohio State will be playing the college football national championship game in New Orleans this January, as I will be in town attending the ASSA meetings*, and thus will naturally be attending the game shortly thereafter.
The teams are set: OSU vs. LSU. The only big question left is—what will I pay for the privilege of watching them duke it out? I'm not counting on getting a ticket from the lottery drawing, so I plan to buy a ticket from a reseller. For your typical fan, buying tickets from resellers is the norm for big games like this. It is not uncommon for these tickets to be sold for 5 to 10 times their face value in the resale market.
Some games are unexpectedly good (see Browns vs. Bills this Sunday in an unlikely battle for a playoff spot, or the recent Missouri vs. Kansas game as #1 and #2). With these games, it's easy to see why the resale market would dominate—most tickets were sold cheaply early in the season before anyone realized the game would be so meaningful. When demand rises, so do prices.
The explanation isn't so straightforward, however, for games that are guaranteed to be important (like the national championship). In this article, ESPN writer Gregg Easterbrook discusses some reasons why tickets are still sold by sports teams at face value, regardless of expected market rates.
*A big economics conference. There is a good chance your professor is going. Maybe they'll buy you a hat.
1. Fairness is always an issue with pricing decisions. Easterbrook calls it a “public relations move” to keep prices standard. Might raising prices for important games create resentment that could extend forward into the months and years to come?
2. In his autobiographical Fever Pitch, Nick Hornby writes that club owners would be daft to raise prices beyond what their rabid fans can readily afford, since the marginal fan comes to games as much to see and experience these crazed fans as to see the action on the field. How would raising the price affect the demographics of those who could attend? Do rabid fans confer a positive (or negative) externality on the rest of the crowd?
3. Last Monday night, Michael Vick and the Falcons took on Reggie Bush and the Saints in an epic battle for the NFC South. Oh, wait, nevermind—neither of these once-great teams is likely to even smell the playoffs this year, and neither of those players were even on the field to try and help the cause (Bush is injured, Vick is in prison). How might setting prices upfront allow teams to capture more total revenue on games that turn out to be duds?