Mark Chipman gets tense at the mere mention of the word “scalping”.
Chipman, co-owner of the Winnipeg Jets, has never bought tickets from a scalper in his life. And he’s making damn sure no one looking for a Jets’ ticket does either.
He and his company, True North Sports and Entertainment, have been on something of a crusade against scalpers ever since acquiring the NHL franchise in May. The company has issued warnings about scalpers for months and last week it cancelled the accounts of several season-ticket holders who were caught reselling their tickets. It was a rare and drastic move by a Canadian pro sports team, especially since Jets season tickets are almost impossible to get and holders must sign on for up to five years.
Chipman offers no apologies and he has the backing of the Manitoba government, which prohibits reselling tickets for higher than the face value. “Frankly I don’t personally think it’s right that guys are just buying tickets in order to profit when other people who want the tickets for the purpose that they were created for can’t get at them,” he said in an interview. “You can’t convince me.”
He may be fighting a losing battle. Manitoba is one of the few jurisdictions in North America where scalping is illegal and the law is vigorously enforced. Punishment includes a fine of up to $5,000 and Winnipeg police arrested two men for scalping Jets tickets last week, just days before the Jets season opener on Sunday.
Most Canadian provinces, such as Ontario, gave up enforcing anti-scalping laws years ago. Alberta repealed its law in 2009 and provinces such as British Columbia have never had a law. Ontario recently passed legislation to regulate ticket reselling by Ticketmaster and others after fans complained the company was using its subsidiary TicketsNow to effectively scalp tickets (the company denied the allegation). But the provincial government has acknowledged the law isn’t aimed at people who want to resell their tickets at a higher price. Quebec is considering a similar statute.
In the United States as many 40 states have almost no restrictions on the resale of tickets. New York legalized scalping in 2007 and has begun licensing ticket brokers. That state went even further last year and banned attempts by concert promoters and team owners from issuing only paperless tickets. Those tickets require buyers to show identification or a credit card before they can claim their ticket. Consumer groups complained paperless tickets made it impossible to resell the tickets, give them away as presents or hand them off to a family member. Several other states are considering similar legislation.
Corralling scalpers has become nearly impossible in the age of the Internet. Websites such as StubHub and Fansnap have transformed ticket buying and turned scalping into a business worth an estimated $4.5-billion annually. StubHub started just 11 years ago and was bought by eBay Inc. in 2007 for $300-million. Fansnap has access to 18.4 million tickets to 78,600 events, according to its website.
Far from shunning these venues, many sports teams embrace them. StubHub has partnerships with the New York Yankees, Washington Redskins and University of Southern California and nearly 60 other teams in the National Football League, Major League Baseball, National Basketball Association and even the National Hockey League.
“A free and open market best serves the public's interest as it’s proven to foster competition and reduce prices,” says Vancouver ticket broker Mario Livich, who also speaks for the Canadian Ticket Brokers Association, which has about 20 members. “Ticket resale restrictions don't benefit anyone and simply do not work.”
He and other supporters of unfettered reselling argue it is all about property rights and ticket buyers should be free to do whatever they want with their tickets. They also note that teams such as the Winnipeg Jets are only moving against scalpers to protect their own resale website (the Jets have a site but tickets are sold only at face value and for a small transaction fee).
Opponents argue scalpers have gone too far and use sophisticated computer programs to snap up tickets before fans have a chance to buy any. They also say a ticket is a licence to get into an event and it should not be treated like private property.
They might point to Winnipegger Dave Parsons, who set up six computers to buy Jets season tickets when they went on sale last June. The tickets sold out in 17 minutes and Parsons considers himself lucky to get a pair. He’s not reselling any, but his computer smarts demonstrates how far some will go to get tickets.
Artists such as Bruce Springsteen, Miley Cyrus, Metallica and Justin Bieber have been pushing for paperless tickets to protect people they say are the ordinary fans. They also support an organization called the Fans First Coalition, which is backed by Live Nation Entertainment, a major concert promoter and owner of Ticketmaster. That groups calls scalpers people who “scoop up vast quantities of tickets using sophisticated tools, and then engage in deceptive and unscrupulous marketing practices.”
Whoever is right, one of Chipman’s own employees isn’t following his lead. Jet defenceman Ron Hainsey says he has bought baseball tickets on StubHub and probably will again. “I usually try to get Yankee or [Boston]Red Sox tickets,” he said. Then he asked quickly: “Is it legal here?”