Resale ticket brokers are doing big business
by Amy Mastin
Last spring Bob Poorman attended two of the most popular sporting events in the country: the Masters and the NCAA Final Four championship game.
When the Indianapolis business owner learned March Madness would be played out in Atlanta the same week he planned to attend the golf tournament with three buddies, he called Sport Events.com, an Indianapolis-based ticket broker, and thought nothing of paying hundreds over face value for courtside seats to watch the Florida Gators defeat the Ohio State Buckeyes, 84-75.
"It was a great experience," Poorman says. "I told them what I wanted and they found it."
Poorman has dealt with other ticket brokers in the past, both online and over the phone, but he prefers doing business in person with a company in his own hometown. He is pleased with the personal service provided by Sport Events.com owner Kyle Kinnett and his associate, Bobby Milam. "It's nice to know you can look someone in the eye, hand him a lot of money and know you're getting what you pay for."
Here's what people are paying ticket brokers to see:
28% popular music or rock concert
23% musical, play or symphony
45% sporting event
4% other event
We used an Angie's List Quick Poll with 1,506 responses to generate these statistics. The results are reflective of the nation as a whole, say ticket brokers interviewed for this story.
At least one industry observer says money is the reason the secondary ticket market has grown by leaps and bounds over the past decade, though the biggest players — resalers such as StubHub (acquired by eBay in January 2007), RazorGator and OnlineTickets — refuse to disclose earnings.
"They're making so much money that if people really saw how much they were making it would probably lead to more calls for restrictions and legislation," says Dr. Steve Happel, an economics professor at Arizona State University and author of numerous articles on the free-market value of ticket brokers. Faced with expanding purchase options, consumers must educate themselves to make wise decisions, he adds.
The ticket resale market can be traced back to ancient Rome during gladiator contests. Bartering to get a better view of Caesar has transformed into a computer-driven, $10 billion industry, Happel estimates. "The biggest change in the industry is the use of the Internet by far, by far, by far," he says.
On that point, Gary Adler, general counsel for the National Association of Ticket Brokers, agrees. "Today, anyone with a ticket and a computer is a ticket broker."
Formed in 1994, the NATB provides a code of ethics for its members, which now number about 200. NATB members are running a business in an office, Adler explains, not scalping tickets on a street corner.
About 63 percent of Angie's List members who responded to a recent Quick Poll say they've purchased tickets from a broker. Ken Bodell of Maplewood, Minn., is among them. The Detroit Tigers fan bought a pair of tickets to Game 1 of the 2006 World Series from RazorGator, but only after a similar deal fell through at TicketLiquidator. "I got a call 24 hours later saying the seats were unavailable," Bodell says. "It reeked of bait and switch. The seats they offered as a replacement were much worse."
You deserve the best seat in the house. Here's how to get it:
• KNOW WHO YOU'RE DEALING WITH. Be sure to check member reports in the ticket broker service category at angieslist.com. Most reputable ticket brokers are also members of the National Association of Ticket Brokers (natb.org).
• LEARN THE LAW. Ticket sales aren't governed by federal laws but determined by each state. You can find the law in your state when you visit natb.org.
• GET PRIORITY TREATMENT. Ask brokers if they send out e-mails with upcoming shows or discounted inventory and ask to be on their mailing list.
• CHECK THE CHART. Go to the venue's website and look at the seating chart before buying tickets. Don't get stuck in a seat with an obstructed view.
• BE SKEPTICAL. If a ticket price seems too good to be true, it probably is.
• SAVE MONEY. Ask online ticket companies if it's possible to avoid shipping and service charges. You might be able to pick up your ticket at the box office or will-call window.
• ASK TO SEE A GUARANTEE. Many online sites offer a money-back guarantee or will replace the ticket on site. NATB members will refund 200 percent of the contracted price for each ticket not delivered.
• CHARGE IT. Never pay for a ticket with cash or a money order. Always use a credit card so you have recourse if the ticket is invalid. Retain all your invoices and receipts.
A ticket seller may choose to post on several sites at the same time, responds Molly Martinez, marketing director of TicketNetwork, the parent company of TicketLiquidator. "Upon acknowledging that the tickets were no longer available, the customer was promptly and dutifully called and alerted of the issue," she says. "Also, his credit card was not charged."
Bodell ended up paying RazorGator $1,300 to take his dad to the ball game, hundreds of dollars over the tickets' face value. He says he was very careful when making the second transaction and insisted the tickets be delivered, as some brokers send an electronic version to print at home. He also followed up with a phone call to seal the deal. "I wasn't leaving anything to chance," he says.
The lucrative business of online ticket sales has created other legal and ethical issues. In October 2007, a Massachusetts judge ordered StubHub to give the New England Patriots the names of 13,000 people who used the site to buy or sell Patriots' tickets, some far above face value. The state's antiscalping laws prohibit reselling tickets for more than $2 above face value, plus certain service charges. The Patriots could revoke season tickets, but a team spokesman says the move was made to gather information only. In another case, Ticketmaster won an injunction against RMG Technologies of Pittsburgh, a software company accused of designing a program to defeat security systems and snatch up tickets as soon as they go on sale.
Across the country, thousands of "Hannah Montana" fans were unhappy because of a shortage of concert tickets, including Leslie Breeding of Houston. The mother of two stood in line at the Toyota Center to secure the allotted four concert tickets and became miffed when a busload of buyers from OnlineTickets.com joined them. "There were parents trying to get tickets for their kids and these people were there to make a profit," she says.
Breeding says the group was "very bold" and wore matching T-shirts and handed out business cards. But Judy Sultan, a spokesperson for OnlineTickets.com, says she is "not aware of any such issue" and offered to contact Breeding personally.
Other ticket buyers are also leery of huge online operations, but use them to find premium seats at a good price. Most major online brokers provide money-back guarantees, as do members of the NATB. Joe Laco of Akron, Ohio, used StubHub to purchase two tickets to watch his beloved Cleveland Indians in a Major League Baseball playoff game. Paying $210 — about 60 percent over face value — he picked up the tickets on game day at a hotel near the stadium. "It was a very easy process," Laco says.
He used StubHub again to purchase tickets for the World Series, but when the Indians didn't make it, he filed the paperwork to get his money back and a credit was issued to his charge card. "A good refund plan is important," Laco says.
Local brokers say they provide some advantages over their online competitors, however. "It's a matter of customer service," says Max Waisvisz, owner of Gold Coast Tickets in Chicago, which employs 20 people who answer calls daily. "A reputable broker will tell you where the good seats are. You don't have to wait in line to get tickets or try to figure it out yourself. And sometimes you can get great deals."
So, what's the best way to get a great deal on tickets for the Final Four finale in San Antonio April 7? Shop around. While RazorGator is the official ticket provider for the NCAA, many brokers are offering tickets.Poorman offers this advice: "Stay within your budget. But remember, you get what you pay for."
— Additional reporting by Shelly Towns