Wednesday, February 18, 2004
It's a cold night outside Allen Fieldhouse, and a man dressed in a heavy black coat is flashing a handful of brightly colored basketball tickets to the throngs of passers-by.
"Tickets ... anybody need tickets?" he says. "Tickets ... anybody got tickets?"
If the Jayhawks are playing, the man -- who identifies himself only as "Brick" -- can be found northeast of the fieldhouse. About eight other scalpers have staked out their territory in other areas near the arena.
For being such a visible part of a trip to Allen Fieldhouse, the scalpers are a secretive bunch. None of those contacted by the Journal-World was willing to discuss their methods, profit margins or anything else about buying and selling tickets.
Brick offers only this analysis of his life as a scalper: "My bills come to my house. Ain't nobody else paying them but me."
Despite the belief of many fans, scalping tickets is perfectly legal in Douglas County. Even one scalper approached by the Journal-World at a recent game seemed to misunderstand the law.
- KU vs. BaylorWednesday, Feb. 18Tipoff: 7 p.m.TV: JTV | Click for affiliates
- Full KU men's B-ball schedule
- University Council backs changes to KU hoops ticket plan (2-13-04)
- Faculty ticket plan ready for University Council (2-11-04)
- It's tough, but you can get tickets to a KU home basketball game (11-4-04)
- KU Athletics Corporation
"Leave us alone, man," he said. "I ain't doing nothing illegal. I sell at face value."
In fact, there's nothing illegal about selling tickets above face value, either. The confused scalper's car had a license tag from Missouri, where scalping is illegal.
Lt. Schuyler Bailey of the KU Public Safety Office said officers ask only one thing of scalpers at the fieldhouse: that they not block traffic.
"We have very few complaints," he said. "Most of them have been doing this for a while, and they comply with us. We've never really had any problems."
Though Kansas has no state law regarding scalping, at least two counties -- Wyandotte and Sedgwick -- ban the practice.
Sixteen states prohibit the resale of tickets, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. An additional seven states require a license to resell tickets.
A bill was introduced to the Kansas Legislature in 2000 that would have banned scalping, but it wasn't passed.
No such ban has been discussed in Douglas County in recent memory, said Bob Johnson, a Douglas County commissioner.
"My sense is it's not perceived as a problem at Allen Fieldhouse or Memorial Stadium," Johnson said. "When I go to basketball games I almost always see someone interested in selling or buying tickets. I've never heard of anything untoward happening or anything that would cause any concern."
KU's new athletic administration may decide to make scalping an issue, either with the Legislature or at the county level.
KU misses out on an opportunity when tickets are sold outside the university, said Jim Marchiony, associate athletic director for external relations.
"It does bother us," he said. "We have people who are on a waiting list or who we know who could use those tickets. We'd much rather those tickets be in their hands, rather than in the hands of someone whose only interest is to sell them for a profit."
But he said he didn't know what avenue the athletic department might take to change the situation.
"We haven't had that conversation in a while," he said. "It's something we've looked at and we're going to look at some more, but the question is: What can we do about it, legally? It's something that, certainly, we will get into in the future. It will be addressed."
Brent Learned understands why scalpers don't want to talk about their trade. He didn't, either, when he was scalping as a KU student in the early 1990s.
First, anonymity can let you avoid paying taxes on your income. And interviews with the media might stir up a public debate that could lead to new regulations on scalping.
"If you got something great going, why would you want to mess with your bread and butter?" said Learned, who lives in Oklahoma City. "You might lose your monopoly on the market. They don't want to tell how the game's actually played."
However, Learned said, there's not a whole lot to scalping. You buy tickets and sell them for a higher price.
He said, from a scalper's point of view, that buying and selling tickets right before the game was the best option, because people didn't have time to haggle on price.
"All it takes is street smarts, people skills and being at the right place at the right time," he said.
Learned said scalpers could make hundreds of dollars on a good night. A professional might travel to several regional games in a weekend and pull in more than $1,000.
"It's a close family atmosphere with those scalpers," he said. "The guys I knew at KU (in the '90s) are still there. I go there now, and I feel like I'm back in college. The same guys are selling at the same corners."
Of course, scalpers aren't the only outlet for purchasing tickets to the perennially sold-out home basketball games.
A search of eBay last month showed the online auction house had at least 40 tickets available for the remainder of the home season. The highest-priced pair of tickets was $177.50 for the Feb. 29 Oklahoma game.
Another outlet is Ace Sports, 647 Mass., which opened its Lawrence branch in November and also operates a store in Overland Park.
Owner Hal Wagner said his company guarantees to pay more money for tickets, pays sales tax and guarantees the tickets' authenticity. Scalpers rarely, if ever, pay sales tax and can't guarantee that tickets are legitimate, he said.
"They do their thing, we do ours," Wagner said. "We don't like to be put in the same category with them. I have nothing against the street peddler, but a lot of customers would rather deal with people they know have been in business 15 years."
Tickets range in price depending on the game and demand, Wagner said. Some go for face value, $32, and others can cost hundreds of dollars, such as prime seats for Big 12 rival games. Some tickets for the Missouri game Feb. 2 were less than $100, he said.
But Will Banning, an Overland Park resident, said he has had the best luck with scalpers at the fieldhouse the day of the game.
He said he always buys scalped tickets to the handful of games he attends each year, and he's never paid more than $50 -- even for rival games like Missouri. He said he rarely sees dramatic differences in prices between scalpers.
"The market kind of sets itself," he said. "Scalping is the best way to do it. It's worked for me so many times. I've found there are always seats available, and not just bottom-rung seats. I almost feel like you have every option available."
Dave Parker, a season-ticket holder from Topeka, said he's had success with scalpers on the other end of the deal. He says he often sells tickets he's not planning to use to scalpers outside the fieldhouse.
"Although some people see scalpers as sleazy, I have great respect for their street smarts and marketing skills," Parker said. "If I were in the business school at KU, I would even think about having one speak to my class."