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‘It’s an addiction,’ The anatomy of SU football’s scalping market

first_imgAt 2:14 p.m. on the first fall Saturday of the year, a 50-year-old man in an SU long-sleeve shirt and blue jeans clothing hiked up the staircase on Irving Avenue. It was Sept. 22, and inside the Carrier Dome, Syracuse primed itself for its first 4-0 start since 1991. Outside Gate C, around the corner from a ticket window, Raj paced in front of Falk College on the concrete path which marked his office, one he fought for in the early half of his 38-year ticket scalping career.He pulled a laminated piece of paper out of his pocket. In bold lettering it read, “I NEED TICKETS.” Raj flaunted it earlier on Marshall Street, but now, closer to the Dome, it drew too much attention. He tucked the sign behind a garbage can. He continued to the box office, checked the price of the cheapest seat available, $25, and smirked. He could buy tickets from fans for $5, and then sell it later for a profit.A bearded SU fan with four extra tickets approached Raj outside of Falk. Raj pleaded with the fan. He had kids in college, and this deal could help cover tuition. The fan asked Raj for his final offer, $40 for the set, and laughed in Raj’s face. As the fan walked away, Raj turned around and looked for his next customer.“I’ve been doing this since I was 12,” Raj said. “… It’s an addiction. It’s fast money. I bought a house doing this.”In Syracuse, ticket scalpers are a game day staple. They’re situated around campus from the tailgates in the Stadium Lot to the bus stop at College Place. According to New York state, individual ticket sellers don’t require a license. Tickets can’t be priced at more than face value and scalpers can’t operate in the 1,500-foot “buffer zone” around a venue’s box office. Scalping has spread since then-New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer helped loosen the state’s laws in 2001, Kimbel, another Syracuse ticket reseller, said. Raj, like other scalpers in this story, don’t comply with the buffer zone.AdvertisementThis is placeholder textLaura Angle | Digital Design EditorThere’s no data on ticket scalping at venues, Victor Bennett, a professor of strategy at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, said. The “big money” days of ticket scalping — the Donovan McNabb era — are in the past, multiple scalpers admitted. The emergence of online secondary sellers such as Stubhub, combined with SU’s middling attendance (it’s averaged 34,494 fans per game in 2018 for football, a 1.7-percent bump from last year, in a stadium which seats 49,262), and five-year bowl drought has stripped the market of its prosperity. Still, on any game day, fans can walk by and partake in an underground economy that’s figuring out how to turn a profit.“All of this hinges on the game selling out,” Bennett said. “… Nobody is getting rich off the secondary market on something that’s not selling out.”An hour and a half before the Orange’s home opener against Wagner on Sept. 8, a scalper who goes by “Gutty” took a drag from his cigarette. He sat next to a patch of flowers and soaked in one of the few moments he was off his feet, waiting for a new crop of fans to arrive. Gutty sold newspapers at age 12 before converting to scalping 30 years ago.Around him, other scalpers roamed College Place. A clump of tickets in his left hand, Gutty’s eyes tracked three “944” buses hauling in potential customers. Fans who park in the Skytop lot are bused to College Place, making it the hub of the SU’s secondary market. Gutty yanked up his denim jeans as the bus doors opened, fixed his blue pullover and jogged over, waving his tickets high.Few fans paid attention to Gutty. Another scalper ran over from the Quad, he had found sellers and buyers.“They’re looking (for tickets) over there, Gutty,” the other scalper said. “I just sold two for $70. I’ll buy yours off you if want?”Gutty refused and turned back to the road as another bus pulled in. In the scalper ecosystem, seniority determines placement. Kimbel, Gutty and others populate College Place. The Quad, where SU Athletics often hosts pregame events, is open. Before the Wagner game, a scalper in a football jersey worked by the statue of Syracuse legend Ernie Davis. Department of Public Safety officers patrolled the grounds, but as usual, didn’t bother scalpers.“They prefer you stay 1,500 feet away (from the box office),” Kimbel said. “If you’re a little bit inside, they’re not going to come out with a measuring tape.”Raj’s spot, the slab of concrete between Irving Avenue and the Dome, is about 95 feet from the ticket office next to Gate C. Connected by a bridge to a five-level parking garage, the location was premier real estate. Raj “established” himself and earned the spot, he said. Raj said he has “regulars” who give him tickets at reduced prices because they’ve known him for so long. Some season ticket holders sell an extra seat if it can pay for a round of beers inside the Dome. When Raj was younger, he physically fought other scalpers for the space.A native of Syracuse, as a child, Raj sold Carrier Dome game programs for 25-cents each. One day, he was given a pair of tickets by an established scalper as a hand-out. Raj, now 50-years-old, sold the tickets for $150. He was hooked. Two years later, he converted to scalping full time.Raj and other sellers benefited from a boom period from 1998 to 2002, which spanned from McNabb’s freshman season to Carmelo Anthony’s. Scalpers made upward of $500 a game, Raj and Kimbel said. But with SU’s football team failing to capture a conference title in 20 years,  attendance has decreased, and scalpers suffered.Syracuse’s week three matchup against Florida State was supposed be a big game, scalpers said. Instead, it “sucked.”  A 20-year scalping veteran, Kimbel didn’t see an energized fanbase. It felt like the last five years, he said. The contest drew 37,457 fans, barely eclipsing the attendance at the Orange’s week four win over UConn: 36,632.  For Syracuse football games, scalpers rarely make more than $150, they said.“Once (scalping) went viral, you couldn’t make money,” Kimbel said. “I can’t, anyway.”Scalpers like Kimbel, a manufacturer of factory parts, consider ticket selling a hobby. Greg, a longtime reseller clad in a leather football helmet, white SU sweatshirt and studded Converse, said, “It’s something to do for six Saturdays in the fall.”Raj and other scalpers are committed to reselling, making it their primary source of income.Like many full-timers, Raj had to travel. He routinely drove to other Division I FBS schools like Ohio State and Penn State. He followed the NASCAR season, frequenting the speedways in Dover, Delaware, and Concord, North Carolina. He even scalped Syracuse Crunch and Utica Comet games, often making $75 an hour. Raj said he once earned $400 at a Crunch playoff game. Raj funnels his earnings through his girlfriend, who has a “legit” job, for tax purposes.“These guys are basically commodity traders,” Bennett said. “They are betting on the likelihood of a event selling out. They are making some money on some games and lose money on others. They hope that it balances out.”As the SU-UConn kickoff neared, Raj bounced between the remaining tailgates. In the past, he’s attended Super Bowls and NCAA Tournament Final Fours. But the interest wasn’t there on Saturday.Instead, he went back to the home that scalping bought him and flipped on the Syracuse game.“I used to go and watch,” he said. “I get tired of it now.” Comments Facebook Twitter Google+ Published on September 26, 2018 at 12:19 am Contact Nick: | @nick_a_alvarezlast_img

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