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INTERNET ACCELERATES SPEED, VOLUME OF TICKET SCALPING.

Byline: Ben Sullivan Daily News Staff Writer

Marc Scapa really likes the Eagles.

So crazy is the 33-year-old telemarketer for the rock 'n' roll band that he recently rose before dawn, walked to a local Ticketmaster outlet and for four hours waited at the head of a small line to make sure he'd have first crack at seats for the Eagles' New Year's Eve show at the soon-to-be-built Staples Center.

``I had other things like rent and food to pay for, but I was going to buy that ticket,'' Scapa said.

Ticketmaster's computer had other ideas. Despite a cashier's repeated attempts, the only tickets still available seconds after they went on sale were priced at $500 or more, well beyond Scapa's budget.

The reason, he learned, was that sales of tickets over the Internet had almost instantly drained the pool of lower-priced seats. And many of those likely went to scalpers who with a few clicks of a mouse could scoop up hundreds or even thousands of seats.

``I don't blame the Ticketmaster staff,'' Scapa said, ``but people like me got sold out.''

Tickets to popular sports and cultural events have always sold fast. And fans have always griped about scalpers abusing the system at the expense of the little guy. But with the speed and convenience of the Internet, industry officials say, the process has been taken to a new level. A sales process that once played out over several hours or even days now can occur in a few blinks of the eye.

Peak season

And the trend is growing just as the summer concert season approaches its peak. With the likes of Ricky Martin, Tom Waits, Blondie, Bob Dylan and the Dixie Chicks all touring in the weeks ahead, the information superhighway is sure to leave thousands of fans dusted on the side of the road.

In April, Ticketmaster Online-City Search Inc. reported a dramatic increase in online sales for the first quarter of 1999. The company sold $60 million worth of tickets in the three-month period, which on an annualized basis represents about 10 percent of Ticketmaster Corp.'s total 1998 sales. It also was a 275 percent increase over the same period a year ago.

Officials at the online ticket seller, the nation's largest, said the rapid growth will likely continue. ``Market forces are dictating a shift in distribution,'' said Robert Perkins, the service's executive vice president.

In the meantime, however, it has gotten that much harder for non-computer users, who still form the bulk of the buying public, to secure seats to high-demand events.

``Scalpers have the advantage,'' said Joe McLaughlin, co-founder of Seattle-based BuyandSell.com, an Internet auction site.

Scalpers' advantage

While most customers still buy their tickets in person or over the telephone, scalpers are buying tickets online in lots as high as a given event allows. As soon as they've completed one transaction, the scalper will generally start over, usually with another name, address and credit card number. ``So how do you know if someone's a scalper or not?'' McLaughlin said.

Likewise, scalpers have found in the Internet a ready means to distribute their goods.

Auction sites like eBay.com and Ubid.com provide a forum that electronically brings buyer and seller together to negotiate a price. In the case of opening day of ``Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace,'' tickets with a face value of $8.50 were sold on eBay for as high as $40, a 370 percent markup. Seats at some popular sports events sell for $1,000 or more.

Some professional ticket brokers say the phenomenon is overblown, that the Internet is merely the latest bogeyman to draw blame from disappointed fans.

``It's too simplistic an answer that the Internet is entirely to blame,'' said Brian Lercel, a salesman at Barry's Tickets in Encino. ``I'm sure some brokers are buying tickets online, but you come across some of the same difficulties as with the old system. There's busy signals, you can't get your order to go through. It's more convenient but it's not perfect.''

Ticketmaster said it does its best to discourage scalping of all types. By screening purchases by name, mailing address, credit card number and other data that it said must be kept secret, the company tries to weed out the blatantly profit-minded.

But restrictions are different for each event and are ultimately dictated by the organizers themselves, according to Perkins. If the Staples Center sets a limit of three, five or 12 Eagles tickets per customer, that's what Ticketmaster will try to enforce. If no limit is set, scalpers can literally buy out the house.

Seeking solutions

There have been attempts to address the online scalping issue specifically.

McLaughlin's BuyandSell site sets a ceiling on each ticket put up for sale. The first bidder to reach that target walks away with the goods, he said. ``Scalping is bad for fans, so we're not going to let you go way out of the ballpark, charging $300 for a $30 ticket,'' he said.

In some cases, artists themselves have stepped in. Billy Joel has made a practice of reserving seats in the first several rows at his concerts that roadies then fill with fans pulled from the nose-bleed sections. John Mellencamp sets aside a portion of all tickets to his concerts for members of his official fan club.

Scapa, McLaughlin and others say that ticket outlets should likewise reserve a portion of tickets for walk-up and telephone customers, at least in the first hours of sales. At a minimum, they argue, venues for popular events should consider lowering limits on how many tickets each customer can buy.

``The thing that irks me is that this isn't just about the Eagles. Pink Floyd's going to play and I heard Jimmy Buffet might be coming,'' Scapa said. ``I want to prevent what happened to me from happening to others. I never got a ticket.''

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Photo

PHOTO Marc Scapa stood in line for hours to buy Eagles tickets at a Van Nuys outlet only to find that all lower-priced seats had been purchased in seconds over the Internet.

John Lazar/Daily News
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Copyright 1999, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jun 6, 1999
Words:1026
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