He's baaack.

After missing seven straight games with a broken collarbone, Aaron Rodgers will return to the Green Bay Packers for a do-or-die showdown against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field this Sunday. Arguably, no NFL player means more to his team than Rodgers, who is the league's highest-paid quarterback, and his comeback couldn't come at a better time. The Packers can win the NFC North with a win, salvaging what many thought was a lost season.

Are fans gearing up even more than usual? More specifically, are ticket prices up?

The data tells the story
As I pointed out in my piece on Derrick Rose and Chicago Bulls ticket prices, StubHub, a subsidiary of eBay (NASDAQ:EBAY), is a great source for ticket information. By analyzing cached versions of the site, it's possible to obtain historical prices rather easily.

Screen Shot

Ticket price data via StubHub. Background image via Jim Larrison, Flickr. *Cost of the cheapest Grandstand ticket available for the Dec. 29 Bears-Packers game at Soldier Field in Chicago.

This graph illustrates the situation quite nicely. Ticket prices for the Week 17 Bears-Packers game have varied wildly since they hit the secondary market in April. After the cheapest Grandstand seats debuted above $200 apiece in April, this price fell to about $175 before shrinking below $100 for most of the summer. By the time the season began, upper deck prices rose a bit, but recently hit as low as $56.70 in mid-December.

Demand for tickets to this game was low for two reasons. First, both the Bears and Packers had been without their starting QBs as recently as two weeks ago. Equally as important, it was impossible to know if the matchup would have playoff implications until Week 16's slate of games were played. It was only after Green Bay lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers and Chicago was embarrassed by the Philadelphia Eagles that it became clear Week 17 would be for the division.

At present, the cheapest Grandstand ticket available for the game is back above $200 for the first time since April. Aaron Rodgers' return isn't the sole cause for this uptick, but it certainly helps.

Looking even further back
It appears the stars lined up perfectly for this year's finale. But what about previous years?

Season Finale Matchups, Since 1970
Year Implications Winner
1973 None GB
1983 None CHI
1998 Wild card GB
2004 None GB
2006 None GB
2010 Wild card GB
2013 Division title ?

Sources: ESPN and Pro-Football-Reference.com

Since the merger, the Bears and Packers have finished six seasons in a matchup against each other. Two of these games, in 1998 and 2010, had wild card implications, but 2013 marks the first time a regular season finale is for the division title. Ticket prices weren't available for all of these games, but I was able to find that the cheapest ticket available in 2010 was $43, and the cheapest in 2006 was $105.

One fun fact from this data: Green Bay has won five out of six season finales against the Bears, and they haven't lost when the playoffs are on the line.

Looking ahead
With that being said, it is easy to see just how rare this week's matchup between the Bears and Packers is. In the history of the NFL, never before have both teams played each other for a division title in the last week of the season. The return of Aaron Rodgers makes it even more likely that the game will be dramatic.

Hence, the sky-high ticket prices.


Image via Mike Morbeck, Flickr.

Now, there's obviously no way to know how much each of these factors contributed to this recent surge, but one thing is clear: fans who bought tickets a couple weeks ago are smiling right now.

And so is the NFL. Back in 2010, Commissioner Roger Goodell, upset that teams had rested their premiere players in the previous year's end-of-season games, announced that week 17 would be for divisional matchups. 

The league, the fans, and those selling their tickets at the last minute are happy he made that call.

Fool contributor Jake Mann has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends eBay. The Motley Fool owns shares of eBay. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.