Scalpers Blues

Buy World Series tickets cheap. It's the seller who has to worry.

A lot of people are whining about World Series tickets. Saying Ticketmaster screwed them, that viperish brokers are charging too much money, that none of it is fair. They're right. It's an ugly business. But I'm going to give you an almost sure-fire method to see the Marlins play the Yankees and, better yet, almost surely pay below face value.

But first, let me tell you a little story, a morality tale, if you will, about the National League Championship Series with the Chicago Cubs. It's a tale that centers on ten seats that I snapped up from Ticketmaster for game three at Pro Player Stadium. Section 103, row 12, near the Cubs bullpen. Though their face value was $35, I paid $420 for the ten. That included tax and delivery.

I figured I'd use four tickets for my family and then spread the wealth to friends and coworkers. But that didn't happen. What you're reading is more a confession than a column. You see, dollar signs flashed in my head. The intoxicating impulse of greed took hold.

I decided to go scalping.

First, I checked the market. A ticket broker from the classifieds offered me upper-level seats starting at $150 and places in section 103 for about $300. But those prices sounded inflated. A trip to eBay wasn't very promising. Bids on Marlins tickets were scarce, and most of them weren't much over face value. At a site called buyselltix.com where a dozen or so tickets were listed at prices ranging from $200 to $2,000, I put mine up for $420 apiece just for the hell of it.

Florida Statute 817.36 forbids the sale of sports tickets for more than a dollar over face value, but I wasn't planning to break the law. I was going to subvert it. Brokers get around the statute by selling package deals. Just throw in a useless extra and you can sell for as much as the market will bear. I would offer a beer at the game. Might as well share the incredible wealth that was inevitably coming my way.

A day or two passed. Nothing. I went back online and lowered my price to $250. Still nothing. That was OK. I always figured I'd have to sell them at the game, although I knew the market at Pro Player was unpredictable. The 1997 World Series proved that, starting with game six. Some friends and I went with upper-level tickets and tried to trade for better seats, but all the tickets seemed to be going for at least twice face value. So we sat up in right field at the top, in the Himalayas, where I finally got to visit that Buddhist guru I'd been meaning to see.

But game seven was a different ballgame -- the ultimate example of how flimsy the Fish market can be. This time, we traded for club-level seats at well below face. Then I tried to sell my leftover, but nobody bit. Eventually, I tried to give it away. No takers. I still have an unused ticket to that extra-inning all-time classic.

For the Cubs game, I was hoping for a game six market. It was on a Friday night, when people like to go out, and the Marlins had already proven they were as exciting a team as ever shone on the diamond. Even if South Floridians stayed in their shells, I figured Cubs fans, who flew down by the thousands, would be a relief valve, though I half-heartedly promised myself I wouldn't sell to them.

I tried to have standards.


One of those Cubs fans was 21-year-old Christopher Trifkovich, who set up camp about 4 p.m. that Friday outside Pro Player Stadium with some 30 tickets. He claimed the seats came from a friend and were mostly earmarked for buddies. He was planning to sell a few, but he insisted he wasn't going over face value. "I thought it would be great to make money," Trifkovich says. "But this was a trip for pleasure, not business."

As he waited outside the stadium, two men walked up and told him to put his arms behind his back. "They didn't say anything about who they were," he says. "I don't know Miami. I thought I might be getting robbed."

They were Miami-Dade police officers, who handcuffed Trifkovich and led him to a bus. Several cops were working the off-duty scalping detail, all of them paid by Pro Player Stadium. Turns out that any unauthorized sales, at face value or not, are illegal on stadium grounds. Since Trifkovich was asking face value, he wasn't charged with scalping -- they hit him with trespassing. In Florida, you can't be arrested for trespassing without a warning. In this case, it comes in the form of signs on stadium grounds forbidding criminal activity, police contend.

I knew none of this when I arrived at the stadium at 7:15 p.m. It was a late start. After parking, I set up my wife with tickets for her and the kids before I headed off to Gate F and started working. By the time I got started, there was only about 30 minutes left before the first pitch.

As the masses ambled by, I held the tickets high in the air -- the universal scalper's sign. After five minutes, all was cold. It was time for a little aggression. "Lower levels!" I yelled.

When the baseball fans looked at me, I looked back in their eyes. I did some political canvassing back in college and was good at it. Eye contact, keep it simple, close the deal. That's all you really need to know.

But several minutes passed, and nothing was happening. I started throwing out more slogans:

"Trade in your uppers! Sit down low."

"See the game -- not the blimp."

"103!"

"Fear heights? Buy here."

"Heckle the Cubs relievers!"

I know, you're thinking this must have been painful for all involved, that I must have felt like a fool, and that most people must have wanted to thump me. Which is true to an extent, but some of my chants got laughs, and although there were precious few genuine buyers, I piqued some curiosity. Several guys asked the price. I started at $100 a pop. They kept walking. Soon, I was down to $75.

After another ten minutes, seller's desperation crept in. Anyone who has tried his hand at sales knows that feeling, the sinking of your heart into your gut, the horrible taunt of failure. The game was only ten minutes away, and I hadn't had one offer. As the desperation grew, I knew I had to suppress it. People pick up on doomsday vibes every time. It's like a hard-wired telepathic power. So I hid it well. It's called hustling, and it's the lifeblood of capitalism.

