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NFL and online ticket brokers have found a working partnership on the league's Web site

The site is not a truly free market. Brokers are prohibited from selling tickets at less than face value, although they can sell for above face value.

"To maintain a quality marketplace throughout the NFL Ticket Exchange, each NFL team has specified price floors and ceilings per Section and Row," according to a Ticketmaster e-mail sent to participating brokers.

A Ticketmaster competitor, Don Vaccaro, chief executive of Ticket Network, which also posts broker tickets, said he does not require a minimum price for tickets and criticized the practice as harming consumers. "Make no mistake about it. Floor pricing is done for nefarious purposes," Vaccaro said. "There are a lot of industries, in theory, if they could do it, would prohibit folks from selling their products for less than face value."

In an interview, Ticketmaster spokeswoman Hannah Kampf said the exchange offers consumers a secure way to buy tickets with a guarantee that they are not counterfeit. She declined to discuss in detail the broker sales, the service charge or the floor prices. In an e-mail, she said the prices and fees "are determined by the League and/or individual teams."

In past years, NFL teams supported laws banning various forms of ticket scalping and often played a cat-and-mouse game with brokers, who had to resort to acquiring tickets through straw purchases and classified ads.

The laws were strict. Past ticket-scalping scandals have involved players, coaches and in one case the spouse of then-Los Angeles Rams owner Georgia Frontiere. In 1988, Dominic Frontiere was convicted of tax evasion for failing to pay income tax on about 3,200 tickets he scalped to Super Bowl XIV, held after the 1979 season in Pasadena, Calif. He was sentenced to a year in federal prison and fined $15,000.

When online sales started to soar on Craigslist, eBay and StubHub, the league initially continued its hard-line stance. "We view it as unethical and in some cases against the law," League spokesman Greg Aiello told USA Today in 2002.

That was then.

"It is no longer Ratso Rizzo in the dark alley selling you tickets," said Stephen Happel, an economist at Arizona State University and expert on scalping. "It is a legitimate business selling tickets."

The new relationship spilled into public view this year with a scandal that ensnared the Washington Redskins. The Post reported in September that the team had sold thousands of tickets to brokers, bundling lower-bowl general-admission tickets that were easier to scalp with harder-to-sell premium-priced seats. Redskins officials denounced the practice, blaming rogue employees they said had violated team policy.

In an interview earlier this year, Redskins General Counsel David Donovan explained why the Redskins have a policy prohibiting sales to brokers. "We would much rather put tickets in the hands of fans than someone who flips them at a profit," he said.

Yet hundreds of tickets to Redskins games can be found selling for above face value on the NFL Ticket Exchange by clicking on the Indian head team logo. For Monday night's game with the New York Giants at FedEx Field, there were tickets in Section 121, Row 5 selling for $279 apiece on the NFL site. By analyzing the notes accompanying the tickets and talking to brokers who have access to the database, The Post determined that the tickets were posted there by of Laurel. StageFront was selling the same tickets on its own site for $258 apiece.

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