You can always get what you want.
You've just got to be willing to pay for it. More than $100 for a seat, as much as $4,000 for a suite.
The first ads showed up in the classified section of the Nov. 23 Washington Post, less than 20 hours after ticket sales for the Rolling Stones' Washington appearance were announced. Fifty-six thousand Capital Centre tickets were sold out at $17.50 apiece in less than 12 hours for the three performances. Five ads offering tickets at inflated prices appeared in Monday's paper. The number of ads jumped to 24 that Tuesday and to 98 by last Sunday:
"Rolling Stones Tickets"
"Hot stuff . . . great seats . . . "
"No low bids accepted"
"Last chance to see Mick"
"Will hold out for best offer"
The early prices rose quickly: $50 tickets offered by philanthropists who held on to their tickets and upped their prices when they saw what sums other people were asking -- $100, $150, $200, $300, $400. Capital Centre Sky Suites were being leased by their owners for $4,000, food and beverage included. Paired tickets, for those romantic enough, were offered for $600 for front-row seats. Four seats together for the old gang ran at $800.
"How else are you going to see the Rolling Stones that close for the rest of your life?" one seller asks. He's taking bids and by Friday he'll call the lucky winner. His girlfriend is fielding calls for awhile. "He doesn't want to be greedy," she insists. "He just wants to make $100 on each ticket. We did wait out in the cold a long time. And I know the Rolling Stones are never going to play again."
"I need money for Christmas," says another. He's selling tickets for $100 each. "How can you prevent it?" says one observer. "It's bound to happen with the excitement of this kind of show. It's supply-side economics."
Opportunity knocks and the law apparently stands back: Scalping may be unethical, immoral, annoying and expensive but, according to Gary Handleman, director of operations at the Capital Centre, it is not illegal. "There's no law to prevent the resale of tickets," says Handleman, who notes that it is against Capital Centre rules to sell tickets on Centre grounds. "We tried to prevent resale by putting a limit of four on tickets bought," but when things slowed down early that Sunday morning after 30,000 tickets had been sold, officials upped the limit to six. And some people were rumored to have gotten back in line several times, possibly in disguises.
One University of Maryland student came back to find his answering machine's 30-minute tape filled with responses to his classified. He now has six tickets, which he got from one of the callers in exchange for two front-row seats. He also has several "sliding-scale" tickets, depending on location (from a high of $225 to a low of $55 for seats behind the stage).
All the callers seem to know the layout at the Capital Centre, so there's no fooling about "good locations." The student has also received a few threatening phone calls: " 'People like you ought to be shot.' " It's jealousy, he says, but he's also a little worried. He does his transactions in a very public place, the Glenmont Roy Rogers; it's across the street from the police station. He says he feels safer there. Is he going to the show himself? "I'd rather buy their records and pretend I'm at their concert."
It's a good, albeit sudden and limited, profit-making venture (please, no checks). One senses that there are a few scalping veterans and a slew of opportunists. One guy says he has 175 tickets, most of which he's brokering from folks who seem to think the whole process is illegal or who don't want to deal with the phone calls. He also claims to have sold 16 tickets so far, two at $500 a pair and others at $300 a pair. For most buyers, the limit seems to be somewhere between $100 and $150 apiece. One seller reports that it's rumored eight front-row seats have gone for $700, and a fourth-row pair went for the same price. "It's worth anything to some people," he says.
One early classified advertised "300" pairs; many raised eyebrows and 24 hours later, it was amended to "$300" a pair. Then there were the quick turnarounds: one seller reported running to the Cap Centre in the early hours of the sale and buying two scalped tickets at $50 each while waiting in line for his own allotment. "I wish I'd followed the Stones around the country. They're worth their weight in jewels," he says. He plans to pick up discarded ticket stubs after the concert: "This may be their last concert ever; those stubs may be worth something as a collector's item."
Friendships don't seem to matter to most sellers. "I froze my --- off for a day and a half," said one holder of 10 pairs, most of which were sold to friends at "inflated" prices. "We're pretty tight. They understand."
And then there's the story of "O," or so he calls himself. He's from Seabrook, Md., and his ad was in the paper yesterday. He sold his two extra tickets pretty quickly -- for their face value of $17.50. It cost him $12.50 to run the ad. "I wasn't worried about the money, man," he said with the exasperation of a die-hard fan talking to an ignoramus. "The guy who came by paid for the ad. I didn't care, man. What the hell, man, everybody should go to the Stones."