Scalpers’ glow gone

By Yaroslav Mikhaylov

Flickr: Rhys's Piece Is

It’s classically American to try and bend rules for the sake of a quick buck. So when people arriving early at the Mullins Center early on Feb. 18 to buy tickets for the DAYGLOW paint party found themselves at the head of a line stretching past the practice rink, they were in a unique position to make quite a bit of money from scalping.

Scalping – also known as up-sale or resale – involves buying a large number of tickets to an event in the hopes that it will sell out, thus forcing people who want to attend to buy the tickets at a higher price. This practice is illegal in Massachusetts though not very actively prosecuted.

The argument for allowing scalping makes sense from a free market perspective, as tickets are worth what people will pay to get them. In that sense, the scalpers are merely intermediaries that equate real demand to real supply – intermediaries that stand to make a lot of money off of this ‘market self-regulation.’

This was reinforced after the first showing sold out in less than two hours and Craigslist ticket prices slowly settled down at around $100 per ticket. Supply equaled demand and equilibrium was established – Econ 101.

Except there was one problem – neither the supply nor the demand that determined the $100 price tag was representative of the real world. The real supply – how many people can attend the event and therefore how many tickets can be sold – is determined entirely by the capacity of the Mullins Center. No amount of accounting wizardry will allow more people to be crammed inside without violating fire codes. However, as the scalpers held a large amount of tickets in reserve for resale, the perceived supply is much smaller.

If I had to guess, I would say that at least a quarter of the tickets “sold” for the April 2 showing are actually still in the hands of people trying to sell them. Likewise, the scalpers created artificial pressure on the demand end. There were tickets for a lot of people who couldn’t buy them – they were just held by scalpers while the black market price went up.

Eventually, this would have resolved itself in a sensible – if unfair – manner for the people trying to go to DAYGLOW. However, something unexpected happened: DAYGLOW added a second show on April 1. This time organizers established a five ticket limit per order. By the time the ticket office opened at 10 a.m., the line didn’t even go the entire length of the Mullins Center. Furthermore, because of the lower per-person limit, a smaller percentage of the tickets sold for the April 2 show ended up in the hands of people trying to make money by scalping them.

This brings us to today. Anyone that was willing to buy scalped tickets already bought them for the April 2 show. Almost everyone that wanted to go on April 1 bought their tickets legitimately already. And yet, Craigslist and Facebook are still full of people advertising the fact that they still have “one or two” extra tickets. The result is evident: the scalpers got screwed. The second show has pretty much satisfied the demand and now they are stuck sitting on a lot of tickets that probably won’t be used. Already, the prices of scalped tickets are dropping from the original “equilibrium” of $100 to $80, $70 or even as low as $45. And yet, people are not buying. My guess is that on the day of the event, people with scalped tickets will be standing outside the Mullins Center trying to get someone to buy them for $10.

So what is the moral of this story? Scalping is illegal for a reason. And because of the scalpers, the Saturday DAYGLOW show will attract a smaller crowd to an event whose quality is contingent on crowd size. In the end, the scalpers made life worse for themselves, and those hoping to attend the event.

Lots of laws are silly or outdated. This one is neither. Now, if you will excuse me, I have to find a way to paint-proof my cell phone.

Yaroslav Mikhaylov is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at [email protected].