Adventures In Scalping: On The Scene For Game 5 Of The World Series

The game plan was to get into Game 5 of the World Series for as little as possible. Armed with $75 cash and another couple hundred digital dollars by way of Venmo and PayPal, I set off to Houston. Phone fully charged, chin up, I wasn’t really sure what to expect, this being my inaugural journey into championship game territory.

The Astros have never won a World Series, I’ve never been to one, and New Orleans is close enough to Minute Maid Park that if you’re someone like me you’re absolutely renting a car, zipping west on I-10, and rolling the dice. The scene was pretty bare when I arrived about five and a half hours before the game — which would itself wind up being about 5 and a half hours long.

2:05pm: “I have no idea what the laws are”

Even though ending up in jail would make for a better post, there’s no wifi behind bars, so I wanted to make sure I’d meet my deadline. My first step was checking in with the Houston police officers who were near the ballpark to get the scoop. The first couple of cops had no idea what the actual laws were and when the second pair of cops also had no idea, I took my question online and discovered, from the Houston Press:

In Texas, unsurprisingly, there’s no state law against ticket scalping, and in Houston there is only a city ordinance that makes it illegal to sell them on public property inside city limits without a permit. There’s also no limit on the amount of money a person may try to resell a ticket for, so even if you grew up hearing cautionary tales about the shady business of buying tickets from a scalper, there’s nothing making that line of work illegal.

This non-answer didn’t make me feel better about engaging in conversations with strangers just across the street from the ballpark.

2:45pm: “I’m not interested in a story”

On the other side of the main entrance to the game were two “Licensed Ticket Vendors” tents. The signage implied that everyone else selling tickets on the street was not licensed and therefore not legal. When I asked the official-seeming man in the Hawaiian shirt on the laptop if this were true, he said he wasn’t interested in talking to me for a story. Then he told me I was preventing him from conducting business and he would call the cops if I didn’t leave. Bye!

Back near the park, the number of sellers were swelling and fans were swarming. Until this moment I’d been kind of hesitant to be noticeably looking for a ticket. But now people were holding up fingers a few away away from the police. I asked a cop to clarify what the law was, why was it okay for these people to be selling tickets this close to the stadium. He told me that jaywalking was also illegal and asked what was stopping him from arresting me on the spot. Again, there’s no wifi in jail, so I apologized for bothering the man and left.

5:00pm: “You undercover?”

I circled the park far too many times, and at this point, it became clear to me that with every lap I took, either more people became suspicious of me, or my awful luck was making me paranoid. Scalpers think I’m an undercover cop, cops think I’m up to something, everyone is skeptical, and I’m just digging for cheap tickets.

At one point I find myself wondering if the drug and/or bomb sniffing dogs are capable of sniffing out people selling illegal tickets. Standing room on Stubhub is still around $500.

6:05pm: “I wouldn’t scam you in front of her”

With just about an hour to go before the game, everyone is nervous. Sellers are nervous about not getting full value, buyers are nervous they won’t get into the game, and people selling fake tickets must be extremely nervous as the arrests are coming more frequently.

In the sweet news department, an older couple from the area lucks out, getting a pair of tickets for face value along the third base line which is exactly what they were looking for. When asked if the tickets were legit the guy, holding his kid’s hand, said, “I wouldn’t scam you in front of her.” The people who were scamming overheard this and did not disguise their laughter well. More arrests are made.

6:06pm: “They are not from here”

With every fake ticket sold and every arrest, the legit sellers grow uncomfortable. It’s hard to tell what’s real and what’s fake, but I soon discover that the people most passionate about proving their legitimacy are most likely legit. The ones that transfer to a different block when questioned are the ones to be mindful of. The ones conducting actual business are usually planted in the same place, with no problems.

“We live here. They are not from here” repeats a seller who gave me his business card for the next time I’m in town but doesn’t want his name on this post. Pointing, he shouts, “I know that police officer. I know that one.” He’s right, they nod. The ticket he’s trying to unload is a single seat right above the dugout for $1,000. There’s a handful of potential buyers circling him but nobody is going above $500 and there is no way in hell, he says, he is going less than maybe $800 and that’s after the game starts. This is the point at which it was extremely clear to me that I wouldn’t be getting into this game, but I stuck around for the ride.

Pictured above is what a ticket expert inside the stadium said was so good they wanted to bring the owner in for questioning. Apparently they used the exact same printer the team uses, the design was perfect, it was just a fake barcode. The guy who purchased this ticket was obviously disappointed but as he hunted for the guy who sold him fake goods, he admitted he thought it was cool that he had what a World Series ticket security expert called the best fake ticket he’s ever seen.

7:40pm: “Every run scored should knock off $100”

The game has started and the Dodgers are up 3-0 in the first. The dugout seat is the only one left, and the seller is down to $800. It’s cold outside but a guy from Buffalo is wearing shorts and thinks each run scored against the Astros should knock off $100. He’s got $500 cash he’ll give him right now but no luck.

The seller explains he would rather rip the ticket up than sell it that under value because it’s the principle of the ticket business. He gives us “we live here” speech again, which is growing on me.

Between innings, Philadelphia 76ers forward Jahlil Okafor walks away from Minute Maid towards, presumably, his hotel. The Sixers are in town tonight for their game against the Rockets the next day, and it’s nice that the team got to take in a World Series, but it’s sad that Joel Embiid didn’t invite his teammate up to the suite.

8:17pm: “$500 is better than nothing”

The cheapskates are waiting until 8:20p to strike, because that’s when Stubhub stops selling tickets. The last seller standing also has his ticket on Stubhub, courtesy of a friend of his who stopped by to do him a favor. This friend is a ticket broker who says over and over, louder and louder, that he got into Game 1 for only $150 but he didn’t even stay the whole time. He seems extremely not fun at a party, like he will always try to outdo your stories with his own, but he is armed with a tool everyone is fascinated with.

He shows all the (increasingly desperate) buyers how to see if a ticket is fake. You can use the Stubhub app to tell if the barcode of a ticket is “live” or not and he defiantly scans the lone dugout ticket adding, “this is the best seat in the park that’s still available.” He heads inside with a suite ticket that he may or may not use, as well as a standing room ticket. He’s not selling either, though, because “it’s bad for the ticket industry.”

8:25pm: “I told you”

The dugout ticket is sold, finally. It only went for $550, a number that must frustrate all parties involved. The seller had offers of $700 and $800 an hour ago but held on to the $1,000 number. I watched as disappointed baseball fans gave up and went back to their hotels, homes, bars.

After the Stubhub clock expired, the buyer’s dance partner of two hours made his final offer of $500. Out of principle the buyer, the one who wanted us to know he lives here, said $550 and it’s his. He walked the Astros fan to the gate and watched as the ticket scanned successfully. He got a thumbs up and went home. Many hours later, the baseball game ended.