No-scalp zone far cry from fans, sellers say

June 22, 1995|By Mark Hyman | Mark Hyman,Sun Staff Writer

With Scott Klingenbeck's first pitch still two hours away, Pierre Chevray figured to have plenty of time to locate a buyer for his two prime box seats.

But as he stood outside the ballpark's gates before a recent Orioles game, Chevray's mood bordered on glum.

"I'm doubtful," said Chevray, an Orioles fan and Johns Hopkins ++ physician, rating his chances to find a taker for his tickets. "My seats are better than anything available at the [Orioles] box office. But who's going to find me here?"

For Chevray and other anxious ticket sellers, "here" is the Orioles' new scalp-free zone, a designated area outside the ballpark where they legally may resell their tickets at face value or less.

Since its debut two weeks ago, the scalp-free zone has attracted dozens of ticket sellers -- and fewer buyers. Some visitors have come with a single ticket to sell. Others, looking suspiciously like ticket brokers, have peddled fistfuls.

So far, fans have seemed intrigued by the concept of a reselling zone, the first of its kind at a major-league stadium.

But their reaction has been chillier to the zone's location -- on the ballpark's lightly traveled west side, a virtual ticket-selling Siberia.

The absence of signs directing buyers to the area also has fueled frustrations.

"It's deliberate," said Ben Ray, 79, of Severn. Like other sellers, he wondered aloud whether the Orioles purposely located the zone in a place where its occupants wouldn't compete for sales with the ballpark's ticket windows.

"The customers are not here," Ray said. "No traffic walks by."

Orioles officials don't agree.

"It's not inconvenient," said club vice chairman Joe Foss. "It's accessible from the parking lots. It's not out of the way for fans walking from the Inner Harbor."

And Baltimore police say the location makes sense precisely because it is in a less traveled area.

"It's fine to say, 'Put it in front of the [north end of the] warehouse; 40 percent of the people come through those gates,' " said Lt. Russell Shea Jr., who directs the stadium's police unit. "But when the vendors set up there, and with the Babe Ruth statue, there's no room."

Considering how it began, it was inevitable that the scalp-free zone would become a topic of debate.

BTicket scalping -- selling for a price exceeding face value -- has been illegal for decades. Until last year, however, reselling at or below the ticket's printed price was not a crime. Fans seeking to recoup their investment for unused seats could strike their deals anywhere.

That changed last July, when the Baltimore City Council passed a law restricting ticket reselling. The measure, backed by Orioles owner Peter Angelos, made it illegal to resell a ticket on a street within a mile of the ballpark.

Orioles and police officials predicted the law would help them crack down on ticket scalpers by discouraging any ticket reselling at the ballpark. Before the law changed, police say, it was difficult to distinguish between legal (at face value) and illegal ticket transactions.

The new law did not pass easily. At first, some City Council members balked, saying the measure unfairly would burden Orioles fans who came to the ballpark hoping to sell a few unwanted seats. Eventually, opponents were won over by Orioles' promises to design a program to assist those fans.

That program, 11 months in the planning, was unveiled during jTC the Orioles' last homestand.

Whether it fulfills pledges made to City Council is not clear. Some city officials say Orioles management indicated its location would be more accessible for fans.

"We were led to believe the scalp-free zone would be convenient, near a primary entrance," said Bernard F. "Buzz" Murphy, director of the city's Department of Legislative Reference.

The bill's sponsor, Councilman Joseph J. DiBlasi of the 6th District, said he'd give the Orioles more time to make refinements.

"Knowing management as I do, they will continue to make the exchange program as palatable as possible," said DiBlasi. "The kinks will have to be worked out."

Among Orioles fans, early reviews have been mixed.

The few ticket buyers who stumbled on the zone in its first week plainly loved it.

David Svenson, 25, arrived at the ballpark with his girlfriend and two seats in Section 68. At the scalp-free zone, he was besieged by a half-dozen sellers. Within minutes, he'd paid $5 to swap his seats for two in Section 64.

"It helps people like me who legally want to do something," Svenson said.

Sellers were less enthusiastic.

They complained about feeling penned in the alcove, just to the left-field side of the home-plate entrance. They groused about how they are forced to drop their prices -- often below face value -- to compete with other sellers in the zone.

Attracting buyers to the zone has been a particular concern. Signs calling attention to the reselling area have been conspicuously absent. That omission has prompted some fans to do their own, unofficial advertising.

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