Boom Times for Arizona Scalpers
Prime seats at Madonna's shows this week at Glendale Arena are being resold for more than $2,000, about six times their $350 face value. Premium tickets for the Phoenix Suns' just-wrapped playoff games were marked up 500 percent, as are seats at the inaugural game at the Arizona Cardinals' new stadium in September.
Because Arizona, along with most other states, has no limits on who can buy and sell tickets or for how much, the free market reigns at times like this, when huge summer concerts are lining up and the local sports scene is hopping.
It gives consumers more options than ever for buying tickets, which can be daunting for occasional fans not used to navigating the secondary market.
The impact is also felt by those who go the traditional box-office route, only to find shows sold out in minutes because of preshow sales or aggressive ticket-buying networks.
"It was unbelievable," said Sherri St. John of Queen Creek, who was met with a "none available" message when she tried to get online tickets to Madonna's Thursday show two minutes after they went on sale.
The traditional image of a scalper is someone hawking tickets on the street. They try to get more for a ticket than its face value, but last-minute fans can benefit from cut-rate prices.
But those buyers also take bigger risks.
On the street
"It is absolutely, 'Buyer beware,' " said Cathey Moses, spokeswoman for US Airways Center and the Dodge Theatre, both in downtown Phoenix.
The biggest danger with street hawkers is counterfeit tickets. It happens at almost every show, Moses says.
"There will be a handful of duplicated tickets, some way, somehow," she said. "And it's not just the sold-out shows."
Easiest to counterfeit are computer-printed e-tickets. The paper can be copied as many times as a crook desires, but its bar code will work only for the first person to use it.
Despite the risks, business is often brisk outside almost any Valley venue.
"We're not thrilled with the price," said buyer Courtney Flegaer, 20, of Tempe. She and a friend paid $550 for two lower-level seats at Game 7 of the Suns/Los Angeles Clippers playoff series in May. The seats originally sold for $125 each.
"We're big fans, and it's easy to get sucked in."
But when tip-off time was five minutes away and the sidewalk was nearly empty, one customer bought a $55 seat for $40.
At the other end of the spectrum, ticket brokers portray themselves as the safest way to buy. Among other things, most brokers have storefronts or offices where customers can find them if a problem arises.
"Working with a ticket broker provides the opportunity to be sure about your order," said Zach Anderson of Austin, Texas-based TicketCity, which has resold 90,000 tickets worldwide since its founding in 1990. "There's a certain security."
His company offers a 200 percent money-back guarantee on its Internet site. Phoenix's Western States Ticket Service, one of the state's oldest outlets, also guarantees satisfaction on its sales, owner Tony Beram says.
The 190 members of the National Association of Ticket Brokers adhere to a code of ethics that provides for the Washington, D.C.-based group to investigate and resolve any disputes between buyers and sellers.
Brokers get tickets from several sources:
- Directly from teams, just like regular fans. Some brokers hire "pullers" to go online and grab large amounts of tickets.
- From season-ticket holders who can't attend an event.
- By enrolling in fan clubs that get to buy tickets early.
- From other brokers who share their inventory through nationwide networks such as Ticketnetwork.com.
Donald Vacarro, chief executive of the ticket-networking site, says regular fans shouldn't vent their anger at brokers when events sell out quickly. Fan clubs, venues, performers, promoters and record labels all are allowed to withhold prime seats before they go on sale to the general public, he says.
For example, buyers who enrolled in the DowntownLive.net site operated by US Airways and the Dodge, were able to purchase playoff seats for the NBA's Western Conference finals in Phoenix two hours before the general public. Madonna offered a presale on her Web site through her fan club.
Credit the Internet for revolutionizing the scalping industry.
With eBay, StubHub, Ticketmaster and America Online hosting auctions and exchanges, brokers and street scalpers have new competition. Ticketmaster, StubHub and AOL allow fans to auction seats online, pocketing a profit from each transaction. Sites including eBay and craigslist.com also allow individual ticket holders to scalp.
Even local sports teams, including the Suns and Arizona Diamondbacks, and music halls, including US Airways and the Dodge, have set up ticket exchanges or auctions on their Web sites.
"Anyone who has a ticket now is a broker," said Gary Adler, general counsel for the National Association of Ticket Brokers.
But not all Web sites carry the same level of risk.
StubHub bills itself as a "fan-to-fan exchange" and guarantees that all tickets sold on its site will be valid. Ticketmaster offers a similar guarantee for its TicketExchange. America Online partners with both services, as well as six others, on its Ticket Marketplace service.
The popular craigslist.com discourages selling tickets above face value on its site with this statement: "We see scalping as a major disservice to the community."
The policy of eBay is to reimburse those who end up with invalid tickets a maximum of $200, minus a $25 processing fee. So those who pay more than $200 for tickets have limited protection.
Financial safeguards are minimal on craigslist.com. The site suggests that unhappy buyers seek help from "police and/or small-claims court."
Like ticket brokers, the guarantees offered by StubHub and TicketExchange come at a price. Often-hefty markups are the rule here, with bargains the exception.
'Do your homework'
With the growing number of options, informed buyers have a chance to attend virtually any event if they can afford the premiums that may come with getting a ticket on the secondary market.
Just as consumers compare advertisements for cars, furniture or groceries, the NATB's Adler encourages fans to do some shopping: "Do your homework. Go and look around. See what the market is, because there are thousands of places to go look now."
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It's ticket scalping season in Arizona.