Hockey fight: Seattle’s season ticket sales pits owners against scalpers
Even the most optimistic local hockey boosters did not expect last Thursday’s outpouring of enthusiasm at the prospect of a Seattle NHL team: More than 25,000 season-ticket deposits collected in one hour, all of it in $500 to $1,000 increments.
But hidden within the validation that the 60-minute, $13-million score provided to the expansion-minded league is something NHL team bosses see as a menace, almost as a form of malicious code in the financial software:
Secondary market brokers. Or as they are more commonly known, scalpers.
The team is so concerned about scalpers within the pool of depositors in Seattle, they are working with database analysts who will spend the next five days combing through the list of season-ticket hopefuls to eradicate known or suspected brokers.
“We are working aggressively with Ticketmaster to make sure scalpers don’t swallow up all of the supply.”
Good luck with that said ticket brokers interviewed about last week’s season ticket deposits. All three asked to remain anonymous to protect their businesses. Two of the three brokers interviewed had put down multiple deposits through intermediaries. And a third said he could have easily if he wanted to.
“There are so many ways around their systems,” he said. “You might get caught with a couple but not everything.”
From using relatives’ names, address and credit cards to establishing P.O. boxes as fake office “suites” for mailing addresses to using hard-to-track gift cards, scalpers said they generally stay a step ahead of teams and ticket sellers such as Ticketmaster.
One Seattle ticket broker who has been doing business in Seattle for 15 years said it is a shame they even have to hide. While owners blame the scalpers for driving up prices, he said, the teams’ real interest hardly is altruistic: A few years ago, sports teams (and their primary ticket sellers) decided they also wanted to own the lucrative secondary market.
Noted another broker: “Remember: They are not trying to stop scalping; they are trying to stop anyone else scalping but themselves.”
Much of this came to a head in federal court 2015 in StubHub Vs. The Golden State Warriors. The secondary ticket broker was unhappy that the Warriors — which was at that time becoming one of the hottest tickets in the NBA — required season tickets holders to resell only through Ticketmaster.
In fact, the team threatened existing season ticket holders that they could have their season tickets revoked if they resold tickets through unapproved resellers such as StubHub. The ticket broker saw a sharp decline in income so it sued under antitrust statutes.
Ultimately, the case was thrown out of court, but pro sports teams have steadily won legal disputes over whether season tickets should be considered real property such as a home or, as teams view it, a leased privilege such as an apartment.
Generally, the lease standard has prevailed.
“But as you notice, StubHub hardly is out of business,” said a former broker who just recently quit the business. “There are tickets out there for resale. But the teams are making it harder for us to get blocks of season tickets from season ticket holders.”
Leiweke sees control of the ticket market as “protection” for fans who are not in the highest income brackets. “We want this to be about the fans. And we want those tickets to remain affordable.”
On Monday, the Oak View Group capped season ticket deposits at 33,000.
The prospective team owners hope, Leiweke said, to have hundreds if not thousands of same-day tickets available near the $60 range, below the NHL-wide average of $85 a seat. He said the local group taking tight control the secondary market will help ensure that. Similar to the Warriors’ model, the team will require reselling through approved channels.
“We don’t want anything to dampen fan enthusiasm,” he said.
Scalpers counter that the people who purchase their tickets are no less enthusiastic. If they were not, the tickets go unsold or sold at a loss. Apple does not keep you from freely reselling your iPhone, he said.
“What makes tickets so special?” he asked.