Newly legalized ticket scalping affects students

Facebook ticket exchange groups are among the ways students are taking advantage of scalping.

by Liz Riggs

When German and global studies senior Stacy Soderstrom needed an extra football ticket for Saturday’s Minnesota-Ohio State football game, finding another student ticket wasn’t hard.

Soderstrom, who wanted the ticket for an out-of-town friend, said she had recently been asked to join Gopher Ticket Exchange, a Facebook group that is a source for finding and selling athletics and event tickets.

“It’s actually really useful,” said Soderstrom, a first-time user of the exchange. Soderstrom said she would probably use the site again to purchase extra tickets for family members when the Gophers play the University of Wisconsin Nov. 17.

It’s been exactly two months since ticket scalping became legal in Minnesota. Before Aug. 1, it was a crime to resell a ticket for more than face value. Those who were caught could be found guilty of a misdemeanor, a charge that carries a possible sentence of 90 days in jail and a $700 fine.

For almost two decades, Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis, pushed to legalize scalping. In a 2005 Daily editorial, Kahn said if scalping was legal, increased competition would lower prices. Soderstrom said she agreed to purchase her ticket for $15, but said there was some variance in the prices people were asking. For the same ticket, a different person wanted $20. Another person was offering two tickets for $35.

Many of the football tickets come from students who have season tickets, and each of those is worth $10 at face value.

According to the rules of the Gopher Ticket Exchange group, anyone can post a request asking for tickets or looking to sell them. Buyers and sellers can contact each other by phone or e-mail, but Facebook messaging is preferred.

Also, no single game ticket can be sold for more than the season price, which is $70 for students.

In the same 2005 Daily editorial, Kahn said she “first became interested in the issue during the 1987 World Series as an example of the misappropriation of police resources. At that time, 15 police officers worked for four days to arrest 30 scalpers. At the same time in Minneapolis, there were 370 offenses reported for crimes such as rape, assault and burglary, with 183 arrests made.”

University Police Chief Greg Hestness said police resources that were previously dedicated to enforcing the old scalping law were minimal and included no on-duty time, but rather some overtime assignments paid for by event organizers and sponsors.

“There were very few police resources dedicated to that,” Hestness said. “Well under 1 percent. And the same is true for the city. Ö It really did not detract from our duty priorities.”

Hestness worked at the 1987 World Series as a Minneapolis Police officer and said most officers who made scalping arrests were hired as off-duty officers and were paid by teams and the organization.

“So those weren’t public expenses,” he said.

Although the law prohibiting scalping was enforced while it was on the books, Hestness said the whole thing never made much sense to him.

“I never had a real clear picture of what it was accomplishing, anyway,” he said.

Hestness said from his observations, hockey appears to be the most scalped ticket on campus.

Asked if he’d seen an increase in the number of scalpers outside of games, now that it’s legal, Hestness said he really hadn’t.

“They’re very much in evidence now, but they kind of were before, too,” he said.

Does legalized scalping drive up prices for the rest of us?

Donald Liu, a professor of applied economics, said the idea of buying low and selling high is a basic economic concept behind ticket scalping.

“There’s nothing intrinsically wrong, per se, with buying low and selling high,” Liu said. “But when (people) are allowed to engage in holding, they can suck-up tickets,” he said.

“If there’s no oversightÖ then a problem might be created,” he said.

Liu said the question then becomes how – and how practical it is – to monitor that.

Some ticket retailers and box offices, such as Ticketmaster, have tried to make it more difficult for scalpers to control large quantities of tickets by placing restrictions on ticket buying. These restrictions can limit the number of tickets a person can buy per transaction.

Even without restrictions in place, scalping doesn’t necessarily create exorbitant prices for the buyer.

Outside Saturday’s football game at the Metrodome, Ernie Brown sold student tickets for $20 – sometimes $15 – depending on how close it was to game time. Between selling maroon and gold beads, Brown bought tickets for $5 or $10 and then resold them, often making a profit that doubled his money.

The same tickets Brown was selling cost $20 at the box office the night of the game.

Brown, who said he hasn’t been scalping tickets for long, said he has scalped Vikings, Gophers and Twins tickets. The most he ever made on a single transaction was probably $200, he said.

Since Aug. 1, Brown said he has seen an increase in the number of people reselling tickets.

“I’ve seen people I’ve never seen before,” Brown said. Brown also said he can often “read” a crowd, and subsequently sets his prices accordingly.

For example, if there are lots of out-of-state fans at a game, Brown said he usually knows he can sell tickets for more. Brown said out-of-town visitors always want to make sure they have a ticket in hand before the game starts “because they came here for that purpose.”

Brown said he thinks legalizing scalping has been beneficial for consumers.

“I see more people shopping around – more so than in the past – instead of just running to the ticket counter,” he said.