When tickets for David Bowie’s San Diego concert went on sale, a first-year law student from Pacific Beach bought 240 tickets—all were in the choicest sections of the Sports Arena—charged the $2,100 bill to his account, and then opened up San Diego’s first scalping agency—San Diego Ticket Sales. The ticket agency, operated by a handful of students, was able to obtain more than 500 tickets, in all, to the Bowie concert— almost 3% of the total number of available seats.
One of the staff members of San Diego Ticket Sales said he knew of a free-lance ticket scalper who stepped up to the box office and bought $3,500 worth of Bowie tickets in one transaction.
Even before the Bowie tickets went on sale to the public, a source inside the Sports Arena confided that a box-office employee had purchased 60 seats for herself and her friends—and all the seats were within the first five rows of the stage.
It’s little wonder that when tickets for Bowie became available to the public, the first girl in line—she had waited overnight to get front row seats— went into hysterics when she was sold seats that were several rows back from the stage. The girl complained to the arena’s management, to the District Attorney’s office, and finally to the concert promoter, David Forest of Fun Productions.
When Forest found out that a lot of the best Bowie seats were gone before the public had a chance to buy them, he called the manager of the Sports Arena, Phil Quinn, and raised hell about the ticket-selling policy. Every major concert hall in the Los Angeles area had had a limit on ticket purchases for quite some time, but San Diego Sports Arena ticket sellers thought nothing of selling 40 or 50 tickets to a single customer.
As a result of complaints from the public and the promoter’s outrage, the Sports Arena finally set a six-ticket limit per customer.
How does the limit affect the scalpers?
“We’ll get our tickets regardless of what the promoters do to stop the brokers,” said Sandy Simon cf Good Time Tickets in Los Angeles. “This six-ticket limit doesn’t hurt brokers in the least.”
Soon after San Diego Ticket Sales opened up in San Diego, Good Time opened a branch office in La Jolla with two UCSD students, Kenny LaBowe and Wayne Schrier. who were formerly free-lance scalpers. According to one local ticket scalper, LaBowe and Schrier developed a working relationship with a Sports Arena ticket seller. Supposedly, he told LaBowe and Schrier exactly what day and time tickets would go on sale for Paul McCartney and Wings. The public wasn’t told of the concert until after the box offices actually started selling the tickets.
When the ticket seller was asked about any working relationship he had with LaBowe and Schrier of Good Time Tickets, he denied even knowing them. And when he was told that his sports-car had been seen on a number of occasions parked in front of the Pacific Beach apartment of LaBowe and Schrier, he explained he had been looking for an apartment in the area.
San Diego scalping agencies get most of their tickets by finding out when tickets for hot concerts go on sale, and sending 20 to 40 friends to the box office to purchase six tickets apiece. The scalpers then give these buyers several dollars above face-value for each ticket they were able to obtain. Often the buyer will go through the line several times for even more tickets. When McCartney tickets went on sale, for instance, the first 60 or 70 people in line were buying for either Good Time Tickets or San Diego Ticket Sales. According to the manager of San Diego Ticket Sales, customers were bidding up to $150 for each front row seat at the McCartney concert.
Whereas the scalping agencies in San Diego deal 200 to 300 tickets for really hot concerts, the ticket scene here is nowhere near the scalping jungle that exists in Los Angeles.
Sonny DeFalco, who manages Troy Ticket Service, the largest scalping agency in L.A., told one professional ticket buyer that he cornered a total of 11.000 tickets for the Rolling Stones’ five concerts at the Forum last summer. That means Troy was able to obtain more than 12% of the available tickets. When a sure sell-out concert comes to Los Angeles, DeFalco said the three main scalping agencies in Los Angeles—The Ticket Co., Good Time Tickets, and Troy Tickets—together may control between 25% and 40% of the tickets.
But for most concerts the scalpers don’t deal quite so many tickets.
“We may have only 10% to 15% of the tickets for some concerts,” said DeFalco. “But well have 50% of the good seats.” (DeFalco said of the 18,000 seats in the Forum, “There’s only about 4,500 decent seats.”)
DeFalco also told the professional ticket buyer that he was able to get tickets for San Diego Sports Arena concerts from someone who works inside the arena. “But 1 don’t ask for location,” he said. “I take what he gives me. I had to pay him $4 above face-value for the McCartney tickets—he got a little greedy this time.”
Last fall when Elton John played the San Diego Sports Arena, the $8.75 tickets were hard enough to come by, but since John’s only other Southern California appearance was scheduled for the acoustically impossible Dodger Stadium, those San Diego tickets became even more valuable. Reportedly, a ticket buyer from DeFalco’s Troy Ticket Service delivered $28,000 to a Sports Arena employee in exchange for 3,000 Elton John tickets. He took those tickets back to Los Angeles where Troy resold them for twice their face value.
