The February 2006 issue of GQ included an unsigned story (page 70) on how the NFL disbursed the tickets for this year's Super Bowl. It's not online; I don't know why. The subtitle was hilariously ironic: "We break down the crowd at this year's Super Bowl in Detroit. Don't look too hard for real fans!"
Here's the lowdown. The AFC Champ gets 17.5% of the tickets. The NFC Champ gets 17.5%. The host-city town (this year, Detroit) gets 5%. The other 29 teams gets 35%. That's 75%. The other 25% go to the NFL home office.
Teams that go to the game split them three ways: to players and staff, to sponsors, and to season-ticket holders. Sponsors are given the right to purchase Super Bowl tickets in their contracts. Players also have dibs over season-ticket holders, who receive the leftovers by lottery. If sponsors, players, and staff account for 75% of each team's ticket pool, that's about 26% of all tickets not going to season-ticket-holding fans.
Teams that are not playing or hosting typically hoard all their tickets for sponsors, players, and staff. So their 35% of all Super Bowl tickets were distributed to these people. Let's assume the host city gives most of their 5% to players, staff, and sponsors. The NFL office, the article reports, gives only 6% of their share (500 pairs) to fans.
To come to the point: add these numbers up, and you learn that 88% of all the Super Bowl tickets were given to former players, staff of NFL teams, sponsors of both the league and the individual teams, and whatever VIPs the NFL front office admires.
I would assume that none of those people paid for their tickets in the traditional sense. Staff and players paid dues, sure, and sponsors, well, they buy advertising that enriches the people who give them tickets in their contracts. Still, most of these people fly to Detroit with a ticket that could be easily flipped for $3,000 cash in the hours before the game. The temptation to party all weekend, go to the stadium, dump the tickets for massive cash on a last-minute decision, and then hit the shoe store--it must be pretty great.
So that's how the Steelers fans got their tickets--they bought them from people who are or got them from former players, NFL staff, or NFL sponsors.
And that's not all. Given the fact that Steeler fans are everywhere, I'd further guess that many people who got tickets through other teams were Steeler fans. It's not far-fetched to imagine a Steeler fan working at some bank, for example, in Denver that does business with the Broncos. And Steeler fans have a way of making themselves and their loyalty known. Some bank gets two tickets, the Steelers are in the game, how is the President not going to give them to the VP or branch manager who wears the Jack Lambert jersey on Sundays?
One last comment. I must admit, I don't buy GQ for the articles. They are nice benefit, though, something that occasionally catches my eye. I buy it strictly for the naked ladies, which are actually quite good.