Two Words: Walk Away

Jul 11, 2001

The Bottom Line I say go for it. But don't let them set the tone.

Okay, this is going to be considerably longer than two words, but the most important thing in dealing with scalpers is not to be afraid to walk away. I know you really want to see the game/concert/event, but if you don't want to pay their price, you may have to walk away. We will return to this point, but let's first overview the situation at hand.

You want to see the game/show (from here on in, we are going to say game as, IMO, arena rock is dead, though these tips are applicable to any ticket requiring event), but you don't have tickets. One viable option is a scalper. If the event is sold-out and you are outside the stadium looking in, this is the only viable option. If there are tickets still available, it is still a good option to consider because having the option of going to the ticket window gives you some leverage over the scalpers which you can parlay into better seats and/or lower prices than tickets from the stadium window.

If the game is sold out, you are generally going to be paying higher than face value (barring some mitigating factor like if the game sold weeks ago before the visiting team's star player sustained an injury, say, or the home team has begun it's annual fall from contention after leading the division for the first half of the season) if you insist on seeing the whole game. If you are willing to miss part of the game, you have another bargaining chip. Tickets have less value once the game begins, and scalpers have homes too.

If it's really important to you to see the whole game...maybe your favorite old-timer is part of a pre-game ceremony, or the starting pitchers are the real attraction that day...the only option I can recommend if you are trying to get in at face value is to look for people who aren't really scalpers but have extra tickets because their mother-in-law or whoever is sick and can't make it. These people do exist; they may only have one ticket or two, but they are out there. They are usually in the same area as the scalpers, but they are less aggressive. If you see, say, some middle class looking guy slumped against a wall while scalpers are loudly hawking their wares, inquire if he might have an extra ticket. He's not really a scalper, he just doesn't want to eat his ticket. I got a ticket to an Indians/Orioles ALCS game this way for the $25 face value of the ticket.

Here is what I do when I am going to a game without a ticket. First, is the game sold out? If no, then I don't really care, I let the scalpers come to me. If I like what they're selling, I'll bargain with 'em. If not, I don't need 'em. You can get great tickets this way, frequently at Dodger games I am able to get four $27-30 loge seats plus a parking pass for $60-80. If the game is sold out, I know I have to deal with the scalpers, and I go there with a price in mind that I am willing to pay. If they start with a number, I lower it around $10-20 lower than what I want to pay and we compromise. If they say no way, then I walk. There are other people selling tickets.

Nine times out of ten, when you walk away, they will call you back to deal. In this instance, you have the hand, and can generally get what you want. I did this at a Kings game at the old Forum, and I got two tickets behind the boards ($70 apiece, face) for $60. The guy, this was the highest praise of my life, said "Next time you rob me, use a gun."

This brings up another point related to scalping hockey tickets, and it's not a PC one. In my experience, nine out of ten or so scalpers happen to be black. While I detest racism and racial profiling, I cannot help but note that blacks, at least in America, do not tend in general to follow NHL hockey. (there are certainly exceptions to this rule) I factor this in when I am buying tickets for hockey games. Generally speaking, I think most black men who professionally re-sell tickets want to get far away from hockey games as soon as possible, more so than they do from, say, football, baseball or basketball games. Last May, during the NHL playoffs, my friend and I managed to obtain luxury box seats for a Kings/Avs game. We paid $70 for the pair (face $75 per), about ten, maybe even less, minutes into the contest. He was one of a group of scalpers. We wanted to spend no more than $70, we answered that when queried. The first scalper offered us upper deck seats for that price. We looked at them and said, no thanks, but if you'd take about $50, we could talk. Another guy came around and said, "Hey I'll give you these for $70." Luxury boxes. We took 'em. His colleagues were like, "What are you doing, selling those so cheap?" and he just said, "Man, these are my last tickets, I'm outta here." I don't think that would've happened at a Laker game.

So, to sum up, you need to ask and have answers to the following questions before you approach a scalper (or let one approach you): How bad do you want to go? How much do you want to spend? Does it matter if you miss part of the game? Are there tickets available from the ticket window? Once you have all that sorted out, you are ready to deal. Start with a lower price than you want to pay and don't stop until you find your price. If you don't find it, walk away. If the scalper doesn't call you back, look for others to try, maybe allowing more time to pass, up to and including the beginning of the game. Sometimes it is impossible to find the tickets you want at a price you want to pay. When you've determined that, you should go to a nearby sports bar and watch it with the fans there, something that still gives you the thrill of being with a crowd AND also cheaper prices on refreshments.

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