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Click It Or Ticket? Fans Are Choosing Former For College Championship

Back in the day, an event like Monday’s college football National Championship Game between No. 1 Alabama and No. 2 Clemson would have been squarely in the can’t-miss category. In other words, you’d be considered square if you were a Clemson or Alabama enthusiast, or simply a fan of the sport within easy reach of the game, and not want to be there to experience the frenzy.

Ah, but we sports fans in the United States don’t react to events the way we once did. There seems to be no fever, no anxiety, no restlessness about not being able to get tickets. We are fickle.

Alabama football

Jamie Squire / Getty

This does not apply to everything. Let’s say you were in the New York a few weeks ago and wanted to see the 236th and final of Bruce Springsteen’s one-man shows at the Walter Kerr Theatre on Broadway. One second-hand ticket vendor was pitching a pretty pair of prime seats for $42,511 each.

Suppose you were in New York and had a craving to see Hamilton, without question the hottest show in musical theatre. Ticketmaster was pushing orchestra seats for this Saturday night’s show for as high $2,035 each.

What we have here are two fine examples of the financial principles Alexander Hamilton advocated when he established the Federal Treasury in the late 18th century. Supply and demand go hand-in-hand.

Well, it turns out tickets are in supply for Monday’s title bout. It’s the demand that’s been surprisingly underwhelming.

There was a fascinating story in Yahoo Sports on Thursday detailing how poorly seats for the Alabama-Clemson game were selling on the open market. As of early Thursday, you could grab a decent upper deck ticket for $128.25.

If you want to sit behind one of the team’s benches, it will cost you $1,401.25 for Clemson and $1,092.50 for Alabama. Who knew you could get a look at Nick Saban at a discount?

While some of the upper crust seats might appear too pricey for your pocket, they are substantially less than last year’s top ticket price of $3,046 for Alabama-Georgia in Atlanta. The 2017 game between Alabama and Clemson in Tampa tapped out at around $1,262 per seat.

“Prices are trending lower than we have ever seen before,” SeatGeek.com’s Chris Leyden told Yahoo Sports. “Demand is down.”

Remember one other important rule of ticket scalping: The longer you wait, the more desperate the seller becomes, the cheaper the seats get.

Generally, if you buy a second-market ticket for any event more than two weeks before it takes place, you are probably the kind of person who thinks the asparagus at Whole Foods is better because its $7.99 a pound. We have an expression on the east coast for this: Schmuck.

The advanced price for the 2018 game could easily be explained. Atlanta is prime Georgia Bulldog territory. So the demand was naturally higher. Fact is, this year’s game, on a neutral field, thousands of miles away from both campuses, might better be viewed on the big screen.

There is something else to consider here. Perhaps the popularity of college football is too regional for its own good, Like, who really cares who wins the game in San Francisco, which is only 32.4 miles from Santa Clara. Who really cares other then the passionate fans and alumni of both institutions?

You know the answer to that.

It’s not enough that this game will be a great showcase between the two best teams in the nation. This is not about the Vegas Golden Knights making it to the Stanley Cup Finals or Loyola-Chicago getting to the men’s basketball Final Four. We’re talking cream of the crop. It doesn’t get any better than Tua Tagovailoa slinging it against Trevor Lawrence.

“This is clearly the two best teams,” said Clemson coach Dabo Swinney. “I mean, this is the way it should be.”

Here’s the point: What is the motivation for the middle-of-the-fence sports fan, especially east of the Mississippi River, to schlep to California to watch an ACC and SEC team play for a national championship?

Heck, ESPN wasn’t even able to draw big audiences for the College Football Playoff semifinals on Dec. 29. Maybe that was because fans instinctively knew Clemson would rock Notre Dame and Alabama would get a four-touchdown head start against Oklahoma.

College football is like the NHL in one basic way. It’s a niche sport, although with a much larger radius. Casual fans do not engage with it in the same way they do with the Super Bowl and men’s basketball tournament.

Even MLB, our national pastime – other than political bickering – has trouble drawing eyes to the TV set. No way, Jose Cardenal, do the Red Sox-Dodgers sell 77,000 seats in Santa Clara, even for a Game 7.

This doesn’t mean the nation won’t watch the game. Last year’s Alabama-Georgia overtime drama drew an audience of 28.4 million, the highest non-NFL sports broadcast of the year. It was a big night for nacho chips and domestic brews. Monday night’s game will likely produce the same metric, if not better.

We all love a great college football game. But unless it involves our team and the game is played within 500 miles or so from campus, we are not taking a week’s vacation time to go see it live. That’s what our cable bills are for.

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