When Phil Quinn, manager of the Sports Arena, was asked if he or anyone else at the arena had accepted the money for the 3,000 Elton John tickets, he replied, “I can’t answer that question. I personally didn’t accept anything like that, but I can’t speak for
everyone here. And even if you did find out it was true,” Quinn added, “what would it prove? We didn’t have a ticket limit at the time anyway.”
Quinn noted there would be records of such a transaction, but said it would take a couple of days to check it out. The next day. the arena’s ticket manager. Sandy Hohe, revealed that records from the previous fiscal year are destroyed at the end of that fiscal year, which in this case happened to be September 30th. She remembered that the Elton John concert took place on September 29th, so no records remain.
If such a transaction took place, it wouldn’t be illegal, according to the arena’s assistant manager, Mike Pieratt, but it would definitely be against the arena’s policy.
Scalpers from Troy Tickets, Good Time Tickets in Los Angeles, and from San Diego Ticket Sales all said their business is made easier when the promoters don’t advertise when tickets for their concerts will go on sale.
The scalpers in Los Angeles knew two weeks in advance when McCartney tickets would go on sale at the Forum and the San Diego Sports Arena. As a result, they were able to line up at the box office windows for tickets before the public even knew about the concerts.
A scalper in San Diego cited the Elvis Presley concert as an example of how a well publicized concert hurts their business.
‘The promoters advertised the Elvis concert for a couple of weeks before tickets went on sale; so when we went down to the arena to line up for tickets, we had to compete with a lot of the public who came down and slept overnight in front of the box office. We hardly got any good seats at all as a result,” said the manager of San Diego Ticket Sales.
Sonny De Falco also places part of the credit for his success on the promoters of the concerts.
“The promoters know how to kill us. They could kill us tomorrow, but they don’t want to,” DeFalco confided. “They want to see that money in the till. They want to see that concert sell out that very first day.”
De Falco also added that San Diego was notorious for not being very much of a concert town. Concerts which take only a matter of hours to sell out In "Los Angeles, often take weeks to sell out in San Diego, if they sell out at all.
What DeFalco says is true in part. There were still seats available for McCartney weeks after they went on sale. The seats were behind the stage or at the very back of the arena, but there were seats available.
Tom Hulett, president of Concerts West, the Seattle-based company which promoted the McCartney concerts here in San Diego and Los Angeles, said the reason he didn’t announce the concerts through the press and radio was because he “didn’t want to give the scalpers a chance to line up in front of the offices two and three days before the tickets went on sale.”
Hulett must have been utterly surprised to find that there were 2,000 people waiting in line overnight for his “secret” McCartney concert. Hulett also seemed oblivious to the suggestion that the scalping agencies in Los Angeles might have paid one of his employees to find out that sort of information.
Phil Quinn admitted that DeFalco had called him at the San Diego Sports Arena and asked to be supplied with tickets. Quinn said he turned him down.
Most promoters and arena managers feel legislation is the only way to deal with the scalping problem. As it stands now, California is the only state with an active concert scene that doesn’t have a law which severely hampers the scalper.
The only law in the state concerning scalping is California State Penal Code 346, which makes it illegal to resell a ticket on the premises where the event will take place. Nothing stops the scalper from walking across the street and setting up an agency—complete with business license—and selling tickets for whatever the market will bear.
And the chances of passing a law that will put an end to scalping are slim. Last year, a state senator from Los Angeles tried to push a bill through the senate that would limit the amount of money a person could resell a ticket for, but the bill was tabled on the last day it could be heard. The big scalping agencies in Los Angeles got together and hired lobbyists who travelled to Sacramento and ranted about free enterprise. To make their point even more clear to the legislators, they threatened to set up offices just across the state line if such a law went through. The Attorney General’s office looked into the matter and found that such a bill would be unenforcible.
The principal consultant for the Governmental Organization Committee in Sacramento said it’s unlikely that the bill will ever pass. “There’s a current political fad in the country that there is too much government and too many rules already. The prime hurdle is the attitude held by many that the existing situation is unfair— but so are a lot of other things,” he added.
A few months ago in San Diego, Phil Quinn and the Sports Arena’s attorney, Lawrence Patton, got together with the Community Concourse’s manager, Mike Connely to ask the City Attorney’s office to draft a proposal that would outlaw scalping within the city limits. Curtis Fiztpatrick, the senior chief deputy in the City Attorney's office, said the proposal was drawn up, and it was heard by the rules and legislation committee, but it was put aside until a later date.
“Frankly, I’m not too sure the council will accept it,” Fiztpatrick remarked. “Some of the people have commented that if somebody is crazy enough to pay those prices ... go ahead and let ’em.”
Fitzpatrick also said he’s no stranger to the scalping situation himself—both of his daughters paid $40 each for their tickets to the Paul McCartney and Wings concert.