The NFL is going old school to keep Super Bowl 50 tickets secure

The Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos will face off at Levi’s Stadium on Sunday, Feb. 7.
The Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos will face off at Levi’s Stadium on Sunday, Feb. 7.
Image: AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez
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With this year’s Super Bowl being held in the NFL’s most high-tech venue—Silicon Valley’s Levi’s Stadium—the tickets to the game might be the least tech-driven part of the experience. But they’re far from simple.

The NFL has carefully melded an array of new and old-school tactics to keep the highly-coveted tickets secure. A single ticket averages more than $4,700 on the secondary market.

For starters, the NFL only issues physical tickets to the Super Bowl. Electronic ticketing may be more convenient for game-goers, who can simply scan their phones or printouts to get into the venue, but digital copies are easier to counterfeit and steal.

The NFL also held onto every ticket until Tuesday (Feb. 2), and at least one secondary marketplace—StubHub—isn’t distributing the tickets until Feb. 6, the day before the game. These restrictions reduce the number of the Super Bowl tickets circulating and thus the number of images that crop up on social media, from which scalpers can make counterfeits, Joseph Asaro, StubHub’s chief security officer, told Quartz.

“It gives [counterfeiters] very little time to pick up an actual ticket, work out the schematics, recreate them, and then try to sell those tickets,” Asaro said, adding that he doesn’t expect to see many counterfeits on game day. At last year’s Super Bowl in Phoenix, Arizona, Asaro spotted just four fakes, none of which were sold by StubHub. “Fraudsters, just like StubHub, have a [return-on-investment] computation. They don’t want to spend $10,000 to make $1,000.”

Still, StubHub’s 40-person anti-fraud team will spend now until Saturday painstakingly validating each and every ticket, by hand, to make sure they’re legitimate. The company declined to reveal how many tickets it sold, but said it’s expecting 5,000 to 7,000 attendees at the party on Saturday where every buyer will have to pick up their tickets—with photo identification.

If a Super Bowl ticket bought on StubHub doesn’t work, for any reason, the company will pay for the buyer to attend the game—a cost it hopes to minimize. One reason a ticket might not work, even if it appears to be a valid, is that a fraudster might sell the same ticket more than once, on StubHub and again on Ticketmaster or eBay’s marketplaces. In that case, the real ticket and/or counterfeits will only work for the first ticket holder who arrives at the stadium.

The NFL is keeping many of its security measures close to the vest, but professionals know what to look out for. Each ticket will have an NFL hologram, a black-light zone on the back with asymmetrical codes, as well as a barcode with a unique number encoded in it, that will be embedded in multiple spots on the ticket, so it can be checked against itself, Asaro said. Once that barcode is scanned, no one else with an identical match will be allowed into the stadium.

The tickets are also elaborately designed to make them difficult to replicate—and nice to look at, since many game-goers keep them as souvenirs. They’re laminated with etched engravings and color designs that vary by seat location.

But there is a possibility that fraudsters at events elsewhere in the country might take advantage of the focus on Santa Clara, California, to scalp other tickets while security’s backs are turned. There’s an Ultimate Fighting Championship fight in Las Vegas, Nevada, a rodeo in Forth Worth, Texas and NBA games over the weekend that StubHub will also be watching closely.

“We’ll just have to be diligent,” Asaro said. “I’ll be the most-relieved person in the world after kickoff.”