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South Florida Hotel Rooms Still Available
 a Week from Super Bowl XLI  Kickoff

By Douglas Hanks, The Miami HeraldMcClatchy-Tribune Business News

Jan. 27, 2007 - Despite plenty of pregame hype, Super Bowl XLI has already proved a disappointment for some hotels, ticket brokers and travel packagers who say South Florida hasn't produced the kind of fan demand they expected.

Ticket prices seem to be the top culprit. StubHub.com calculates the average Super Bowl ticket now costs $4,500, a full $1,000 more than for last year's championship game in Detroit. No matter how much they love the Bears or Colts, many fans from Chicago and Indianapolis are finding a Super Bowl trip too expensive, travel companies said.

"We're getting calls, but the number of people that are booking are limited," said Robert Tuchman, president of TSE Sports & Entertainment, which sells Super Bowl vacation packages. "When it's on your own dime, you have to be extremely wealthy to afford one of those tickets."

Super Bowl certainly will flood South Florida with both visitors and millions of dollars in corporate spending and marketing campaigns, as the year's biggest sporting event settles into one of the country's most popular vacation destinations. A PricewaterhouseCoopers study last week predicted nearly $200 million in direct spending, and many hotels have reported sellouts at premium rates.

But with 90,000 hotel rooms between Miami and West Palm Beach, some hoteliers may have misjudged the impact of such a large inventory on demand, even during Super Bowl. Many hotels require four-day minimum stays for Super Bowl and are charging double or triple what guests ordinarily pay during February.

A Miami Herald survey of 51 hotels found all but 18 had rooms to sell during Super Bowl weekend. Sports travel brokers said they would have expected more sellouts a week before Super Bowl. The vacancies could make it hard for hotels to reap the kind of sky-high profits many expected for the weekend.

HIGH-END DEMAND

'All the hotels are calling us saying, 'Hey can you unload 50 rooms, 20 rooms?' " said Alan Bachand, owner of the Superbowl-Rooms.com website. "The demand right now is with the high-end [hotels]. Low-end, we're going to be stuck eating some rooms."

When The Miami Herald surveyed the same 51 hotels in October, 25 reported sellouts -- seven more than did last week. Though some groups and travel wholesalers cancel reservations, hotels also will hold back rooms months before the game in hopes of higher prices once the Super Bowl teams are selected, Tuchman said.

"It happens every year," he said. "When the Super Bowl comes, they think they basically hit the jackpot."

'DISAPPOINTED'

At the Crowne Plaza in Sawgrass Mills, only 40 percent of the hotel's 250 rooms are booked for Super Bowl weekend.

"I'm completely disappointed by the whole thing," said general manager Mik Mahdavi. "This is, I think, a lot different from what people thought it would be."

But David Wahba, sales director for the Sheraton Yankee Trader and Clipper hotels in Fort Lauderdale, said he was content with his booking pace leading up to Super Bowl. With more than 90 percent of the hotels' 1,000 rooms sold, he said the game has met expectations.

"We'll do well in February," he said.

The Miami Herald survey also found hotels are charging a premium for Super Bowl -- the kind of rates that give the game its reputation as a cash cow for the tourism industry.

The Haddon Hall South Beach wants $800 a night for a room on Super Bowl Sunday that costs $129 the following weekend. The Fort Lauderdale Grande quoted a Super Bowl rate of $459 a night, compared to $199 for the next weekend.

PAYING THE PRICE

And the Hilton Miami Airport is charging $699 for Super Bowl, up from $264 the week after. "Ouch," the reservations clerk said when quoting the price.

But if room prices are high, travel wholesalers say it's the game tickets that really are pricing out would-be Super Bowl travelers.

For Detroit's Super Bowl XL, the average ticket sold for $3,000 -- then a record, according to StubHub.com. This week, the average ticket price hit $4,472, with some selling for more than $10,000.

With the Bears in the Super Bowl for the first time since 1986 and Indianapolis making its championship debut since taking the Colts from Baltimore, ticket prices soared on anticipated demand, travel packagers said.

But by Friday, there were reports of ticket prices dropping. Anbritt Stengele, owner of sportstraveler.net in Chicago, said tickets on her site have dropped from $4,200 to $3,400.

"This year, everyone is saying this is going to be the biggest, most popular Super Bowl," Stengele said. "I think on the corporate side, it was still very popular. But in this industry there's still fans to deal with, too."

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Copyright (c) 2007, The Miami Herald

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