Finally, a friendly looking middle-aged fellow in a Cubs hat stopped with his wife and two kids and asked me where my seats were. I showed him the tickets.

"How do I know these are real?" he asked, looking at the tickets.

"Do I look like I would rip you off?"

I actually said that. Call me Crazy Eddie.

"I don't know you."

"Look, I'm going to be right next to you. My family is going to be there."

"How much?"

"Fifty each."

Maybe I could have said 75 -- but I knew 100 would have sent him running. I didn't mention the beer. To hell with the package now; it would kill the tiny profit.

He bought four. They'd flown all the way from Chicago, and I gave them a gift. It felt good; the sales energy was up. A good transaction has almost a sexual charge to it. Call it good societal intercourse. And it cuts through all the prejudices, brings people closer together, even Cubs and Marlins fans.

I still had two left, so I kept slinging slogans. But it was dead again. I started talking to another guy who was trying to sell, a middle-aged bespectacled man who'd come to the game by himself. He was no pro -- he just had an extra ticket. He told me he'd had no luck at all and expected to eat it. "You know, the police were out here and loaded up a whole bus with guys and took them away," he told me.

"Glad they're gone," I said.

I heard the pop of fireworks and the Star-Spangled Banner. I'd miss the first few pitches. I walked up to a group of straggling guys closer to the stadium. A 20-something Cubs fan asked me how much.

"I'll give them both to you for $40," I told him, just wanting to break even on the six.

"I'll give you $20."

"No way."

I would rather have eaten them. It was just too damn cheap.

"Thirty," he said.

"All right, you damn vulture."

So I sold six tickets for $230. I'd lost $18, but I felt something like elation as I turned and sprinted all the way to my seat, stopping only at the gate and at the Heineken beer seller, where I bought two 24-ouncers for $19 and headed to my seat. I waved at the fellow who bought the four. He pointed and gave me a "thanks" smile.

As I sat down, I told my wife, "Never again."

I meant it, but I had no regrets.


In the third inning, the young Cubs vulture who bought my tickets finally made it to his seat. He had a shell-shocked look on his pinkish face, which was spackled with sweat.

"Where you been?" I asked him.

It was a great game.

"My friend got arrested out there trying to sell his ticket," he said, a hint of horror slipping into his voice. "And he has the keys to the rental car."

"Unfuckingbelievable."

The guy was just trading for a better seat. He'd come all the way from Chicago, and now he was sitting in a bus waiting to be taken to jail. And his friends were all stranded at Pro Player.

After the game, I got the arrest reports from that night. In all, 16 people were charged with ticket-related offenses, only one of them for scalping. The rest were for trespassing -- in other words, selling tickets at face value. I determined the friend with the rental-car keys must have been Brian Hayes, a 20-year-old from Chicago. Hayes was definitely no pro -- he had only two tickets on him. I found his phone number and left him a message, but he never called back. Probably wants to forget the whole miserable night.

And it was bad. The police made the arrestees sit in the bus until after midnight before taking them to jail. They didn't bond out until Saturday afternoon. I figure when the police catch someone actually scalping -- selling over face value -- it's fair to throw them in jail. We're all adults, after all. But the arrest reports indicate there were only a few professionals. The rest were regular schmoes stuck with a ticket or two just trying to break even.

Of the 16 arrested, ten had six or fewer tickets. Like 22-year-old Eric Pearl, of Weston. Pearl, a real estate broker, had a few extras and was just trying to sell them at face value. "I couldn't believe it," he says of his arrest. "I didn't even think I was doing anything wrong."

The trespassing charge is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in prison and a $1,000 fine, which might be suitable for profiteers, like I wanted to be. Greedy brokers can hurt the game, driving up prices for good fans. That's the reason I've decided never to try it again. Of course, if I'd made a grand or two, I'd have lined up six friends to snap up as many World Series tickets as possible and then gone on a scalping rampage to rival Little Big Horn.

But this trespassing thing, with the bus and the jail, was over-the-top. I asked Det. Randy Rossman, a Miami-Dade police spokesman, about it. "We have to enforce the law," he said. "If they sold those tickets for face value off the stadium grounds, they wouldn't have been arrested."

Exactly. I suspected that Pro Player Stadium officials, who were actually paying the officers, might be behind the crackdown. So I called the stadium's director of operations, Jim Crowley, who was listed as the complainant on all the arrest reports. "We don't talk about those matters," he said.

Whoever was behind them, the arrests didn't stop the selling. Before the Saturday Cubs game, another dozen people were handcuffed for ticket sales -- 11 for scalping, one for trespassing. The next day, seven more were led away by police, bringing to 35 the total number of arrests for the three games. And you know there'll be more crowded paddy wagons in the Pro Player garage again this week during the World Series.

Which leads us to the real lesson of all this: Don't sell tickets at Pro Player. Buy them instead. Even if New Yorkers jam up the market for these Yankees games, you'll get a decent seat at a good price if you hustle.

Myself, I went back with my son for the Sunday game against the Cubs -- the Josh Beckett masterpiece -- and picked up two great club seats right behind home plate for $50 apiece, or $20 under their combined face value. It was a great transaction. I gave the guy the cash, and he said, "I never turn down money."

That put me up precisely two bucks for the two games. So I came out ahead after all.

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