A man in a purple SLOC volunteer uniform approaches a scalper and asks him for how much he’d sell the tickets. “Make an offer, I’ll make you happy,” Brian, the scalper, tells him. The volunteer bids $20. Brian refuses, and asks for $95, face value.
Two other passersby peruse the few tickets Brian holds. “Are you buying or shopping? Talk to me when you have some cash,” he says. “If I could get $1 for every person who comes and asks ‘which game’ and ‘how much’, I’d be making more money,” Brian says.
Brian, a mechanical engineer who was recently laid off and who came to Salt Lake City from Atlanta, Georgia, sells tickets for different athletic events—his favorites being the NASCAR, college football and professional football. He stays in a suite in Salt Lake City that he shares with a friend for $500 a week.
How does he make the trip and stay profitable? “I do most of my buying under face and sell for face.” Brian explains that the biggest misconception about scalping is that scalpers buy for face and sell for higher. He does profit from medals ceremonies though. “Not much, $40 to $50 a ticket,” he says. Brian claims people who buy tickets at higher prices, like the rumored $75 to $300, buy at eBay or online auctions. “They can get the same thing for cheaper on the street,” Brian said.
SLOC’s non-refundable ticket policy, along with its packages, contributes to the scalping business, according to Brian. “SLOC just bundles people in packages, limits their choices,” says Brian. He claims he has never bought tickets directly from SLOC.
Brian shakes his head at a pedestrian who offers him a ticket. “They are trying to sell women’s downhill. It’s going to be tough,” he says. (That race had taken place the previous day).
Rex, a scalper from Boise, Idaho, sells two women’s hockey tickets for $100, his buying price, he claims. The event happens tomorrow, and Rex thinks the best bet is to break even.
A family of four buys tickets. They ask what else he has for a good price. Rex doesn’t have ice dance tickets yet, but he will, closer to the time of the event. “It’ll be pretty cheap. Come see me,” he says. He sells at the same corner every day.
Rex has sold tickets for eight years, but only during the Olympics. He doesn’t have a regular job but insists that he won the lottery three years ago. He writes songs when he isn’t selling tickets. His most profitable Olympics were the 2000 Games in Atlanta. “There were so many events, lots of people,” he said.
Summer Olympics are larger and have many more events than the Winter Games, but even compared to other winter Olympics, Rex thinks there are too many scalpers for the population. “Not enough events for as many scalpers,” he said. Rex estimates about 1,000 scalpers are in Salt Lake City for the Games.
Rex buys most of his tickets from corporations, mainly sports tour groups. “They buy a lot of tickets, they need to get all events for their guests,” he says. When the corporations don’t get the turnout they had prepared for, they sell tickets for under face value to the scalpers, or “street ticket brokers,” as Rex prefers to call them.
So far, Rex has profited the most from the aerials competition and US women’s hockey. He refuses cross-country skiing tickets, smiling, while the scalper next to him, Ozzie, exclaims, “Cross country? I’m not in Norway.”
Timing determines the profit as much as the event. As the events get closer, prices rise or fall quickly, based on how many rush to see the event, and how many rush to sell tickets. Ticket prices have risen to as much as $500 for ice-skating tickets at the door, and as low as $20 for half-pipe snowboarding in the middle of the event. Brian compares the importance of timing in making a profit to dealing stocks. “It’s all supply and demand, basic economics,” he says.
While selling at a venue could be more profitable than selling tickets on the street, it involves more risk. “They make it hard at the venues, for security concerns,” Brian says. “We are no threat to security.”
The most dangerous venue, according to Brian, is the E Center. The West Valley Police Department has frequently fined ticket sellers at that venue. “They tell us we need a permit, and they don’t tell us how to get the permit,” said Brian.
In Utah, buying and selling tickets is legal. “If you are buying and selling tickets as a business, you need a business license,” said Dave Robbin, deputy director of community and economic development of Salt Lake City Police Department.
If someone has an extra ticket, he or she can legally sell it at a venue. According to Robbin, determining whether or not to fine a ticket seller is a judgement call. “If they are holding a sign saying, ‘I need tickets’ we speak to them,” Robbin said. An explanation, such as wanting a few tickets to see a game, is acceptable, according to Robbin. “But if they say they have 100 tickets to go to all these events, we would have to make a judgement call,” said Robbin.