EPISODE FIVE: SCALPING FOR DUMMIES

(Sunday, 1am)

I remember the first time I came down to the Big 8 tournament. It was February of 1987, and several guys from Kehlenbeck house decided to go down to KC and watch the basketball team play over spring break. The other guys had tickets, but I decided to go after the available tickets from the University ticket office had been scooped up. I answered an ad in the Daily and spoke to a guy living in the Old RCA who had an extra ticket to sell, and bought it from him for face value plus $5, which was somewhere in the neighborhood of $50 for three sessions of two games each, and a ticket to the finals on Sunday. On Friday, I paid almost $20 more than that for a single session ticket, and I had to wait until the Missouri/Oklahoma game was halfway over before prices dropped that far. True, things have changed a little since 1987, but the cost difference shows how much the conference tournament has changed from just another basketball weekend to a "destination" weekend for the fans attending the event.

Ticket scalping is a simple proposition: Fans want the tickets that scalpers have. The scalpers have a small investment in buying the tickets from the original ticketholders, and they need to maximize their investment by getting the best price possible from the fans. Some cities and states ban reselling tickets for more than their face value, but Missouri is one of them that overlooks the law out of convenience. I'm not an expert on the "ticket dance", but I have been working these streets for several years, so maybe my thoughts on the matter can be of assistance to those needing some tips on getting tickets for next year's Big 12 tournament in Dallas.

Fans have four sources for tickets to the conference basketball tournaments. They can get tickets from their university's official allotment, they can order tickets directly from the Big 12 conference, they can buy tickets from a broker before traveling to the tournament, or they can make the trip to Dallas and trust fate to provide them with tickets.

Getting tickets from Iowa State University is a simple proposition. You fill out a form at the ticket office and the tickets are sent to you well before you leave for the games next March. The drawback to this method is that since these tickets have more demand than supply, the ability to buy the tickets is related to your level of giving to the National Cyclone Club. I would never tell anyone that giving to the NCC is a bad thing – everyone should give what they can afford to give to help our athletic programs – but some people just can't give enough to meet the cutoff for Big 12 tickets. One possible solution: Get together with a group of people and make a common donation that will qualify you for ordering tickets. Our football tailgating group is considering making a donation like this to get a parking permit for an RV in the donor lots East of Jack Trice for next fall.

You can order your tickets directly from the Big 12 conference, but this method throws your ticket order in to an enormous pool of other fans across the country. The Big 12 conference has tickets earmarked for corporate sponsors and local businesses in the tournament locale, but they also have a batch of tickets designated for fans of any team in the conference. These tickets are sold to fans that send in order forms months in advance, and if the orders exceed the supply, I believe they use a lottery to allocate the tickets to the public.

Both of the methods listed above involve getting a block of tickets for every game in the tournament. This is a great idea, if your plan is to see every game, regardless of how ISU does. If you are like many of the rest of us, and combine following your favorite team with catching up with old friends, sometimes it's better to hang out in the big tent South of the Golden Ox, the back patio of Harpo's, or a table at "YOU KNOW WHERE". If you wish to pick and choose which games you attend, the options below might be your cup of tea.

Ticket brokers are "legitimate" companies that buy & resell tickets to concerts and sporting events (heck, you could probably even get Presidential Inauguration tickets from some of them). You can call them up and get price quotes on ticket prices for select games. The price will be lower per session if you buy the whole session ticket (for example, a session with Colorado, Baylor, Texas Tech and Texas A&M would have tickets selling for a sack full of apples, or maybe a little bag of skittles) because of cost averaging between desired and non-desired tickets. If you absolutely, positively need to get tickets before you leave for the tournament and you can't get them from ISU or Conference, this may be your best bet. There are several ticket brokers located in Kansas suburbs of Kansas City, and there are also brokers located in the Dallas area. Remember, whenever dealing with a ticket broker, ask for independent references, and contact the police department or chamber of commerce in their area. I have heard of "fly-by-night" brokers setting up shop, taking a whole mess of orders for one big event (Superbowl, Indy 500, NCAA tournament), cashing the checks, then pulling up their tent & leaving town. Don't rely on the honesty of a company strictly based on the fact that they took out an ad in the Des Moines Register, or the fact that they're listed in their local phone book. Caveat Emptor, folks.

