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When Ron Jaworski, Ted Hendricks, Lester Hayes and their teammates finally take the field this Sunday in New Orleans, a crowd of 75,500 will be packed into the plush cushioned seats of the Superdome. Some 50,000 will have paid the face value of $40 for their tickets. The remaining 25,000 will have forked out between $150 and $500 a seat. "The Super Bowl is the single biggest scalping event since Little Bighorn," says one ticket agent. "It's a single event scheduled at least two years in advance to take place in a certain city on a certain day. It can't be rained out. And it's a national event, the single most popular sporting spectacle of the year."
Those 25,000 tickets were sold for a premium on a nationwide black market of ticket scalpers and ticket brokers by NFL club officials, players and fans. According to Oakland Managing General Partner Al Davis, even NFL club owners and Commissioner Pete Rozelle have been involved in scalping schemes. Replying to this last charge, Rozelle snapped, "There is not a shred of truth to that suggestion." Davis also disclosed that he himself has sold 75 to 100 tickets—at face value—to Las Vegas hotel-men each year.
The widespread scalping and the suggestions of scandal at the highest levels not only have the NFL struggling to refurbish its carefully molded image of stability, solidarity and integrity, but have also attracted the attention of the Internal Revenue Service as well as national and local law-enforcement agencies. The IRS reportedly is probing into the tax consequences of the underground economy generated by Super Bowl scalping; this largely unreported revenue could approach $7 million for 1981 alone.
"There's a sickness about the whole thing," Rozelle told SI last week. "You feel a sickness in your stomach. There hasn't been anything like this in my 21 years as commissioner. We've had problems, sure, but not of such a serious internal nature. It does make you sick."
Rozelle concedes he has known for years that Super Bowl tickets were being resold at premium prices. He particularly recalls Tex Schramm, the president of the Dallas Cowboys, getting up at one NFL meeting and describing how buyers met Cowboy fans moments after they picked up their Super Bowl tickets and offered to purchase them for more than the face value. Rozelle says he has also seen advertisements in newspapers offering to buy and sell Super Bowl tickets and knows that tickets reach travel agencies at premium prices. But he says he never dreamed the volume of premium sales was as large as it is.
Nevertheless, NFL brass paid little, if any, attention to the scalping of Super Bowl tickets until last fall when Davis suddenly began to drop names—Rozelle's included—during a pretrial deposition in the antitrust suit in which the Raiders and the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum Commission are challenging the bylaw in the NFL constitution that has permitted the league to block Davis' proposed move of the Raiders from Oakland to Los Angeles. (The trial is scheduled to begin in L.A. next month.)
According to the transcript of his deposition, Davis said that at one NFL meeting Lamar Hunt, the owner of the Kansas City Chiefs, asked why the league was selling Super Bowl tickets for $20 when they were worth $50. Davis asserted that he, Davis, then asked one owner, whom he didn't identify, why Rozelle didn't raise the price. Davis continued, "And he made the statement to me, 'Are you kidding? That is how he [ Rozelle] makes his big score.' I didn't realize what he was talking about."
Davis went on to say that in 1976 he got a phone call from the late Carroll Rosenbloom, the owner of the Los Angeles Rams, asking him what he planned to do with his allotment of tickets for the 1977 Super Bowl, in which the Raiders played the Minnesota Vikings in the Rose Bowl. Davis said he told Rosen-bloom he planned to give them to fans.
Davis then testified, "And he [Rosen-bloom] said, 'What are you going to sell them for?' I told him that we were going to sell them for the face value of the tickets. And he said, 'Look. I have a guy who knows how to handle this...' And he told me that this fellow knew how to market these tickets and we could make a fortune on the tickets [by selling them] above the face value...I said I wouldn't do it...I asked him who the guy was, and he said it was a fellow by the name of Harold Guiver." Davis then said that after the Super Bowl, in which the Raiders beat the Vikings, Rosenbloom called him again "...and talked to me about what he had done with the Super Bowl tickets [30,000 in all] that had been allocated to the host city, the Los Angeles Rams. [He] told me they made a killing."
According to the same transcript, Davis said that late in 1977 Rosenbloom asked him if he wanted to scalp his allotment for Super Bowl XII in New Orleans. "He told me that he had talked to the New Orleans owner [ John Mecom jr.] and the New Orleans owner had gone along with the plan to use their host city tickets [15,000 total] in a way of selling them above face value...I was told that everyone in the league is doing it... Coaches are doing it...everyone is..."