NFL and online ticket brokers have found a working partnership on the league's Web site
Sunday, December 20, 2009
Four years ago, the Cleveland Browns turned to federal prosecutors when they discovered a member of their sales staff secretly selling tickets to broker Mark Klang. He admitted to paying the salesman $5,000-a-month kickbacks for access to tickets and personal seat licenses.
Today, Klang is selling Browns tickets through the NFL's ticket sales Web site at NFL.com.
Klang's journey from vilified scalper to NFL business partner is a sign of the times.
For years, the NFL did whatever it could to combat scalping, routinely pressing police for arrests and scouring classifieds for brokers scalping season tickets. Team owners demonized ticket brokers as greedy, unscrupulous predators.
Most of those former adversaries now supply tickets to the NFL's Web site as the league vies for a piece of the growing, multibillion-dollar secondary market for tickets. Twenty-five of 32 teams in the NFL allow broker sales through the teams on NFL Ticket Exchange, the league's newly relaunched ticket-reselling site run by Ticketmaster.
In a rollout this fall, hundreds of the country's online brokers have begun selling professional football tickets on the site at face value or above. Brokers use special software to upload their inventories in real time directly onto the NFL site.
The shift has come as most states have relaxed ticket scalping laws and the Internet has transformed the process of ticket buying. "Laws have made it easy for people who bought tickets to resell them legally," said Eric Grubman, the NFL's executive vice president and president of NFL Ventures. "Our fans were really clamoring for it as something that they really wanted to do, easily, securely and above the board."
Not quite free market
Brokers simultaneously post their tickets on multiple sites, including their own Web pages as well as NFL Ticket Exchange. On the NFL site, Ticketmaster's software automatically bumps the price as much as 15 to 30 percent, depending on the game and the team's arrangement with Ticketmaster, according to internal company documents obtained by The Washington Post. The fees usually are split with participating teams, spokesmen for several teams said.
"They're basically taking brokers' tickets and putting a service charge on them," said Tom Patania, president of Select-A-Ticket in Riverdale, N.J.
On NFL Ticket Exchange, broker tickets are not labeled as coming from brokers but from "ticket holders." The league maintains it does not deal directly with those formerly known as scalpers.
"We don't have a deal with ticket brokers," Grubman said. "Our deal is with Ticketmaster."
Neal Gulkis, spokesman for the Browns, also distanced the team from Klang. "The Browns do not have a relationship with [Klang's company] Amazing Tickets," Gulkis said. "Our agreement is with the NFL and Ticketmaster."