This covers most options open to those who like to plan their movements, but there may be some more creative options still available. When the Texas schools were admitted to the old Big 8, forming the Big 12, Texas' basketball program was nowhere near as good as they are today. At that time, the UT alumni association allowed ANYONE to join the organization for a nominal fee, regardless of their status as an actual alumnus of the university. I heard stories about ISU fans joining the UT alumni association to obtain tickets for the tournament, and I don't doubt that it happened. The problem with this gambit is that the recent success of the Texas program has dried up tickets for anyone but season ticket holders from UT, but other angles may still be available. If I were going to try to get tickets for this event, I would look at a university that has had historical success in basketball, but is on a slide to mediocrity.

Funniest story about beating the ticket crunch at Kemper? A "friend of a friend of a friend" got into the building for a first round session back in the old Big 8 days using a trick I like to call THE WONDERBREAD MANEUVER. He arrived at the arena wearing a light blue button-up workshirt and dark blue dockers, and hung out relatively close to one of the loading docks at Kemper. When the truck from a local bakery arrived to deliver buns for the brats & polies at the concession stands, he waited a minute or two, then picked up a couple of trays of buns and carried them into Kemper past the security guards. Once inside the building, he ditched the buns, changed into his team's shirt, and spent the whole session floating between empty seats. I'm not encouraging gate jumping, but I do think this amount of chutzpah deserves at least a "golf clap" for creativity. Our group has never done this, but we did spend the intermission between sessions down in Replay's (the bar in the basement of Kemper Arena) once in the mid-‘90s. We sat in our booths drinking until halftime of the first game of the night session, and then came back upstairs to watch a game & a half of the session where we had no tickets. I believe that this would be impossible to do now, with the changes to Kemper's security in the area between Replay's and the secured walkway inside Kemper.

THE ART OF THE DEAL

Now I'm talking to all of "my people" in the reading audience. You know who you are. You hate the internet mapping programs, you hate fixed agendas, and you think the journey is as important as the event you're journeying towards. You don't buy tickets ahead of time for the Big 12 tournament for many reasons. You're not sure your spouse will allow you to go to the games. You're not sure how much you'll be needed at work that week. You're not sure if the team will be playing past Thursday afternoon, but you'd still like to get together with the old gang at Kelly's. Or maybe you're like me, and games that don't involve ISU don't motivate you to see them in person. Kansas City has plenty of TV's, and most of them in bars and restaurants are tuned to the tournament games, regardless of who's playing. If you do the math, seeing ISU play through the tournament without pre-purchasing tickets means that you have to get 4 tickets; one session each for Thursday & Friday can be left off your wish list. The cost of buying your tickets one at a time can exceed the cost of buying a set for the whole tourney, but that would only occur if ISU goes all the way – and if they do, isn't it worth the extra cost?

Scalpers come in all shapes and sizes, and they also have more flavors of tickets than Baskin-Robbins has of ice cream. Scalpers can sell you upper deck tickets or lower deck tickets. They can sell you whole session passes, or they can sell you cherry-picked tickets for your session of interest. Scalpers are not created equal. If you want to find whole-session tickets, don't look for the guys on the street near Connie's Genesee Inn or the Golden Ox with handfuls of ducats. You need to go out to the bars in Westport on Wednesday night. I've gotten deals from people who are holding tickets for others who couldn't come down because of family emergencies. These people don't necessarily have to be ISU fans – one of the best pickups I've ever made was from an older KU fan who was selling a pair of his son's tickets for face value. I ended up watching the games from the folding chairs beside the ISU pep band. Not too bad, if I do say so myself. Look for fans of teams who have just lost, and don't be a cheapskate. Offer them face value, and they will more than likely sell you the tickets, instead of dealing with a scalper. If you try to lowball them, they'll take their business to the pros outside. Offer them face value; it's the least you can do to keep ISU fans ensconced as the kings of sportsmanship in the conference.

If you have no other options, it's time to hit the streets. Here are a few tips I've been able to use over the years to help find tickets for the lowest price available with the minimum hassle.

You should get a copy of the arena's seating chart, and carry it with you whenever you're negotiating for tickets. You should memorize some of the key facts of the seating chart (like lower levels are "100", upper levels are "200", remember which sections are in the corners) so you're not fumbling around with your seating chart when you should be haggling with the scalper. You can't get a good deal unless you've done some research ahead of time. You should also make sure you have a good supply of fives, tens and twenties. You should be able to come up with the money to buy any cost tickets without getting change from the scalper. Scalper etiquette says that the scalper isn't responsible for giving you change. If you can only come up with $80 instead of the asking price of $75, it's not as if Mr. Scalper is going to reach into his bag & give you a toaster oven to make up the cost difference. You're supposed to come prepared to do business, don't rely on the mercy of these guys.

