Chasing the scalpers

July 05, 1994

To be confident of seeing an Orioles game next August, many fans felt compelled to buy their tickets last February. That's the result of two straight seasons of almost uninterrupted sellouts since the opening of Camden Yards. These fans, and thousands of others without tickets, are outraged to see scalpers selling choice seats at fancy markups within yards of the ballpark on game day. So is Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos, who has persuaded the City Council to extend the ban on reselling tickets. It's a worthy cause, but we will keep our fingers crossed about the way chosen to achieve it.

Scalping -- reselling tickets for more than face value -- is already illegal in Baltimore City. Yet any regular patron of Camden Yards knows there are dozens of scalpers on the streets surrounding the ballpark, some within sight of the entrances. There are police all around, but few arrests are made.

The police have more pressing responsibilities than arresting scalpers. Booking them takes the officers off the streets, and time spent in court is not productive. If tickets can be peddled blatantly in the shadow of the ballpark, the new law is not likely to stop scalping a mile away.

Arrests would be easier under the new law because police would not have to prove the sale was for more than face value. Any resale on the street would be illegal, especially if, as Mr. Angelos believes, fans are being harassed on the streets by overly aggressive vendors.

Fans who bought tickets well in advance -- the only way most people can get them -- with every intention of seeing the game will be permitted to cash them in if they are suddenly unable to attend. Ticket holders will be able to go to special windows for that purpose. As long as the Orioles control the tickets' resale to legitimate fans, that will help. But it must be accompanied by strict measures to prevent holders of large blocks of tickets from reselling them to brokers.

The premium value of Orioles tickets is a matter of supply and demand. The combination of a superb new/old ballpark and an exciting team in contention is a magnet for fans, and not just from the Baltimore-Washington area. The supply of single-game tickets is limited, since half the seats are sold to season-ticket holders. Any steps that get more Orioles tickets into the hands of bona fide fans, especially close to game day, is to be applauded. The more the sales of tickets are channeled into legitimate hands, the less demand there will be to divert police from more vital work.

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