For some, scalp-free zone isn't necessarily the ticket

Orioles employees serve as brokers in new system

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 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 for seats above the home team's dugout, the best seats in the house, he said. He eyed a stream of fans looking for tickets as game time approached.

He could have brokered a deal more quickly under the old system, a free-for-all in which sellers could unload unwanted tickets by bombarding buyers and besting competitors' offers, waving their tickets like stockbrokers on a Wall Street trading floor.

Now Branch is kept behind a line, unable to talk with prospective buyers until an Oriole official sitting at a table calls him over to complete a deal.

The procedure is more organized but not necessarily better, he said, adding, "It's not what it used to be."

The scalp-free zone was created in 1995 after the City Council passed a law making it illegal to resell tickets for more than face value within a mile of the stadium.

It is the only one of its kind in baseball and is designed to provide a sanctioned place where people can barter without being pressured by illegal scalpers. Selling tickets for more than their face value is not allowed.

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

In May, the Orioles revamped 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 tickets -- have to register with two Orioles employees and tell them how much they want for their tickets.

When a fan expresses interest in tickets after scouring a list at the table, another employee calls the seller over from behind the line 20 feet away to make a deal.

Last week, many buyers interviewed said they like the new rules because the less-frenzied process is monitored by team officials.

Sellers, however, said they detest the new system, which limits their ability to freely negotiate deals.

Orioles spokesman Bill Stetka said the changes are meant to make the process more convenient for fans and to address continuing concerns about 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 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 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.

The remaining sellers are those less willing to flout the law and fans such as Roland Lagueux, who has been a season ticket holder for eight years and sells his tickets a few times a year when the matchup doesn't interest him.

Within two hours Thursday, he saw dozens of tickets change hands but was holding on to his seats behind home plate.

The previous night, he was 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."

One alternative is the Internet. On sites such as StubHub.com, which is 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 was agitated. Waiting behind the line with him were 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 the three $45 tickets to Jim Casper, 37, for $80 and stormed off.

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

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