The New Yorker

January 7, 2013

Even “Rudy” Can’t Get a B.C.S. Championship Ticket

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How hard was it to get tickets to Monday night’s Notre Dame vs. Alabama B.C.S. National Championship game? Even “Rudy” couldn’t land one.

As much a part of Notre Dame football lore as anyone, especially since the 1993 release of the eponymous film about his time with the team, in the run-up to the game Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger found himself as just another number, one of more than a hundred thousand Notre Dame alumni and donor “friends” who applied for the fourteen thousand and five hundred “face value” tickets allotted to the school by the B.C.S. (Notre Dame took in at least $1.2 million in non-refundable ticket-lottery application fees. Another twenty-five hundred of the university’s tickets went to students.)

“I didn’t get one through the lottery,” Rudy told me by phone from Las Vegas, where he lives. “Notre Dame’s a fair deal, everyone’s got a shot.”

But B.C.S. ticket resale prices are not so egalitarian. Television ratings for the game are expected to break records; final “average ticket” prices on the secondary market likely will, too. With face value at around three hundred and fifty dollars, the worst seats in the house have sold on StubHub for as high as nineteen hundred dollars each over the past month. That doesn’t include binoculars.

“Nuts, insane,” said Mike Murray, a retired corporate executive and Class of ‘61 Notre Dame alum whom I often have lunch with in St. Louis. “I thought they’d be maybe a hundred and fifty dollars.” One fifty? Parking an R.V. at the game costs a hundred and eighty bucks.

Mike and I, like Notre Dame alums and fans across the country, have been infected with high-grade Irish insanity since late September, when our storied team-openly mocked as irrelevant by ESPN’s Rick Reilly at the beginning of the season-didn’t come out of the gate this year in its usual stumbling way, but beat Michigan State, then ranked No. 10, and then beat Michigan, ranked No. 17 at the time. With the Irish at a record of 10-0 in mid-November, and with only lowly Wake Forest and arch-rival U.S.C. in the way, I started doing the unimaginable: I pictured myself in Miami on January 7th, watching our golden helmets take the field to play for a national title. I knew it would be expensive and wanted to plan ahead. A cheap ticket might be three hundred dollars, or three hundred and fifty, right? I clicked on eBay. The going rate for a nosebleed ticket to the game, it turned out, was twelve hundred dollars.

I frantically looked for cheaper tickets everywhere; there were none. Then I read about prices for the 2011 Auburn vs. Oregon title game starring Heisman-winner Cam Newton; those tickets, which sold for an average of eighteen hundred dollars on the secondary market, currently hold the record for most expensive B.C.S. title tickets. I trembled in fear. Did anyone have any idea how much Irish fans would be willing to spend to go to this game? When the Irish opened this season against Navy, in Dublin, Ireland, thirty thousand people flew across the Atlantic Ocean to watch them play. Thirty thousand. Across an ocean. To watch them beat Navy.

So at 1:30 in the morning on November 19th, two days after Notre Dame beat Wake Forest to reach 11-0, I made the first of the two biggest cash gambles of my life. I paid $481.50 to buy a “TeamTix” from the Orange Bowl (this year’s B.C.S. National Championship is being played at Miami’s Sun Life Stadium, hosted by the Orange Bowl).

“TeamTix” is an options concept in ticketing designed to help (or prey) on fans like me-a little like the personal seat licenses in professional sports, but without any guarantees. My $481.50 bought me the right to pay face value for a sideline ticket in the event that Notre Dame beat U.S.C., the one team remaining on its schedule, and made the championship game. If they lost, my money would be gone. But gambling on “TeamTix” was my only real shot at getting an affordable ticket to the game, if your definition of affordable extends to a total price of $1006.50, which would have been the total cost after I “won” the right to pay the face value of $525.

Then on Wednesday, November 21st, at 1:22 a.m.-soon after it was announced that Matt Barkley, U.S.C.’s stud starting quarterback, was injured and an untested freshman, Max Wittek, would lead the Trojans against Notre Dame-I made the second bet, far bigger than the first. I bought two nosebleed tickets to the national championship game from a seller on eBay for twelve hundred dollars each. “If Notre Dame makes the game,” I thought to myself, “prices will skyrocket and I can sell my nosebleeds to cover the costs of my own ticket and trip to Miami. And if they lose….”

I watched Notre Dame play U.S.C. in a Chicago bar with four cousins who did not go to Notre Dame. At that point, I had far too much of my annual income wrapped up in national-championship tickets. (After the first play, one of my annoyed cousins asked me, “Are you going to holler every single down?” Yes. Yes, I was.)

