The scalpers, and the scalped
February 15, 2002
PARK CITY, Utah – Ticket scalping is legal in Utah, and the 2002 Winter Olympic Games make a case for legalizing it everywhere.
Besides being uniquely American – rooted in the same fundamental principles as the open-cry market and capitalism – scalping actually benefits the savvy consumer when supply exceeds demand.
That was the case early Thursday morning. Aspen Times photographer Jacob Ware and I arrived in the Park City Mountain Resort parking lot armed with an ambitious plan to see Aspen’s Chris Klug in the Olympic snowboarding parallel giant slalom qualifying event. But we had no tickets.
As members of the media without press passes, we weren’t exactly sure how we would “cover” this sold-out event. In contrast, the day before we traveled to Snowbasin, near Ogden, and watched alpine skier Casey Puckett of Old Snowmass race in the combined event. We skirted the “ticket” issue by securing complimentary lift tickets that allowed us to ski to a decent vantage point for the slalom runs. (We got skunked, it should be noted, in the morning downhill portion. The racers looked like ants from our position.)
Meanwhile, we knew that the Olympic course at Park City could not be accessed by the skiing public. But we’d heard from several people that tickets for Olympic events were readily available from scalpers outside the various venues, and, more importantly (for two journalists trying to get by on a shoestring budget), that it was a buyer’s market.
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That notion was confirmed when we pulled into the parking lot yesterday. Scalpers roamed everywhere displaying tickets fanned out like playing cards. Two separate would-be scalpers rapped on the window of our van before we even stepped out into the cold dawn.
“Not interested,” I said to one. On the 40-minute drive east from Salt Lake City that morning, I briefed Jacob on my extensive dealings with scalpers as a Boston native and Red Sox fan, and later as a Wrigley Field regular while living in Chicago.
Before we boarded the bus to the venue, I made an offer to one scalper: 50 bucks for two tickets.
“Get outta here,” he snapped back. “These are $95 tickets. It says right here!”
“Good luck,” I answered.
Still clinging to the hope that our skiing intuition would enable us to access a free vantage point (though neither of us had ever skied at Park City), we brought along our ski gear. Big mistake. After transferring once and then arriving amid thousands of other nonskiing spectators, we may as well as have been strolling around Manhattan in search of a chairlift. The skis were dead weight.
I located the Park City media center – our source for free lift tickets – while Jacob waited with the gear, a pile made nearly unmanageable with the skis. I returned empty-handed shortly after – they needed Jacob and I in person to snap photo passes – but Jacob had already made inroads with the scalpers.
When the scalper named his price, $60 for two tickets, I peeled off three 20s from our wad (read: dwindling budget) and made the exchange.
“Extensive dealings with scalpers, eh?” Jacob said, observing the transaction I brokered, lasting all of 20 seconds. “I thought you would’ve at least checked around.”
But at 30 percent off the face value, and with the time before the start and our options diminishing at a similar clip, I never thought twice about it. We were in.
Klug made the investment pay off as he qualified for today’s 16-man finals in the parallel giant slalom, also at Park City. And for once, there will be no worries, for us at least.
After Thursday’s qualifying event, we finally caught up with Klug’s parents, Warren and Kathy, entrenched along the fence in the finish area with about 50 other Aspenites waving blue styrofoam No. 1 fingers with Klug’s name on them. Earlier, Warren and Kathy agreed to sell us two tickets to today’s finals, and they’re in my pocket now. We’re definitely leaving the skis behind (unless, of course, it snows).
And since The Aspen Times doesn’t publish on weekends, tonight we won’t be loitering at another Salt Lake City outlet of Kinko’s, scrambling to write stories and transmit photos. Instead, we’ll be sampling the Olympic night life, deadline-free until Sunday.