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Ticket seller Mario Livich (Nick Westover/© 2009 Nick Westover)
Ticket seller Mario Livich (Nick Westover/© 2009 Nick Westover)

Small Business

One for the revolution, please Add to ...

To no one's surprise, the gold medal hockey final is the hot ticket in the early going. Livich, a clean-cut, professional-looking man who wears dark suits and pastel shirts to the office, compares the match to the biggest diamond ring in a jewellery store. “People may not be buying, but everybody wants to know how much it costs,” he says.

Livich and his staff have been working the phones since summer, trying to secure as many tickets to the final game as possible. His sources are diverse: ShowTime first tries to buy the seats itself, logging on to the Olympic website as any fan might, hoping to be picked in the lottery that organizers have set up to distribute seats as fairly as possible. After that stream is exhausted, ShowTime taps its carefully nurtured network of contacts, including fans and other professional brokers who have secured the rights to buy tickets through the lottery system. For every ticket sold on his site – even the ones for which he's only acting as middleman broker – Livich collects a commission of at least 20 per cent.

It doesn't matter that the tickets haven't been produced yet. On its website, ShowTime is already selling tickets to the game, which have a face value of between $350 and $775, for between $3,275 and $4,875 per seat. Olympic organizers wanted to prevent this sort of inflation – but the free market prevails, Livich says. The aftermarket prices are dictated by demand, plain and simple.

When asked how many gold-medal hockey seats ShowTime has accumulated so far, Livich is coy. “We have zero right now, because they haven't been issued yet,” he says with a smile. “How many do we have the rights to? That's a different story. Thousands.”

ShowTime's offices are located in the shadow of BC Place, where the opening and closing Olympic ceremonies will be held, and not far from General Motors Place, where hockey fans will congregate on a nightly basis throughout the Games. The offices are clean, bright and friendly, not dissimilar to a real estate office designed to sell you a home. By February, the streets outside Livich's window will be closed to vehicles, but throngs of tourists will shuffle past ShowTime's storefront on a daily basis. If location is everything, this is the kind of spot most companies would die for during the Games.

Livich staked his claim on this location long before the idea of the Vancouver Olympics was even aired. The notion of getting into reselling first occurred to him as a teenager when he saw $40 concert tickets being sold for $100 outside a venue. But it was Expo that made him into a professional. Instead of buying a few tickets here and there and flipping them for a higher price, Livich used Expo to begin speculating, buying up bigger blocks of tickets to sell, with an eye to heftier returns. In particular, Livich figured there was ample money to be made by purchasing the last few unused days of a seven-day Expo 86 weekly pass from patrons who were leaving the grounds. He then walked those passes over to the entrance gate and flipped them to tourists who only wanted a day pass. He bought at a steep discount, sold at a slight discount and pocketed the difference.

The Expo cash stuffed in his jeans allowed him to branch out. Livich began buying up swaths of seats to concerts and hockey games. He got to know employees of concert promoters – a key source of bulk tickets if the right relationships are forged. He also networked in the scalping community, in order to swap seats and manage inventory.

It was important to milk every possible source, since demand for a given event can surge without warning. Season ticket holders have Livich on speed dial so they can unload games they can't attend; likewise, Livich has a contact list of those who will sell prime seats (centre ice at most NHL rinks, for example) if the price is right. Though few people admit it, everybody is a seller, he says. “A lot of season ticket holders, they invest in season's tickets, they may or may not claim that as a business expense. Then they sell them and get some cash back in their pocket,” Livich says. “What people do with their tax returns isn't my business.”

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