Orioles' latest anti-scalping efforts get mixed response

Team officials now broker seller-buyer ticket deals

August 14, 2005|By Justin Fenton | Justin Fenton,SUN STAFF

The Orioles' new effort to curb ticket scalping by inserting team employees as deal brokers at Camden Yards' scalp-free zone has become more than a little frustrating for fans hoping to unload unwanted tickets at games.

Charles Branch sighed, rolled his eyes and threw up his hands as he paced the sidewalk last week. He had three tickets to sell - the best seats in the house, he said - above the home team's dugout. He eyed a stream of fans looking for tickets as game time approached.

He could have brokered a deal quicker under the old system, a free-for-all in which sellers could pawn off unwanted seats by bombarding buyers and besting competitors' offers, waving their tickets like stock brokers on a Wall Street trading floor.

Now Branch is kept sequestered behind a line, unable to talk with prospective buyers until an Oriole official calls him over to complete a deal. The procedure is more organized, but not necessarily better, said Branch. "It's not what it used to be," he said.

The scalp-free zone was created in 1995 after the City Council passed a law making it illegal to resell tickets above face value within a mile of the stadium. It is the only one of its kind in baseball and is designed to give a sanctioned place for people to barter without being pressured by illegal scalpers. Selling tickets above value is not allowed.

Although it has been praised, only the Boston Red Sox have considered, and ultimately rejected, a similar system.

In May, the Orioles revamped the structure of the zone, turning the fan-to-fan marketplace the gated area had been for nearly a decade into a makeshift ticket window. Sellers - ranging from the nightly ticket sellers to season ticket holders and fans trying to unload a few seats - have to register with two Orioles employees and tell them how much they want.

When a fan expresses interest in tickets after scouring a list, another employee calls the seller over from behind the line 20 feet away to make a deal. Ticket seller, come on down!

Last week, many buyers interviewed said they like the new rules because the less-frenzied process is monitored by team officials. However, sellers said they detested the new bureaucracy that limits their ability to freely negotiate deals. They said they hate the system more than Sammy Sosa hates laying off bad pitches.

Orioles spokesman Bill Stetka said the changes are meant to ease the process for fans and to address continuing concerns over ticket scalping. "It's always been a work in progress," Stetka said. "We tweak it periodically. The new setup is another way to make it more comfortable for the fans and take the scalper out of the picture."

Jeff Bortner, 50, who was attending a game with his son, Matt, 13, said he liked being able to look at a seating chart at the table to see what he was getting.

Mike Jones, 45, of East Baltimore had a different view. "It's crummy," said Jones, who regularly sells tickets at the park. "It's just a slower process. They miss half the game just waiting in line."

Many of the usual sellers said they now have more incentive to shy away from the scalp-free zone and hang around the edges looking for potential buyers. They said they send buyers across the street or discreetly conduct transactions on the spot, despite the presence of one uniformed and three plainclothes officers.

One seller, who was turned away by the team employees, because his ticket did not have a price on it, was seen selling his ticket on Pratt Street across from the Convention Center.

Left instead are the sellers less willing to flout the law, and fans like Roland Lagueux, a season ticket holder for eight years who sells his tickets a few times a year when the matchup doesn't capture his interest.

Over two hours Thursday, he saw dozens of tickets change hands but was still holding onto his seats behind home plate. The previous night, he got kicked out of the zone for complaining about the process.

"I'd rather they just do away with it," Lagueux said. "It's up to that table who buys and who sells. We're in a scalp-free zone, which is crazy anyway."

He could turn to the Internet if he's frustrated with the new process. On Internet sites like StubHub.com, a site specifically designed for season ticket holders, $45 tickets were being offered for $65 to $274.

With the first inning over in Thursday's game against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, Charles Branch still was agitated. Waiting behind the line with him was a college-age man, an elderly woman holding one ticket, Lagueux and a few other sellers.

Branch wiped his hands over his eyes and down his cheeks in frustration. Then he turned to three men standing on the other side of the iron gate.

"Eighty bucks," he said to them. "I gotta do something."

He walked outside the scalp-free zone and handed over the three $45 tickets to Jim Casper, 37, for $80 and stormed off.

"I don't even wanna talk about it," he said as he disappeared behind the B&O Warehouse.

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