Sunday, April 03, 2005

Scalping The Scalping Laws

The first Final Four scalping arrest was made Thursday afternoon outside the America's Center by undercover vice officers. What a waste of time and manpower.

In a capitalist society, there's no reason for scalping to be illegal. Our entire economy is based on supply and demand. I buy something, find out you really want it, charge you a little more, and take the profit. Wholesale and retail. Why doesn't that apply to sports tickets?

The answer most often given is taxes -- the government isn't getting its piece of that sale, even if they already got paid off during the initial transaction. But the same thing applies to every yard sale in America and every auction on eBay. Do you really think Beanie Baby collectors included their transactions on their 1040s?

Who is hurt by scalping? The popular complaint is that ticket brokers swoop in and grab up the seats before "real fans" can get them. In many cases, a limit on the number of tickets sold by the promoters to any individual keeps the window of opportunity open. Of course, most of those "real fans" don't go down to the windows at the venue, or use online ticket vendors. They just whine about being shut out without making an effort. Later, when they really want to go, you'll see them fork over the higher prices demanded by brokers or scalpers.

Most of the tickets for events like the Final Four aren't available to the general public in the first place. They're reserved for the schools, the NCAA, and the corporate sponsors. Those corporations then get to use the tickets for whatever they like, which usually means an invitation to their best customers -- they use the tickets to create extra income, just like scalpers do. Same thing, disguised as a business expense.

Next complaint comes from teams, arena operators, and promoters. They say it's not fair that they don't get all that extra revenue from those valuable tickets. Sorry, but in an age where concert tickets routinely cost over $100/each, a price that already keeps a large number of fans away, you can't invoke the "someone else is getting rich" excuse. Meanwhile, some Broadway producers have turned into their own scalpers -- seats in the first few rows for "The Producers" were selling for $400 apiece in its first year, and the practice is now being repeated for "Spamalot," the Monty Python musical.

Is that gouging? No, it's meeting the marketplace in the middle. Gouging is what happened in Florida last year, when a motel operator quadrupled the price of rooms after a hurricane blew through town, destroying homes and uprooting families. That's just wrong on a moral level. You don't sell $1 bottles of water for $20 during a drought. The law of supply and demand has to be suspended during an emergency.

However, those $4 parking lots that are charging $25 this weekend are doing the same thing the scalpers are -- seizing yet another opportunity to be American capitalists, and there's nothing wrong with that. After all, there's no law saying you have to go to The Dome to enjoy the Final Four.

I'm watching it for free in my living room, where a beverage doesn't cost $6, the line for the bathroom doesn't snake around the corner, and parking is free.