U.S.C. had seven chances to score, four from the one-yard line, and the Irish were the brick wall they had been all season. When the game was over, the score was 22-13; Notre Dame was undefeated and going to the championship game.

That night, I checked the price of my “TeamTix,” which-again, like a personal seat license-the Orange Bowl allowed me to resell for a profit through its Web site. It had leapt up by fifteen hundred dollars, more than three hundred per cent.

I was confident that my tickets would sell and put off actually advertising them in the hope that their value would continue to rise; at least eighty-five thousand Irish fans did not get tickets in the lottery. Sun Life Stadium only holds seventy-five thousand.

I was, however, interested in why the person who sold them to me on eBay was willing to part with them for just twelve hundred dollars, so I sent him an e-mail asking about it. He wrote me, “I buy Orange Bowl tickets every year so I can have the right to buy B.C.S. tickets. This year, for each B.C.S. ticket, I also had to buy an Orange Bowl ticket for about $120. Those tickets are currently going for about $10 each. So when looking at how much someone is making on the sale of the B.C.S. tickets, you also have to factor in losses on four years of Orange Bowl tickets.”

In the weeks before Christmas, I kept an eye on the secondary market, checking listings on StubHub and eBay; prices held strong, I was looking at making a thousand dollars in profit, allowing me my sideline ticket for essentially no cost. Notre Dame-related message boards were increasingly filled with pleas for “face value” tickets. One woman set up a Web site that included a grainy video of her husband singing the Notre Dame fight song as a child. “ND Faithful, I am looking for help!” she wrote. “I am trying everything possible in a desperate attempt to find 1 ticket for my husband . He is working nearly 60 hours most weeks to support me while I finish school. If you happen to know of anyone w/ one ticket, even the day before the game, please email me.”

Others had completely given up. Tom Lillig, who lives in Chicago, wrote to me in December; he’d recently made Sports Illustrateds “Signs of the Apocalypse” for soliciting Facebook “likes” to convince his wife that they should name their soon-to-be-born daughter “Manti,” after Notre Dame’s star linebacker, Manti Te’o. The baby had arrived (they named her “Matia,” which they claim is a “family” name, despite being suspiciously similar to Manti) and he wasn’t buying a ticket. “I realized that renting out a room at a restaurant and watching the game in the company of my dad, my son, and my best friend was not only preferred, but really the only way I would have it,” Lillig explained.

Right after Christmas, prices suddenly began falling, and I soon learned my own hard lessons about scalping. Having never resold tickets, I hadn’t counted on StubHub’s fifteen-per-cent seller’s fee. (StubHub also charges buyers ten per cent, netting the company a twenty-five per cent commission on the resale of every ticket.) Between falling prices, secondary-market commissions, and the fact that home and visitor sides of the field were assigned by the B.C.S. weeks after I’d bought my tickets-leaving me stuck with vastly less valuable Alabama seats-my plan to cover my costs through scalping had gone up in smoke.

Was it karma, I asked myself? I have to admit, reading all the pleas for affordable tickets by elderly Notre Dame fans on fixed incomes, I began to feel a gnawing guilt about wanting to profit off these people. Hoping just to break even at this point, I listed my tickets on the commission-less Craigslist, and my inbox was soon inundated with spam, most of which had “BCS National Championship Tickets” in the subject line, and opened in this strange way: “Hi, is your item still available? I don’t generally do this but you seemed sizzling in your ad and I’m interested in you.” The links invariably led to porn.

A week before the game, I responded to a legitimate Craigslist ad, and after a brief text-message negotiation, gratefully unloaded my two nosebleed tickets-which I had since come to loathe-to a Miami-based broker for twenty-two hundred dollars, which was two hundred less than I had paid. According to a day-trader friend in New York who often scalps tickets, brokers sell ticket packages at the top of the market without actual tickets in hand. When prices come down, they quickly cover their orders, essentially having shorted the market.

The money came in to my PayPal account (minus another small commission), the tickets went out via FedEx, and my foray into ticket scalping was over. As of Sunday, the day before the game, though prices have fallen from their highs by about a thousand dollars, the very worst standing-room-only tickets were still, after fees, at a price equal to that fall-a thousand dollars. None of the people I corresponded with have come close to scoring face-value tickets, including the woman who had set up the Web site for her husband. “We had a few people e-mail us,” she wrote me, “but they were scammers or asking too much money.”

Rudy had one suggestion for those still hoping to score a ticket: “The best seat is on the fifty yard line … in your living room,” he said, laughing. But he, at least, did eventually find a way to be there. “Mercedes-Benz is bringing me in; I’ll be in their suite,” he told me. “Thank God for ‘Rudy’!”

Photograph by Charles Baus/CSM/AP.