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 March 2010 Woods Fuels Minor Surge in Masters Ticket Prices

March 2010 Woods Fuels Minor Surge in Masters Ticket Prices

March 29, 2010

Woods Fuels Minor Surge in Masters Ticket Prices

When Tiger Woods declared on March 16 that he would emerge from golf hibernation at the Masters, Dalton Daves of Little Rock, Ark., was offering four tickets to next Wednesday’s final practice round on eBay for $1,400.

The online auction’s rules prevented him from raising the asking price to $1,650, as he had wished.

“We all thought Tiger was going to play all along,” Daves said, regretting that he had not followed his instincts and set a higher original cost. “We kind of got caught with our pants down.”

At AAATix, a licensed ticket broker near Birmingham, Ala., Steve Susce, a co-owner, added a “Tiger clause” to his deals with providers of Masters tickets for resale.

Before Woods’s announcement, the parties agreed on a base price. “Then, if Tiger tees it up and hits one ball, we send you something else — a bonus,” Susce said.

Woods’s late entry in the wake of his recent personal troubles has affected prices on the so-called secondary ticket market, a major source for access to golf’s grandest occasion next week in Augusta, Ga., for those shut out by the normal process. The four-day badges for the tournament proper are otherwise obtainable only by Augusta National members and designated patrons, while tickets to practice rounds next Monday through Wednesday are sold by the club through a lottery.

But rates are not soaring at the same pace as golf fans’ feverish expectation to see Woods swing a 6-iron for the first time on an American fairway since last fall.

Legal brokers — who acquire tickets to sports events, concerts and the theater, then resell them for profit — generally describe the Tiger bump as slight. Though Woods may be the most compelling athlete around, distancing himself from the field with his disclosure of “repeated irresponsible behavior,” the appeal of the Masters for most is atypical in this celebrity-driven era.

“A single player doesn’t make a significant impact at this tournament” on prices, said Sam Soni, the vice president for procurement at the broker RazorGator, with offices in four cities, including Atlanta.

The Woods news flash triggered a “slight surge,” he said, sending sales up 50 percent for a few days before they subsided.

To some extent, he suggested, Woods’s possible participation was already built into sales prices.

“The market almost had anticipated he was coming,” Soni said. “I think everyone expected it.”

At StubHub, based in San Francisco and with offices in 10 cities, sales volume quintupled briefly and its Web site page views spiked up 75 percent the day after his Masters enlistment became known, according to a spokesman, Glenn Lehrman. But sales prices rose by only 10 percent.

TicketCity in Austin, Tex., had a 30 percent boost in sales prices, although the chief operating officer, Zach Anderson, observed that Woods had merely enhanced the existing momentum.

“The Tiger announcement just pushed it over the edge,” he said.

Carl White at WebTickets in Atlanta detected a price increase (around 20 percent) more for the practice sessions, especially Wednesday’s, which features an informal par-3 competition among Masters contestants.

“People can afford them,” he said. And with no leader boards to gaze at, the galleries are looser, with some more likely drawn just to see Woods than to see his putting stroke.

One WebTickets client “doesn’t know anything about sports,” White said, but contacted him about the tournament.

“He’s hearing Augusta will be the center of the universe,” White said. “Some people don’t really care about seeing a particular person play. They just want to be part of the circus.”

In sports, only the Super Bowl and the Kentucky Derby rival the Masters for percentage of broker business conducted with corporate clients. Most tournament attendees from the business world had already made arrangements when Woods committed. Until recently, costs often were not a consideration.

Prices ebbed last year as many longtime Masters patrons from the corporate side, battered by the recession and sensitive to public scrutiny over entertainment spending, stayed home.

“Last spring was the low point,” Anderson at TicketCity said. “Corporate dollars were pulled way, way out.”

At RazorGator, corporate spending is up 60 percent over a year ago, said Soni, calling the turnaround a market recovery. “We’re back to where we were in 2007,” he said.

According to Susce at AAATix, sales to the corporate-connected are up only “a smidge.”

He added, “It’s not as dead as last year, but people still aren’t slinging that AmEx card out.”

Augusta National sells an undisclosed number of badges for $200, good for next Thursday through Sunday, to people on its patrons list. No new applications are being accepted.

The club says it does not honor badges that have been transferred and has threatened to revoke buying privileges of those caught reselling.

Still, plenty find their way into the hands of ticket brokers, and their buyers are rarely, if ever, denied entrance.

Major brokers are pitching the four-day badges for as low as $2,250. Badges for single days start in the $650 range. (Some sellers prefer to avoid the one-day badge because it must be retrieved and redistributed after each round.)

The club charges $36 to Monday’s and Tuesday’s practice rounds, $41 for Wednesday’s. Those tickets are marked up considerably, too, by brokers, with Monday’s commonly priced at $200 or more and Wednesday’s at a minimum of $450.

For all Masters tickets bought from StubHub through last week, the average was about $500, according to Lehrman; it was $518 in 2008. Last year’s average slumped to $400.

Various ticket posts on eBay and Craigslist have worked Woods’s name into their sales pitches.

“Tiger Is Back!” screamed one. “See Tiger’s Return,” said another. Some trying to unload Monday practice-round tickets point to the day as his on-course debut since the scandal broke.

“I thought people searching for tickets might put ‘Tiger’ in their search” on the Internet, said John Gramelspacher of Atlanta, willing to part with his Monday pair for $400.

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