In the wake of these events a small group of brokers agreed to form the NATB. "It was something we had to do, to police ourselves," says Parry, now an ex-salesman and president of Golden Tickets. There are 200 brokers in the NATB who encourage prospective ticket buyers and sellers to call the national office for a report on any member broker before buying or selling. However, there are also at least 300 brokers who are not members of the NATB, and countless street hustlers and independent operators who wouldn't consider joining (not to mention dozens of filthy rich and successful brokers operating illegally in New York City who are further underground than Jimmy Hoffa and like it that way).
The best of the brokers operate like futures traders, trying to nail the value of, say, a Masters badge, three months before the event. For instance, Golden Tickets sold most of its Super Bowl tickets at prices ranging from $1,150 to $1,350 (though some of its prime seats were priced much higher) and tried to fill those orders by buying seats for $900 or less. Face value on a Super Bowl ticket was $275 for most seats, but face value, as Silverman says, "is a meaningless term." Clients are occasionally individuals, but more and more often they are corporations. Businesses in both the U.S. (including SPORTS ILLUSTRATED) and abroad crave tickets, not just to romance advertisers and clients but also to reward productive employees.
What better way to thank someone for selling all those desktop copiers throughout the Midwest than with two tickets to a Bulls game? In most cases the best way to get those tickets is through a broker. If you happen to need 30 tickets, it's the only way. The arrangement creates an irony whereby some advertising executive sits on the 50-yard line at the Super Bowl holding a ticket that was sold to a lowlife, then hustled to a street punk, then sold to a legit broker. Happens all the time.
For repeat events like Bulls games ($550 for a good seat at a routine regular-season game; $1,250 for a good seat at a big game), Alabama home football games and their ilk, the brokers rely on season-ticket holders. Schools, pro teams and event managers hate this. "The brokers are a major annoyance to us, and our fans don't like them at all," says Bulls principal owner Jerry Reinsdorf, who has revoked the season-ticket privileges of a small number of holders caught selling their tickets. Such pronounced rectitude rings a bit hollow; in truth, teams sometimes sell season tickets to brokers to help boost official attendance. One Midwest broker told SI that he owns hundreds of season tickets to games of the pro franchises in his city plus more than 50 each for Notre Dame, Ohio State and Michigan football, all of which help to form the backbone of his business.
Annual events require more resourcefulness, as tickets How through people who are forbidden to scalp. Silverman simplifies: "We get our tickets from the people who have access to them." Take the Super Bowl. According to the NFL's Super Bowl ticket czar, Jim Steeg, ticket distribution for this year's game broke down this way: 35% to the participating teams (controlled by the two owners), 25.3% to the league office (including the "people who do business with the league," says Steeg). 29.7% to non-participating teams (controlled by the owners, although every player in the league is given the right to buy two tickets at face value) and 10% to the Saints, the host city's team.
Translation: There are dozens of fertile sources from which brokers can score Super Bowl tickets. The NFL issues a stern warning to teams, which says in part, "Scalping suggests a desire to profit personally...on the coattails of the league's popularity. Such conduct will not be tolerated." This solemn rebuke is a joke. Super Bowl tickets are bartered like autographed memorabilia. One broker told SI that he picked up 500 of them this year from a single source in Green Bay.
Professional athletes are among the most active of all ticket scalpers. For this year's Super Bowl, Green Bay and New England players were given two free tickets and offered the right to buy about two dozen more. As they are each year, many of these tickets were sold to brokers at a huge profit. (Think about it: If a player buys 20 tickets at face value, it costs him $5,500. He can walk into the parking lot, where dozens of brokers and hustlers wait with sacks of cash, and sell them for at least $18,000, a clear profit of $12,500 in five minutes.) "Even the rich players can't say no to that kind of money," says one broker. In fact, players become attuned to brokers' needs. According to several brokers, one New England player stood on a chair in the locker room in Foxboro in January and shouted to his teammates, "Don't take less than $1,500 for a ticket."
So it's not surprising that brokers and hustlers view any ticket-related news item with healthy suspicion. When it was reported that San Francisco 49ers assistant coach Pete Carroll asked for 50 Super Bowl tickets in his negotiation with the St. Louis Rams for their head coaching job, brokers smirked in unison. Carroll might have 50 friends who want to go to the big game every year, says one broker, but "I see a $50,000 bonus." (Carroll and his agent both deny that Carroll ever made the request.)
Right after player tickets were released for the '96 Super Bowl between Dallas and Pittsburgh, one participating player, through his agent, invited a broker to his house, where 15 players sold game tickets. The broker arrived with an armed, personal security guard and a briefcase full of cash and left with approximately 270 tickets, worth nearly $300,000 on the open market.
The Super Bowl of college sports, for fans and ticket guys alike, is the Final Four. This year in Indianapolis 34% of the 47,000 tickets were sold through the public lottery, for which there were 167,000 applications, including those of a great many ticket brokers who submit multiple applications under various names from various addresses. Each participating school received 3,500 tickets. About 8,000 seats went to the NCAA office and the host city organizers. All of these ticket sources are mined aggressively by brokers, but the best seats of all belong to coaches and are distributed by the National Association of Basketball Coaches. Allocation is determined by a school's NCAA division status and by a coach's seniority. According to NABC executive director Jim Haney, Division I coaches are usually given the opportunity to buy two good seats—"lowers between," in the parlance of the scalper. That is, seats in the lower level between the baskets. And many of the coaches sell these seats for enormous profits. They can buy tickets for a face value of $100 and then sell them for $3,000 or more. However, the combination of the cavernous RCA Dome and the scheduling of this year's event on Easter weekend drove prices down into the $1,000 to $1,500 range, causing much bickering between coaches and scalpers. The release of the NABC tickets is a scalpers' convention. One national broker counts 30 coaches among his regular clients. "They all have my pager number, and I never see their faces," he says. "It's always a middleman, like a manager [who delivers the coach's tickets]." The NABC includes a warning against scalping with the tickets it gives out; its most severe penalty for scalping Final Four tickets is five years without ticket access through NABC. Bui ticket scalping is legal in Indiana, which last week made the NCAA rule against scalping, and the NABC warning, virtually unenforceable.