When I was a kid I collected basketball cards. There wasn't much of a greater thrill than opening up a new pack of cards and seeing what treasures awaited me. I would sort out the "commons" and pull out the rookies, superstars or inserts. From those cards I would then look them up in the monthly card magazine Beckett and see what was the quoted price for the month. A 92/93 Shaq rookie card - $10. Nice. I would relay the good news to my Dad and he would always answer my enthusiasm with the question "how much could you sell the card for?" I would then say that if I went to the card shop that I could probably get half of Beckett's quoted price or in this example $5. He would calmly reply that the card was then worth $5. This was confusing to me as a kid because I could see in print that the card was listed as $10. My Dad (being the Louis Rokeyser of North Jackson) would try to explain to me about the stock market, but all of this was above my head. His overall point was that the monetary value of a good was equal to what somebody would pay for it. Simple. Right?
I bring up that flashback into my childhood because I feel like it provides good context on how I view the world of scalping. I think scalping is free market capitalism at its best and worst. How much is a game worth? It is worth what you are willing to spend. The fact that a ticket has a face value of $125 only provides a starting point of what the ticket might actually be worth. Is it a $125 ticket to Duke-UNC at Cameron or is a $125 ticket to Twolves-Raptors? I think too many people think of a sporting ticket as if it is an Ipod you would buy at Target. You are wasting money if you go to www.nba.com/timberwolves/tickets and you buy a ticket for what they are charging you. This isn't Target. You can negotiate.
This is probably the #1 stumbling block for most people who might want to buy tickets through a scalper, but instead purchase the tickets from ticketmaster or the team. Where do you go to buy tickets? There have 3 different ways that I have purchased tickets through a 3rd party:
1. Street scalpers -
Approaching the Metrodome, Target Center, Exel Center, etc I am always greeted with the familiar calls of "tickets, who needs tickets." These are almost always men (I have never once dealt with a female ticket scalper) and should be situated as close as possible to the stadium. You should see and hear them and not have to go looking for scalpers, but some markets either have very few scalpers (US Cellular Field in Chicago) or have a designated scalping zone (Miller Park in Milwaukee). My experience is that I have probably bought 80% of my scalped tickets through the street scalpers.
2. Online -
I use stubhub.com and would recommend that site to anyone who wants to ease into the world of scalping tickets. The website has tickets to sporting events, concerts and theater. The website is very user friendly and it guarantees your tickets. I have probably bought tickets to a dozen games using stubhub and I have not once had any type of problem. All you have to do is go to the website, click on the team you want to see and stubhub lists out all of the upcoming games. You then click on the game you want to see and out comes a list of all the tickets you can buy at different prices. This is right next to the map of the stadium, so that you can see exactly where your tickets are.
One note - the price listed is less than you will pay for the tickets since there is a 10% stubhub service fee as well as a delivery fee.
Stubhub is very easy to use, understand and buy tickets. Everything is as straight forward as it is buying tickets through ticketmaster or a team. No surprises.
3. Craig's List -
This is a new avenue that I have started using, but the site itself isn't much of a secret. You go in search for the game you want to see and then email back in forth with the seller. Yesterday I bought my first two sets of tickets from two different sellers and while it might be obvious I have to point out that this is the most risky of any of the 3 choices. For example I went to pick up my first set of tickets yesterday and I had no problem as I got my 8th row face value $125 tickets for $25 each from a nice 40 year old lady at a grocery store only 3 miles from my house. I then went to St. Paul to pick up my 1st row tickets. When I got there I met up with another nice 40 year old lady at a popular Italian restaurant and when we were making the exchange I saw the tickets were Row L and not Row 1. It turns out that the poster had listed them with a lower case l, which on Craig's List looks exactly like a 1. The price I had agreed to pay for them was $30 each because I was offering 20% of face value for what I thought were $150 tickets. Instead what ended up happening was I paid $30 each for tickets with a face value of $60 each. So to recap in the midst of an hour I paid $25 for a $125 ticket and $30 for a $60 ticket.
You can see why I think this is risky. However, the story doesn't end poorly because the lady who sold me the tickets called me back after noticing the error and is going to be sending be back $20 or $10 a ticket. I didn't want to point out that I will still be paying $20 each for tickets with a face value of $60, which means I am not getting as good of deal (33% of face) as I could probably get somewhere else. Still the lady was so nice and I applaud her for agreeing to return my $20 in the first place. She could have easily just taken the money and not looked back. I would use caution with Craig's List. There is more risk involved and as Dr. Nixon taught me in Finance with more risk you should expect more reward. The extra reward you can expect is normally cheaper prices and no additional shipping or administrative fees.
After where the next main question is How much? This is an inexact science, but really it comes down to how much you are willing to pay. You don't get bonus points in heaven (not that I know of anyway) for getting $250 tickets for $27. Also, it isn't worth ruining a good time at a game by being upset that you paid $40 when you could have got the same tickets for $30. The key to determining the price is by figuring out the interest level in the game. These are the main things I consider:
- Home team's history - Are we talking about Alabama football or Alabama basketball? A good, quick way of checking this out is by looking at the attendance of the past few games. Something like the Packers at Lambeau is always a sell out, while the Milwaukee Bucks might normally have 60% of capacity filled.
- Visiting team - Is LeBron in town? Is it a rivalry game? These things will increase the price of the ticket. If it is a no name team then you stand the best chance of getting an even more discounted ticket.
- Record - When in doubt see what the record is of the home team since people normally come out to see a winner.
- National press - Is there something that is causing the came you are going to see to lead Sportscenter?
- Day of the year - all things equal the weekend games draw more than weekday games.
- Time of the year - Games at the beginning of the year have a more stable pricing structure while games at the end of the year can fluctuate a lot in price depending on playoff implications.
- Miscellaneous - Is the stadium (example - Metrodome) closing? Is a certain local hero returning?
Once you have determined how much you want to pay and where you want to buy them the next step is negotiating. The key here that I have found is that you always have to be willing to walk away from the deal unless you get what you want. For example I wanted to go see the Cavs play this year, but all lower level tickets were going for $100+ on the street, so I walked away and didn't buy any tickets. If you aren't willing to walk away and go watch the game at home or at a bar then you start the negotiation at a disadvantage. You should know what price you want to spend after figuring out the value to you and also seeing what others are paying on stubhub and you should stick to that price or hopefully go lower. If you don't get that price then walk away.
I enjoy scalping. It has allowed me to go see more games for less money and really what more can be better than that. I know the Minneapolis market and thankfully what they value (Vikings and hockey) is not the sports (basketball and baseball) that I like to go see in person. It is a perfect match and one that is served me well. That is it for now, but as I learn more about scalping I might have to go back and revise or rewrite this post.