Scalpers are like dogs; they can smell fear and desperation. If you go out there like a celibate college student at bar closing time, you'll pay too much for a ticket. Scalpers deal with people for a living, and they know who will overpay for a ticket just by talking to them. Remember, you're the genius who didn't buy the tickets ahead of time, so don't start thinking that you HAVE to get a ticket irregardless of price. You've already blown that one, so get your mind around the fact that you may have to watch this game from a bar.

You should know which teams are in your session, and plan your strategy accordingly. If your team is going up against Kansas at Kemper Arena, or one of the Texas schools in Dallas, the ticket prices may be high because the demand is high. If you're matched up against Baylor in a session at Kemper with Colorado vs. Texas A&M, you might be able to get a bargain because the scalpers know they're SOL on these tickets. Don't expect to get a price below face, but a markup of $10 over face isn't unreasonable. Take it and consider yourself lucky.

Don't get greedy. Set a price you're willing to pay (for example, $50 for upper level tickets, and $80 for lower level, with $100 for seats within 10 rows of the court) and stick to it within reason. If you find tickets close to your price, and you can get right into the arena, maybe you'll want to go ahead & pay the extra markup. If you're working the street and the game is getting ready to start, don't panic. Panic is fear and desperation (see paragraph #2), and it will cause the scalper to dig in on his price. Remember, singles and doubles together command less than four or more tickets together, and groups of three together shouldn't go for 50% more than a pair of tickets together. Scalpers know that groups of three are relatively rare, and if they are asking $80 a seat for three tickets, they should be willing to sell you two of the tickets at $80, with the third one going for $65 or $70. This gives them a profit and keeps them from ending up with a bunch of "orphan" singles, which aren't worth as much as if they went out with a matched set. ONE TIP – always tell the scalper you need one more ticket than you actually need when you're looking for the initial price, then he will be more willing to give you a break on the last one, since he will think you still need to find a single close to the ones he has. Don't carry this too far, if you go down to handing him the money and suddenly blurt out "oh, I forgot, we don't need the last one", he'll tell you that he's not going to break up the set. Maybe you should try faking a phone call & telling him "Steve is going to sit with his cousin, do you have three somewhere else at that price?"

Don't buy the first ticket you see. In Kansas City, often you see guys selling tickets along off-ramps on the way to Kemper. I've bought tickets from them before, but only if I already know what the going rate is at Kemper. Sometimes, these guys will set up & present their tickets as a bargain, while they're on the radio with their partners at the stadium and they know that they're either at or above the going rate with tickets that may not be where you want to sit. It's always a good idea to split up, and have one guy go in ahead of the group to test the waters. This scout will find out the asking prices for upper & lower tickets and report back to the group, so that they can fairly evaluate any tickets they may find on the way to the stadium. The guy at Kemper should go down with enough money to buy tickets for the entire group at their agreed-upon price, and the following group should also bring enough money for the whole enchilada. This way, you can jump on any fair offer before it passes to someone else.

Have your money ready, and be willing to speak for your group. If you find a guy selling good tickets $15 less than the going rate, don't yell at your buddy down the street "Hey Ron, does $75 sound good for lower level?" Someone will immediately jump in and offer $5 more than you did, and scalpers aren't required to honor handshake deals. If you don't get the money in his hand and the tickets in yours before notifying your buddy, you'll be setting up an auction where you will not win.

Don't get "owly" with scalpers. Remember, it's always business – it's never personal. He's out to get the maximum return on his investment, and price is simply the amount someone is willing to pay. Getting mad at a scalper for selling his tickets to a guy who was willing to pay more than you were is like getting mad at your local gas station cash register attendant because gas has gone over $2 a gallon. I was stiffed by a scalper this week, he had another guy pipe right up and offer him $25 more for the pair of tickets than he offered them to me at, but I took it well. The scalper came up to me 5 minutes later and whispered "stick around here, I'll get you tickets for your price in a few minutes". We ran into a couple of guys from the tailgating crowd at Trice who had an extra pair (they bought five for a group of three), a few minutes later and got our tickets from them, so I never got to see if the scalper could come through for me.

That's all I've got for now. I'll try to give you a final summary of the KC trip, a review of the KC bars we visited, some quotes from people at the tournament, and my thoughts on our NCAA seeding.


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