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Lakers tickets? Celtics? Trust the math

SeatGeek exists to forecast how much you should pay for tickets to sold-out sports events. Now, it's branching out to help season ticket holders sell at the right price.

I cannot predict (though I can dream it) Kobe Bryant being sunk by Los Suns de Phoenix in the NBA playoffs. Can the alleged Superman Dwight Howard defeat those hardy assailants from Boston? My heart says probably not. My brain says absolutely, positively no way in this lifetime or any other.

But these are mere emotions. They fail us. And the more our emotions fail us, the more money the left-brainers make. (Look at Google, having invaded our laptops, now marching its armies toward our TVs.)

Yet what is lovely about some left-brainers, especially mathematicians beyond Wall Street, is that they are increasingly trying to use their talents and laptops to help real humans navigate their way to a happy life. Increasingly, this includes those of us who are helplessly tossed by the winds of sports.

It seems only yesterday that we heard of mathematicians trying to help us all choose a wife, challenge those despicable red light cameras, or even work out how fast nasty things said about us pass around the Web.

Now, the vast craniums behind SeatGeek are trying to ensure that you get the best deal from your sports (and concert) tickets when those events are already sold out. There are times that one is tempted to spend over the odds for tickets on the secondary market. SeatGeek exists to see whether the odds favor over the odds or, perhaps, under the odds.

So which one of these is worth paying more to see? CC Denise Cross/Flickr

Essentially, these clever people created an algorithm that factors in such things as the opposing team, the day of the week, stadium capacity, and in the case of the San Francisco Giants, whether they'll be wearing those sparkling orange shirts and how many inches Pablo Sandoval's lunch will be protruding over his waistband.

Yes, of course, I exaggerate. But only about the Giants.

Once they feed the data into their laptops, SeatGeek calculates what is a good price to pay for the tickets. This mathematical enterprise seemed so deeply fascinating to me, as I often trawl StubHub and other sites in search of $30 tickets for the Giants and $15 for the Golden State Warriors, that I decided to talk to SeatGeek's CEO, Jack Groetzinger.

The important question came first: "Do you look at girls, boys, goats, or whatever is your target of love with a simple mathematician's eye?"

Groetzinger didn't even bother to calculate. "Yes," he said. He explained that the more he lives, the more he feels able to have confidence in his own calculations. He's 26.

SeatGeek was highly praised at last year's TechCrunch50, and it has now begun to expand beyond offering people its best calculation as to what price they should pay for tickets to sold out games and shows.

It is launching Ticket Portfolio, which helps those who are strangely optimistic enough to invest in season tickets. If you're one of them, SeatGeek will help decide which games are really worth going to and which are better being sold off to the highest bidder while you sit at home, sipping several cold ones, and annoying your family until they leave the house or perhaps even you.

It should be said that SeatGeek's predictions aren't always accurate. The site claims an 85 percent success rate. "So this 85 percent guarantee that your predictions are accurate," I said. "Does the other 15 percent complain all the time?" It doesn't seem so. Groetzinger said SeatGeek received complaints "very occasionally." He admitted: "We expected a lot more."

This is a chap who did college level math in his first year of high school, so I wondered whether it really was pure math behind SeatGeek's thinking. Groetzinger declared it was a little more econometrics. In short, "mostly science and a little bit of art."

SeatGeek recently created a number for the loss of LeBron. Should you have recently been unduly immersed in ballet, you may have missed that basketball's greatest marketing campaign, LeBron James, didn't manage to get his Cleveland Cavaliers into the Eastern Conference finals.

So SeatGeek, which claims that it doesn't factor in for individual players in its algorithm, calculated the value of the LeBron Effect. Essentially, if LeBron had managed to scrape his band of physical and mental misfits into the next round, ticket prices on the secondary market would have been on average $20 greater.

Groetzinger talks in terms of "meta-information" and "controlling for all the obvious stuff." And he believes that in the near future, it will help his company make some money out of golf, tennis, and boxing, while saving you some along the way.

This weekend, the Lakers travel to Phoenix (while the Magic stagger to Boston). A cursory look on StubHub suggests that the cheapest ticket for the Phoenix game is $72 and the most expensive is, oh, indeed, $5,589. That can't possibly be worth it, can it? Even the $72 ticket.