They call themselves “ticket brokers,” independent contractors, even entrepreneurs. Others still call them scalpers.
And while the likes of StubHub, Craig’s List and the NCAA Ticket Exchange have cut into their business, these brokers still thrive at times, especially during high-demand sporting events such as the NCAA Basketball Tournament subregional games here this week.
Business was brisk, and ticket prices high – up to double their original face value – Thursday morning and afternoon all along Washington Street heading into First Niagara Center. And with Syracuse University winning Thursday, ticket prices promise to go even higher for Saturday’s doubleheader.
What does this tournament mean for the several dozen scalpers plying their trade outside the arena?
It’s Christmas in March for them, especially after a tough season selling Buffalo Sabres tickets.
“It’s a big profit for scalpers,” ticket broker Dick Clark said between doubleheaders Thursday. “You can get four times what you paid for them.”
The day started early for the scalpers. At 10 a.m., these ticket brokers began working their magic, at spots as far away as Pearl and Seneca streets and south of the Michigan Avenue bridge near Scott Street. Most of their signs looked homemade, announcing, “I Need Tickets,” or “Tickets Wanted.”
Here’s a typical scene from the informal, highly fluid ticket market outside the arena:
At about 11:30 a.m., 45 minutes before tipoff, a crew from Toronto approached a ticket broker looking for five seats in the 300 Level for the afternoon doubleheader, featuring Ohio State vs. Dayton, followed by Syracuse vs. Western Michigan.
The broker, who gave only his first name, Desi, didn’t have five tickets at that level, so he called out to another broker for the added tickets.
Desi then asked for $125 each for three tickets high in the 300 Level and another $150 each for a pair in the first row of the 300 Level. That’s a total of $675.
After some minor haggling back and forth, the two sides settled on a $650 total for the five. That’s $130 per ticket, almost double the original $66 face value of the 300 Level ticket.
Nobody seemed too bothered by the deal.
“A done deal, $650,” Desi chirped. “Merry Christmas. I’ve got to feed my kids.”
Toronto resident Ian Johnson didn’t seem to mind paying twice the face value, especially since this isn’t anything close to an annual event.
“Everybody has to make money,” he said. “I’m OK with it. If you have to pay a premium, then you pay a premium.”
Johnson pointed to Desi. “He’s standing out in the cold. Why not pay it?”
While Desi wouldn’t give his last name, his background and obvious sales skills suggested he is a far cry from the usual shady image many may have of scalpers.
He graduated from Niagara University with a degree in business management and a minor in marketing, he claimed. And, though in his 40s, he still talks like a business student about the changes in the scalping profession.
“In the last 10 years, with the introduction of StubHub and Internet purchases, the independent ticket broker has taken quite a hit,” he said. “The ticket-buyer can shop around on the Internet, so he has a gauge on what ticket prices are before he comes to the arena. Before, he would come down, you’d give him a price, and he’d either take it or refuse it. Now he’s an educated buyer.”
StubHub, he added, set the secondary market for these tickets. For the first doubleheader, featuring crowd favorite Syracuse, that meant roughly $300 to $400 for lower-level tickets and $100 to $150 for upper-level tickets. The face value is $84 for lower level, $66 for upper level.
The Craig’s List market, according to Desi, set the prices a little lower than StubHub, but with fewer available.
So how can the independent ticket brokers survive?
“There’s always a need for a ticket broker or scalper,” he replied. “Not all people have the Internet. Not all people like using the Internet. And a lot of people are old-fashioned and like to buy from a scalper.”
It was fun listening to the lively exchanges between these ticket brokers and the buyers, many of whom know their way around street negotiations. It should be noted that brokers also buy tickets, to resell at a higher price.
One guy dressed in an orange Duck Dynasty T-shirt wanted to sell Desi a single lower-level ticket. Single seats usually go for much lower prices.
“What do you got?” Desi asked.
“A lower-level ticket for $100,” Duck Dynasty replied.
“How about $85?”
They settled on $95.
Then came time to talk a little trash.
“You’re taking all my money,” Desi said.
“You know you’re going to get it all back with the crazy Syracuse fans.”
“I’m a struggling college student,” Desi quipped. “Thank you very much. Mazel tov.”
While ticket brokers may not care much about watching the games themselves, they did have a vested rooting interest. They were pulling for Ohio State and Syracuse to win their afternoon games Thursday, setting up a Saturday matchup between two schools that have huge fan bases within reasonable driving distances.
Syracuse did its part, throttling Western Michigan, while Ohio State lost in a mild upset.
But the huge Syracuse presence in Buffalo should drive up the ticket market for Saturday’s doubleheader.
“The people from Syracuse are packed in the restaurants, the bars, Washington Square,” Clark said between doubleheaders. “You can get $500 for the lower level and $250 for uppers.”
Then, like a good businessman, he quickly added, “But you have to hold out for those prices.”