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Airbnb hosts are having a hard time gouging guests for the Super Bowl

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Forget about making a killing by renting your room out for the big game

Mike Lawrie/Getty Images

Airbnb envisions everyone’s home as the hotel room of the future — a cheap and unique place to crash in almost every country in the world at any time. But in places where hotels are booked solid, Airbnb is becoming a victim of its own success. For Super Bowl 50, the short-term rental service is being flooded with eager hosts trying to turn a short weekend for the country’s most-watched television event into a gold mine. The bad news: it’s not going to work.

There are simply too many rooms and not enough guests. "You get a flood of people listing their places and nobody looks at it," says Ian McHenry, a co-founder of research firm Beyond Pricing, which sells rental hosts a service to help calculate how much they should charge. "There’s way too much supply in the market." Of the nearly 10,000 currently active Airbnb listings in the Bay Area this weekend, around 60 percent are still available, according to the San Jose Mercury News.

Of nearly 10,000 Super Bowl listings in the Bay Area, 60 percent are still available

McHenry says it’s part of a common cycle with mammoth events like the Super Bowl. NFL owners vote, nearly three years prior to kickoff, on a location in the US, this time picking the small city of Santa Clara about 45 miles south of San Francisco. The game, always the first Sunday in February, immediately vacuums up more than half of all hotel rooms in the area over the course of the next 24 months, with the NFL booking up blocks upon blocks for players, management, and guests, according to the Super Bowl Host Committee.

Any free hotel space left for that week is either kept off the market or the hotels raise the price of a room north of $1,000 a night. News of the hotel crunch then makes it way into headlines around the country, which causes local residents to put their places up on short-term rental services like Airbnb hoping to make a killing.

It’s an especially thorny issue for San Francisco, whose influx of tech workers has pushed average apartment rates up more than 50 percent since 2010. As a result, San Francisco and the surrounding Bay Area has been transformed into a region of early-adopters and the hottest launch locale for the giants of the on-demand economy, including Airbnb and Uber. If any destination has become accustomed to outrageous accommodation prices, it’s San Francisco. This time, however, the cycle has backfired, McHenry adds.

Super Bowl 50 isn't like San Diego Comic-Con or SXSW

Super Bowl 50 isn’t like San Diego Comic-Con or the SXSW in Austin. Those events are centered in relatively concentrated areas of large cities, with a high demand for walking-distance accommodations that result in sky-high Airbnb rental rates. The largest football game of the year, on the other hand, is located in neither of the two largest cities in the Bay Area, San Francisco and San Jose, nor is it featuring a local team.

Instead, visitors are finding themselves spread out across the entire 7,000-square-mile region, which has an estimated 100,000 hotel rooms, McHenry says. Throw in Airbnb — not to mention several smaller competitors like HomeAway and VRBO — and there’s more than enough space without having to drop thousands of dollars a night. And if you're spending $3,500 on a Super Bowl ticket, why bother getting something subpar when you can rent a luxury hotel room?

One look at listings on Airbnb’s San Francisco hub for the weekend of February 5th is evidence of the delusion: $1,999 a night to rent an one-bedroom condo in downtown; $2,500 a night for a one-bedroom apartment near historic Alamo Square with full concierge and transportation services provided; a luxury three-bedroom house in the residential Diamond Heights neighborhood for $1,375 a night.

Not only are these listings available just days before the Super Bowl kicks off, they’re also likely to stay vacant. Many listings are hovering around or below the $441-a-night average, which comes in lower than most city hotels, but not by much. Meanwhile, the average Bay Area rate today for a Super Bowl weekend rental is even lower at $451 a night. "We see people shooting for the stars, trying to lease their crummy one-bedroom in the Mission [district] for $1,000 a night," McHenry says. "They’re not getting booked."

As an Airbnb host, you’re not very likely to rent your room or house at all unless you’re asking a price only marginally higher than the normal average. Only those with luxury properties located in Silicon Valley or a full house for rent just a few miles from Levi’s Stadium are guaranteed to pocket a significant amount of cash this weekend. "The $10 million mansion in Los Gatos," McHenry suggests. The NFL is always "looking for unique venues for hosting clients and unique places to stay, so a lot of these higher-end homes people are opening up serve them."

"Their crummy one-bedroom in the Mission for $1,000 a night ... not getting booked."

Airbnb isn’t discouraged, as lower prices prove its service works better as a hotel alternative instead of a get-rich-quick scheme for homeowners. The company says more than 15,000 people have chosen to use the service for the Super Bowl, and it expects the total impact of its guests to generate $21 million for the Bay Area not including accommodations.

McHenry sees the Airbnb glut as evidence the on-demand economy works. "We like to call it the flexible supply economy," he says. "Events like the Super Bowl and other events that create this surge of demand for services is really well met by these ones where you can spin up transportation and accommodation. You can do it much more easily now."