SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) — Qualifying for the college football championship game never has been harder for teams other than Alabama and Clemson.
Getting into the stadium to watch the Crimson Tide and Tigers play for the title for the third time in four years has perhaps never been cheaper.
With the College Football Playoff final located thousands of miles away from the two campuses, possible fatigue for fan bases of teams that have become annual participants in the playoff and a game site in an expensive market lacking college football die-hards, prices for tickets for Monday night's championship in Santa Clara have been plummeting the past few days.
"It's sort of a perfect storm of factors at play this year," said Jesse Lawrence, the founder of TicketIQ, a secondary ticket market. "It's a big ask for fans to come and that's why we're seeing the prices the way they are."
Tickets for the championship game are now available for just $135 on the secondary market , according to TicketIQ, less than half of what the price was before the semifinals and well below the face value price of $475.
StubHub had even cheaper tickets available Wednesday night, with seats priced at $115 — less than double the cost of a parking pass on the ticket resale site.
The CFP picked Santa Clara as its site for this year in part out of hope of broadening college football's fan base. The Bay Area is much more of a pro sports region and it appears that not enough locals want to brave rush-hour traffic to attend the game Monday night. Games at California and Stanford struggle to draw big crowds and the annual Pac-12 championship game needs tarps to cover unused sections at Levi's Stadium.
Tickets for the championship game are considerably cheaper than those for the SEC championship game last month in Atlanta between Alabama and Georgia and both CFP semifinal games.
With both schools still having tickets available and the secondary market filled with relatively cheap seats, there's a distinct possibility of empty seats for college football's biggest game.
"It's actually not surprising," Lawrence said. "I think it's predictable or expected based on two factors."
The main factor is the location of the game. The two schools are an average of 2,428 miles away from the game site, the longest distance since TicketIQ first began tracking the distance in 2011.
Flights from South Carolina and Alabama were running around $1,000 round trip and hotels in the Bay Area are notoriously expensive, making the trip costly even if the tickets aren't.
With the two schools having been to this game so often so recently, demand for tickets is very soft.
The previous mark for cheapest ticket for the college championship since 2011 was $202 in 2016, when Alabama and Clemson met for the first of straight playoff meetings in Glendale, Arizona — another city more than 2,000 miles away from the schools.
In contrast, last year's title game in Atlanta between Alabama and Georgia was the closest location to the schools at an average of 136 miles, and the most expensive ticket, with the get-in price on the secondary market reaching $1,752, according to TicketIQ. That was just slightly higher than the prices for the Alabama-Clemson rematch in Tampa, Florida, in 2017, and the Oregon-Auburn title game in 2011 in Glendale, Arizona.
Lawrence said he believes the prices would have been in the middle of the pack had Oklahoma and Notre Dame won the semifinal games, but even then it would have been hard to top games where the teams were closer to the site.
"You can overcome the lack of novelty if the location is good but even in a situation where there is novelty, location will trump," Lawrence said. "The best example of that is Alabama-Clemson I which was in Glendale, Arizona. That was first time Clemson had been, there was a lot of novelty there. Alabama had been there before but still it was the first of the matchups and highly anticipated and that was a $200 get-in price."
Location is a much bigger factor for the CFP title game than the basketball Final Four, where ticket prices are less susceptible to fluctuations based on the proximity of the teams because there are four schools involved and more casual fans plan trips for that event.
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