Buying Tickets in the Free World

In a few short days, several friends (to include two former bosses that I worked with over 25 years ago!) will be visiting us in Phoenix for Super Bowl weekend. We have tickets and reservations to several events, but haven’t scored entry to the Big Game. Yet.

Which brings me to a topic I’ve been meaning to write about for quite some time: buying tickets in a free market to music, cultural and sporting events at prices that are significantly above face value to provide me/us with a close proximity to the stage or field. Back in the day, this was called ‘scalping.’ Today, it’s still called ‘scalping.’

I don’t care what you want to call it, but for the last 20 years or so, the ability to parlay my hard work in corporate mainstream into the purchasing of tickets close to the stage has been one of my life’s great pleasures. Pearl Jam, Steely Dan, Paul McCartney, Tom Petty, Rolling Stones, Aerosmith, Don Henley, Guns ‘n Roses, Dave Mathews, Paul Simon, Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen, Sting, Mark Knopfler, The Fray. I’ve seen their performances up close and personal. And when you’re that close, things happen that create cool memories: Eddie Vetter sharing a wine bottle with fans; Brian Wilson coming down and shaking my hand in between songs: and David Crosby of CSN&Y, after the encore, aiming and under-hand throwing his white towel to my then 14 year-old son.

If you haven’t considered paying a premium to get really, really close to a favorite performer, I encourage to rethink that. It is a very, very cool experience.

It’s pretty clear that in the last couple of years, whatever stigma that was attached to scalping has pretty much evaporated with the advent of large ‘open’ distribution centers of tickets on the Internet. The whole thing has been legitimatized by companies like Ebay’s and Nevertheless, it is fascinating to read about the evolution of ticket scalping in a terrific article last Saturday, January 19, 2007, by Joe Nocera, in the Sports section of The New York Times (I would set up a link but it’s not up yet).

In a few short years, the movement to stamp out scalping has disbanded, at least from the standpoint of institutions like the NFL (with some exceptions, like the New England Patriots) or law enforcement (with the notable exception of local ordinances in some cities which prohibit the selling of tickets close to the venue) taking active roles in furthering the stink of the stigma.

What remains, however, are people who lament about the “unfairness” of it all, of corrupt ticket distribution systems that result in tickets going to corporate sponsors and persons who, well, can afford to pay extremely high prices above ticket face value.

When I was younger and couldn’t afford great tickets, I don’t remember having this resentment vibe going. To me, the dilemma was NOT that it wasn’t fair; rather, the challenge was that I couldn’t afford those premium tickets, so I had better go out and work my ass off so I could get to the point where I could afford those tickets. It was about work ethic, sacrifices and making choices. There were times in the early days of ‘my hobby’ where these ticket purchases were a significant percentage of my weekly earnings. But it was the choice I made. I evaluated, did all the mental calculations, and made a decision: was it worth paying that much to get that close? I invariably decided that it was worth every dollar.

So I will now go on StubHub, take a deep breath, and take the plunge. But understand, Tom Brady is no Don Henley, so we might be back a bit this Sunday!