Saturday, June 7, 2008

Something's Askew in the Fens

I was fortunate enough to have my name drawn in the official MLB lottery for tickets to a game in one of three Red Sox/Yankees series at Fenway this year. Then, I was grateful to be randomly selected from the "virtual waiting room" (after hours of waiting) on the day the tickets went on sale to us lucky folks. Most extraordinarily, I was able to purchase 4 upper bleacher tickets (my only option once I got through) for $12 each. Unheard of.

I attended Boston University throughout the 90s. During this time, we could wander over to Fenway and buy affordable tickets at will—legally! I understand the post-curse-reversal demand for tickets, and the resulting diminished supply. But I don't understand how real Red Sox fans have not protested against the obvious exploitation of the success of their team.

The inspiration for this post was my recent visit to StubHub, an online ticket reseller, where the same tickets that I purchased for $12 are available for well over $100 each. I expected the exorbitant prices, but what really caught my eye was the number of tickets available. Somehow, resellers are getting hold of huge numbers of tickets—an impossible task that points to insider trading.

Of the 39,928 seats in Fenway Park, there are 2476 tickets available through StubHub to this one game—that's 6.2% being resold through this one company alone! More curious, there are 21 tickets available in tiny Bleacher Section 34 (one of my favorite sections in the park).

The Red Sox have already announced their partnership with ticket reseller Ace Ticket. Who let this happen? What's the point of putting an official price on tickets at all if you encourage, and therefore must benefit from, resellers' ticket price gouging?

Ticket scalping (in person) around Fenway Park has been long discouraged, but rarely enforced by Massachusetts law. The Sox offer two very potentially good (read: moral) alternatives to purchasing tickets from scalpers: Red Sox Replay (which appears to be discontinued this year?) and the Scalp-Free Zone at Fenway's Gate B (which isn't even mentioned on the Sox website). Red Sox Replay allows season ticket holders to resell their tickets directly through the Red Sox site. The Red Sox could have (should have) regulated ticket prices through this program, but they did not. The Scalp-Free Zone allows people to purchase tickets from ticket holders at face value in a supervised environment where the validity of the tickets is confirmed! Why is this not promoted and utilized as the best, safest way to sell and purchase tickets?

The baseball season is long, and season ticket holders cannot be expected to attend every game. But a large number of people are purchasing season tickets for the sole purpose of reselling. What can be done to prevent this? I don't think the Red Sox administration is concerned—in addition to every sold-out seat, they sell remaining Green Monster Seats via auction. How different it would be these auctions were for a charity! (Although, I guess you could argue that the Red Sox do "enough" for the Jimmy Fund.)

Maybe season ticket holders should be required to attend a designated percentage of games in a season? They could be given a card (like a CVS card) to be scanned along with their game tickets at the gate. If they attend, say, less than 75% of games, their season ticket holder status could be revoked the following year. (If a group of people shared season tickets, they can share scannable cards on a single account.) Otherwise, I feel that all ticket resales should be monitored and processed at face value through either the Scalp-Free Zone or Red Sox Replay. In either case, the person selling the ticket should be charged a small fee to pay for the operating costs of these legal, regulated features. I have sold tickets on eBay and Craigslist because my plans changed, and am proud to say that I have always taken the hit.

The only ticket broker should be the venue ticket office, and no one should be able to hide behind the anonymity offered by the internet.


Anonymous said...

I'm with you on the whole scalping thing, and wish the Sox would do a better job promoting the "Scalp Free" zone (actually, buy googling "scalp free" and Fenway I found this blog).

One clarification would be that the prices on Replay in past years were regulated. Tickets could only be sold for "face", it was the Red Sox who added up to 25% in fees/convience charges. Ticket holders did not even have the option of offering their tickets for less than face price.

This year, StubHub became the "Official" on-line reseller of MLB tickets. What this means is that teams like the Red Sox, Giants, Cubs and Cardnials (all of whom had some sort of program like Replay) can no longer use those programs. Teams are no longer allowed to provide an on-line marketplace for fans to buy/sell tickets. This is why the Sox came up with an arrangement with Ace Tickets where they're the official "off-line" reseller.

Erin Murphy said...

Thank you so much for the comment, and the clarification regarding the Red Sox Replay program. I was hoping to pull the program information from the official website, but it was not to be found - anywhere!

I cannot believe that my little blog was on the first page of Google results for "scalp free" and "Fenway." I'm glad to have visitors to my page, but that's even more telling that there's a problem here in Boston.