With the Georgia Bulldogs in the College Football Playoff, and with the championship game in Atlanta, the potential exists for one of the hottest sports tickets imaginable: a team with a large and passionate fan base playing for a national title in its home state.
Georgia is one win from making that happen, first needing to beat Oklahoma in a Jan. 1 semifinal in the Rose Bowl. If the Bulldogs clear that large hurdle, they’ll seek their first national championship since the 1980 season in Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Jan. 8 against Alabama or Clemson.
Ticket demand would be off the charts, experts agree.
“It would be the perfect storm of emotion and proximity,” said Vince Thompson, CEO and founder of Atlanta-based sports marketing firm Melt. “I would say it … would rank up as one of the most expensive tickets of all time in Atlanta.”
In fact, ticket demand and secondary-market prices would become a significant part of the narrative of the event, predicted Carl Adkins, executive director of Atlanta’s host committee for the game.
“Nationwide, the city likely would be in the media every day because of the demand for tickets,” Adkins said. “I think the prices would just skyrocket.”
Just the possibility that Georgia could reach a national championship game played in the heart of Bulldog Nation has driven prices dramatically higher on secondary ticket marketplaces since the four-team playoff field was set Dec. 3.
“Even where the prices are at now, the numbers are unprecedented for the game,” said Jack Slingland, director of client relations for secondary ticket marketplace TickPick.
He said the site’s average list price for re-sale tickets to the game was $3,601 as of Wednesday afternoon – up 58 percent since Dec. 1, the day before Georgia beat Auburn in the SEC Championship game.
The asking prices as of Wednesday ranged from a low of $1,639 (upper-level end-zone seat) to a high of $15,807 (first-row club seat at the 50-yard line) on TickPick. The lowest asking price was $1,719 on StubHub and $1,643 on Vivid Seats, both for upper end-zone seats.
“Sellers are pricing now in expectation that Georgia would make (the championship game),” Slingland said. “They don’t want to price too low and leave any money on the table should Georgia make it.”
But because the prices are so high and the teams not yet set, many potential buyers are holding off, he said.
“The only real incentive now is for Georgia fans to maybe get in early if they think the price is going to go up,” Slingland said. “But for fan bases of any of the other teams, it makes sense to wait.”
Even if Georgia reaches the game, the secondary market could experience a price correction from current levels “based on what customers are willing to pay,” Slingland said.
He said the average asking price of $3,601 as of mid-week was 133 percent higher than at the same point before last season’s championship game.
If Georgia beats Oklahoma, Thompson said, UGA fans might be inclined to pay higher prices for a championship game in Atlanta than they would if the title game were elsewhere because they wouldn’t have to incur additional expenses for airfare and hotels.
“One-hundred percent of their discretionary budget for that game could be focused on the purchase of the ticket,” Thompson said.
But the biggest factor driving demand likely would be the 37 years since Georgia won a national championship.
“People would be making a big emotional decision to go,” Thompson said. “You’ve got this giant pent-up frustration and demand.”
Another factor that will drive demand: Georgia or Oklahoma will face the winner of a semifinal between two teams with large fan bases that wouldn’t have to travel far to Atlanta. Mercedes-Benz Stadium is about 125 miles from the Clemson campus and about 200 miles from the Alabama campus.
If Georgia is in the game, Thompson predicted the minimum ticket price on the secondary market would reach the range of $1,900 to $2,200, depending on opponent. And that would be for the least desirable seat locations.
Not all fans in the stadium will have to pay the inflated secondary-market prices, of course.
Each of the participating schools will have access to 20,000 tickets, representing a combined 57 percent of the seating inventory, according to College Football Playoff executive director Bill Hancock. The schools mostly will sell their allotments to donors at face price, which ranges from $375 to $875.
In addition, Hancock said 24 percent of the seats are sold to the public through a combination of official hospitality packages, a random ticket drawing held earlier in the year and an advance “RSVP” program in which fans buy the right to purchase tickets if their team is in the game. Another 12 percent of the tickets go to CFP “partners and constituents,” including ESPN, corporate sponsors and the local host committee, Hancock said. The final 7 percent will go to Mercedes-Benz Stadium suite holders and holders of the Falcons’ most expensive personal seat licenses, he said.
But thousands of tickets from whatever source find their way to the secondary market for re-sale, and prices there are driven by supply and demand.
In the previous three years of the College Football Playoff, the championship games were played in Arlington, Texas; Glendale, Ariz.; and Tampa, Fla. No home-state team reached the championship game in any of those seasons, although both teams in last season’s final -- Alabama and Clemson -- were within a day’s drive of Tampa.
“The demand was extraordinary last year,” Hancock said, “and it would be that way again -- and then some.”
Said Dan Corso, president of the Atlanta Sports Council: “If UGA were to make it to Atlanta ... I think having a local team involved in the championship would be really cool. The SEC Championship game with Georgia vs. Auburn was incredible, and this would take it to a whole other level.”
The last time a team played for college football’s national championship in its home state was at the end of the 2011 season, when LSU lost to Alabama in the BCS title game in New Orleans.