Checking in With the Scalpers Upon the Start of Basketball Season


I make no claims on being an expert on the culture and economics of the secondary sporting ticket market, but I imagined that scalpers around the Forest City were pretty excited about the start of the Cavs season. I mean, they endured a Tribe campaign that most likely rendered selling a ticket in the second half of the season at face value a success. And while there are some marquee match-ups for the Browns, and some opposing teams who travel well drive the prices up for out-of-towners looking for tickets, you have to imagine unloading ducats for the Brownies isn't bringing home much bacon.

So Tuesday night before the Cavs and Celts tipped off I camped out for a little bit at the corner of Ontario by the Q, right by the Harry Buffalo. This is scalper ground central and it had the atmosphere of a playoff game. For anyone that didn't secure tickets via electronic secondary means — Stubhub, Craigslist, eBay — there was a veritable bounty of offers on the table. I counted no less than 18 guys selling tickets on the one block corner, and that was just in the twenty or so minutes that I hung out.

There was lots of selling, little buying, but I was content to sit back and take in the scene, listen in on some negotiations, and get a sense for what tickets were going for a short half-hour before tip off.

Which is when Kenneth found out that I was a writer and decided it was time to make his case for being the center of the story. I was chatting with some kids looking to score some seats when Kenneth put his arm around my shoulders and started walking me in the opposite direction.

"You wanna write a story? Write a story about me."

Okay, then. How's business tonight?

"We killing it. We gonna eat well tonight. I've been out here since 8 a.m. this morning."

What's the average ticket, the one's up in the rafters going for?

"Those $10 seats are going for $80."

Really. Don't know if I believed that. Kenneth, after all, did hunt me down and decide to pitch himself for some imaginary story I'm not going to write. Ulterior motives. Plus, he's a salesman, not going to trust that, especially since he was more focused on talking to me for five minutes than selling the tickets he had in his hand. Who knows, maybe he already sold enough for the night to not worry about pulling down an extra $70 profit for each ticket in his hand.

So, I had enough. Kenneth was nice, but it was time to survey more ground, get perhaps a more honest view of the evening's business and get inside for the game.

I tried to walk away. Kenneth was having none of that. He blurted out five or six little rhyming phrases that I can't remember at the moment. "Click it or ticket," might have been one of them. One I do remember was the last one: "If the glove don't fit, you have to acquit." Now, how this has anything to do with selling tickets, I do not know, but it did lead into his next oratorical display, which was to tell me three vulgar OJ Simpson jokes. Perhaps that's in some scalpers guidebook on how to sell tickets to white strangers, but I'm not sure. I reacted by walking away with literally no reaction on my face. He took this as a sign to keep talking, giving me his card and imploring me to call him to do a story on the time he sued the Cavs for $146 million. Yes.

Finally ridding myself of Kenneth's unquenchable desire for one-sided conversations I decided to keep my distance for the rest of my short time on the corner. That's when I heard a guy tell a fellow scalper this:

"Biggest game of the year. Right? And what are we doing. We're out here grinding. We're out here grinding away for $70."

Alright, honesty, I like it. I asked him why my friend Kenneth was having such a different perspective on the night's events.

"Come on man, it's Cleveland. This is what it is."

So, you're not killing it tonight. You're not eating steak off the profits.

"Naw man, I'm looking for $70 off these tickets. That's it."

Thought it would be good tonight.

"It is. It's fine. Come back some other time though — won't be like this."

Like the Charlotte game Saturday night?

"That'll be fine. I heard Charlotte's okay, and the weekends are always good."

So you're talking like an Oklahoma City game on a Wednesday night?

"Yeah. Exactly. You come down that night, and bring your horse."

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