Masters tickets an expensive tradition unlike any other

TOPSHOT - A patron, wearing a hat adroned with Masters entry passes, watches US golfer Jordan Spieth during Round 2 of the 80th Masters Golf Tournament at the Augusta National Golf Club on April 8, 2016, in Augusta, Georgia. / AFP / Nicholas Kamm (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images) Nicholas Kamm/Getty Images

Masters tickets an expensive tradition unlike any other

PGA Tour

Masters tickets an expensive tradition unlike any other

The Masters bills itself as “a tradition unlike any other,” and it commands the prices to prove it.

Driven by high demand and low inventory, the tournament remains one of the sports world’s toughest tickets. Never has that been truer than this year, with ticket prices spiking for the 2018 tournament, according to various resellers.

“The Masters is the most exclusive sports event we offer,” said Cameron Papp, communications manager at StubHub, an online ticket marketplace. “It’s the toughest event to get into in sports.”

StubHub listed only about 300 Masters tickets on its site this year, as opposed to thousands for other major sports events such as the Super Bowl. Six weeks before the first tee shot was scheduled to be struck in the 82nd Masters, StubHub had only 68 tickets available for the final round.

As of Monday, there were 121 Sunday tickets and only 17 weekly badges available on the site. It’s a fluid marketplace, and Papp said sellers typically don’t drop their prices until the last minute. If the weekend leaderboard is particularly attractive, prices will remain high or even spike.

As with any marketplace, consumers’ views on pricing are relative. While many golf fans might consider it prohibitive to spend more than $1,500 for a daily grounds pass, others might view that as a bargain.

“For the corporate and well-heeled customer, there’s always been a way to get through the door,” said Bill Hogan, business development consultant for Premier Golf, a tour operator that sells Masters packages.

AUGUSTA, GA - APRIL 04: Tickets scalpers look for badges along Washington Road in front of Augusta National Golf Club before the Masters on April 4, 2010 in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)

Re-sellers seek badges along Washington Road in front of Augusta National Golf Club as part of the annual ticket ritual before the Masters. (Scott Halleran/Getty Images)

Other major sports events, such as the Super Bowl, command a higher price, according to various online marketplaces. SeatGeek reported an average resale price of $5,373 for the Super Bowl, and Vivid Seats’ average price was $4,971. Those prices factor in thousands of tickets, ranging from the 50-yard line to the nosebleed section in the end zones. At the Masters, most attendees are buying the same basic grounds pass.

“The average resale price of a Super Bowl ticket this year may have been higher, but the demand the Masters maintains over he course of a week is truly unique,” Chris Leyden, communications manager for SeatGeek, said via email.

As Stephen Spiewak, manager of digital content marketing at Vivid Seats, noted, “If you combine the average price for each day, spending Friday through Sunday at Augusta costs more than attending the Super Bowl, the College Football National Championship or nearly any other iconic sports event.”

Over the past five years, there have been double-digit gains in average selling prices for single-day passes for each day of Masters week, according to data provided by Vivid Seats. The largest jump was for Wednesday tickets (+42.8 percent), and the smallest was for final-round tickets (+10.9 percent).

Weekend prices on tickets sold through Vivid Seats were higher in 2014 than 2017, but over the past year there has been a double-digit spike in prices for each day of the tournament. The first two rounds are commanding the highest prices; Thursday prices increased 26.1 percent, to $1,870; Friday prices have risen 27.5 percent, to $1,829. The biggest increase (35.9 percent) was for Tuesday’s practice round.

“This year inventory seems especially limited on the secondary market, which has caused prices to be even higher than where they have been historically,” Leyden said.

That might be indicative of a Tiger Effect at the Masters. The expectation that Woods will be healthy and able to play in the tournament for the first time since 2015 means there are fewer tickets and higher prices.

Some of this demand is driven by the fact that there historically is little turnover in ownership of weekly Masters badges. Hogan, for example, said that for the past two decades he has been on Augusta National’s waiting list to buy weekly badges for personal use.

“It’s kind of like the Green Bay Packers,” he said. “You hope someday your name comes up.”

In some years, final-round tickets are the least expensive of the four-day tournament. SeatGeek reported that over the past five years its average resale price for Sunday passes was $1,214, the lowest of the tournament. The average for Thursday tickets was the highest, at $1,381. This year Vivid Seats is reporting that it’s average Sunday tickets cost $1,554, $316 less than Thursday tickets, which are the most expensive. This is not, however, an iron-clad rule; some years the Sunday tickets are the most expensive. If Woods is around on the weekend, those numbers could shift.

Most sellers offer their badges on a daily basis, which requires additional logistics that are, like many things, unique to the Masters.

Before orders are processed, for example, the online marketplaces vet the sellers and authenticate the badges. At the time of the purchase, buyers are required to sign a form stating that if they do not return daily badges each night, they will be charged the market value of the badge. Ticket resellers have to set up offices in Augusta to distribute and collect badges each day. When they pick up their passes each morning during tournament week, buyers sign a second form reiterating that they will return the badges at the conclusion of the day’s play or else face a stiff financial penalty. That’s fairly typical protocol.

“There’s no other sports event that requires this sort of logistical undertaking,” Papp said.

But golf fans will put up with the hassles and the cost because, well, it’s the Masters.

“One thing I’ve always found interesting is that people might spend $1,500 on a ticket and complain about it,” Hogan said. “And they’ll go into the merchandise tent and spend $2,000 on shirts and jackets. They buy so much stuff that they have to buy a duffel bag to carry it out of there. It clearly exemplifies how this is a once-in-a-lifetime thing for so many people. When it’s all said and done, they’ve spent a lot of money, but it’s something they’ll never forget.”  Gwk

(Note: This story appeared in the April 2018 issue of Golfweek.)

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