Scalpers were out in force at the Prince concert earlier this month at Target Center in Minneapolis. They were like traders on a stock exchange, hoping to buy low and sell high.
Some tickets sold for less than face value. Nothing illegal about that. But some tickets were scalped -- sold for more than face value. And under current Minnesota law, scalpers face up to 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine. The police, though, don't seem to care about scalpers. After all, come next Wednesday, ticket scalping will be legal in Minnesota.
"We're legitimate businessmen now come August first," says Steve, who was buying and selling tickets at the Prince concert. "Ain't that great?"
Steve, who wouldn't give his last name, says the law change won't make much of a difference for him. Not given how easy it's been to flout the law and the ready availability of scalped tickets on the Internet. And over in Wisconsin, scalping has long been legal. Steve says at most the Minnesota law change will end occasional harassment by cops.
"We'll do just fine. It won't affect us at all, the fact that it's legal. We just don't have to bring a license out there in case we get all shagged up by 'the heat,'" says Steve.
But another veteran scalper is worried. Smokie expects he'll have to work a lot harder.
"We're going to have a lot more competition. There are going to be a lot more people trying to get rid of seats, trying to sell seats, trying to do the same thing we've been doing for two, three decades," he says.
Many economists would agree with Smokie. They predict legalization and increased competition should drive down the price of tickets that get resold, but only by a few dollars.
Doug, who buys a lot of tickets from people like Smokie, generally agrees with that economic theory. But he says the effects will be limited.
"I don't see much changing with the law changing. You're still going to have the market out here and oftentimes it's for face value or less," Doug says. "The toughest tickets to get are for sporting events. When it's playoffs, there's much more demand. Perhaps it'll affect sporting events. But for concerts, I don't think so."
For one Wisconsin ticket broker, the change in Minnesota law presents a clear benefit.
We're legitimate businessmen now come August first. Ain't that great?Steve, a scalper
Ticket King, a ticket reseller, will soon be opening stores within a few blocks of the Metrodome and Xcel Energy Center. From its Hudson, Wis., office, Ticket King has sold tickets to Twin Cities events for about 12 years, most always above face value.
For the most part, Ticket King says it buys unwanted tickets from fans and resells them, usually for a profit.
"It's all supply and demand," says Brian Obert, co-owner of Ticket King. "And we just try to get in the middle somewhere."
Obert doesn't see ticket prices or much else changing a great deal after Aug. 1.
"The biggest change for us is we will be able to move from Hudson, Wisconsin into the Twin Cities," Obert says. "We'll be able to be closer to our customers and make it more convenient for them -- and us -- to buy and sell tickets."
Minnesota's professional sports teams acknowledge there has long been a pretty open market for resold tickets. And with Minnesota's law change, at least the Twins and Vikings are getting into the game themselves. They are planning to let season ticket holders sell tickets above face value on the teams' Web sites. The teams will get a cut.
But local teams have one big concern about legalized scalping. They don't want scalpers setting up shop just outside, or even inside, their buildings.
Pam Wheelock, chief financial officer of the Minnesota Wild's parent company, says the team doesn't want scalpers hassling fans.
"Ideally, we'd like to at least keep them off the adjacent sidewalks," Wheelock says. "We'd really prefer to have a zone across the streets instead. But we're still working through that with the city."
Wheelock says cities have the authority to create extended no-scalping zones around arenas and stadiums.
If you're thinking about getting into the scalping game now that it's legal, beware. It can be a risky market. A few days before the Prince concert, some of the Purple One's fans were paying $50 to $80 over face value for some tickets. But on the street just before the concert prices for many tickets had plunged to as much as $100 less than face value.