Ticket shock

By IAN DONNIS  |  March 10, 2008

Yet all this success poses a certain peril for the Red Sox: grassroots supporters’ frustration with the intensifying struggle to see their favorite team play in person.

The issue has grown so problematic that throngs of New Englanders now flock to see the Sox in Baltimore, Tampa, Toronto, you name it — or at least to see the big leaguers of tomorrow play for the club’s top minor-league affiliates in Portland, Maine, and Pawtucket, Rhode Island — anywhere it’s easier to get a ticket than at fabled Fenway Park.

The stakes for the Sox
The simmering discontent in Sox Nation could be seen during the team’s January 26 online sale, when some of those attempting to buy tickets used a discussion thread at the Sox-obsessive site Sons of Sam Horn (sonsofsamhorn.net) to blame the difficulty of obtaining tickets at face value on a relationship struck this past year between StubHub and Major League Baseball.

Ngruz25, one of the posters, described the dissatisfaction of many Sox fans: “I’m looking for tickets for a Wednesday night game against Texas, in August (8–13, to be exact). I’ll gladly take bleacher tickets,” which have either a $12 or $26 face value. “This waiting room stuff isn’t working any, and I can’t sit here all day, so I go check StubHub. Why are there ‘Up to 10’ and ‘Up to 8’ tickets available for virtually every bleacher section, and for every game of the Texas series . . . and these tickets [for all seats] range from about $80–$589 apiece? Fuck the heck? Who is selling these seats? Independent ticket brokers? Corporations that own the seats? Something far [more] sinister?”

When MLB Advanced Media, Major League Baseball’s online arm, decided to partner with StubHub, the deal marked quite a coup for the latter, which had been acquired by eBay for $310 million earlier in 2007.

San Francisco–based StubHub pitches itself as the stock market of sporting-event, concert, and theater tickets, where supply and demand determines pricing. While some Sox fans might float unproven conspiracy theories, StubHub says the sports tickets it helps re-sell come exclusively from third parties, and not from teams. Founded eight years ago, the company, which takes a 15 percent commission on sales and a 10 percent commission on purchases, now ranks with Ticketmaster as one of the top businesses in online ticket sales.

But it’s the red-hot demand for Sox tickets, and the willingness of fans, brokers, and others to peddle them for a profit through StubHub, that has made the business such a focal point for critics.

Not so long ago, some Major League teams were vexed by the hawking of their tickets on the site. The New York Yankees, for example, this past year canceled season tickets of those who sold through StubHub. (Similarly, the Patriots obtained the names of more than 10,000 people who bought and sold Pats’ tickets on the site this past year.)

Now, though, the Yankees, the Chicago Cubs, and the New York Mets are among the teams — expected to include most of the 30 franchises in Major League Baseball — that will actively partner with StubHub as their official ticket re-seller this season. If critics want to call this the legitimization of scalping, so be it. MLB notched 79 million in attendance during the 2007 season, the fourth consecutive single-season record, and yet sport officials know there’s even more money to be made by cashing in on the estimated $2-billion-a-year secondary market in baseball tickets.

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