Online brokers, scalpers face off over Penguins tickets

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The action on the ice wasn't the only gamesmanship going on last night as fans looking for tickets to Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final squared off on street corners around Mellon Arena, hoping to get bargains from scalpers.

But nowadays there's a new player in the game: online brokers, such as StubHub, who buy and sell tickets via the Internet.

The scalpers versus the online brokers. These guys just flat don't like each other.

"They're chasing people away because they [list] astronomical prices," complains "Joe," a scalper who prefers not to give his name even though scalping is legal.

"People go online and they see those prices," Joe says. "The walk-up crowd gets deterred from coming out here, because they look at those prices and decide to watch it on TV. They don't realize that they can get the tickets out here cheaper. There's reasonably priced tickets out here."

Licensed brokers are permitted to add a service charge of 25 percent of a ticket's face value or $5, whichever is greater. Sometimes the profit gets rounded up, but the scalpers contend they aren't twisting anyone's arm.

Besides, Joe says, the ticket brokers are making even more.

StubHub, for example, makes 25 percent off each sale, 15 percent from the seller and 10 percent from the buyer. But the company does not purchase tickets and there's no charge to the owner if the ticket doesn't sell.

Joe Pontoli, 41, of Beaver, works in the metals industry. He turns to StubHub because he prefers to get the specific tickets he needs. Money isn't as much of an object when you drop more than $16,000 for six sweet seats near the Penguins' bench and can write it off as a business expense.

"You pay extra for the service, but I enjoy it," he says.

Apryle Horbal, 23, of Johnstown, used StubHub to buy her brother, Mike, a ticket as a gift for his 11th birthday today. Getting the tickets in advance gave her peace of mind. She bought two seats in Section B-3 that normally would go for $187 each for a price that she preferred not to reveal.

"It was just really hard to get tickets," she says. "And I had friends who have used [StubHub]. It worked out really well."

Daryl Fein, Mid-Atlantic coordinator for StubHub, is in a second-floor suite at the Marriott City Center, overlooking the very corners where the scalpers are hustling. Mr. Fein sits in air-conditioned comfort waiting for customers who have already made their purchases to pick up their tickets.

"The big thing with us is the guarantee," Mr. Fein says. "You can't get that from the guy on the street."

Joe, however, disagrees ... sort of. While there is an element of "buyer beware," this is how the scalpers make their money. One rip-off artist hurts all of them.

If someone poisons the well, "you alienate him, you blacklist him," Joe says. "He's messing it up for everybody else."

The scalpers are individual operators working as a team. They are kinsmen. If one scalper doesn't have the "four together" that you're looking for, they shout out to a comrade who might. Joe says it's only natural when they see each other at every big event, even the Pirates' regular-season games.

But he laughs at the suggestion that there's an unwritten code of helping each other out.

"Money," he says. "We get a little bit [of the sale] if we help make it happen."

Rick Reynolds, 46, of Moon, who went to the game with his son, Tyler, 14, used StubHub and a scalper. He bought two standing-room only tickets through StubHub, then upgraded by giving those tickets and another $300 to Joe for two seats in Section C-6.

"We're happy as pie," Mr. Reynolds says. "We're making memories tonight."

As game time approaches, Joe is asked how the outcome of Game 3 would affect Game 4 ticket sales.

If the Penguins lose, he says, there will be more tickets in circulation as disgruntled season-ticket holders unload them. And the asking price won't be as high.

The profit margin won't be as high, but there will be more sales.

If the Penguins win, "It'll be crazy," Joe says. "A Saturday night game, the fans' morale is up, the hope is back."

Tickets would be harder to come by and the prices would be higher.

Either way, the scalpers and the ticket brokers make their money.

And, as you might have heard by now, the Penguins won.

Game on.


Dan Majors can be reached at dmajors@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1456.


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