UK Men's Basketball

As demand for UK tickets increases, so do prices and risk in the scalping market

James Collins of Erlanger, selling tickets on High Street for Thursday's game, said people with tickets for Saturday's game "were asking too much money."
James Collins of Erlanger, selling tickets on High Street for Thursday's game, said people with tickets for Saturday's game "were asking too much money." © 011

When demand is high, someone will try to provide a supply.

Basic economics is coming into play as the University of Kentucky men's basketball team gets ready to tip off against North Carolina on Saturday.

Because of the magnitude of the game, the number of fans who want to see it in person and the lack of tickets for sale at the ticket office, scalpers will likely be out in force.

Anticipation might have cooled some, since North Carolina dropped from No. 1 to No. 5 in the nation after a loss last Saturday, but there are still good reasons for fans to be excited. Besides both programs' rich tradition, the game will be a rematch of last year's NCAA Tournament Elite Eight game (which Kentucky won), and each team features top players.

The hot market brings risk for buyers and sellers: Lexington police plan to beef up patrols on game day, and officials warn that some tickets available on the street could be stolen or fake.

Ticketless fans bound and determined to watch from a seat inside Rupp have no choice but to buy tickets secondhand. No tickets were sold to the public through UK's official outlets after the season started — all available UK-UNC tickets were snapped up by students early last month.

"The only tickets available for games once the season starts are the ones the students don't claim," UK athletics spokesman DeWayne Peevy said.

Demand for the tickets is so high, even street scalpers are having trouble finding an affordable supply. Several people who were buying and selling tickets to UK's game against St. John's on Thursday said they hadn't secured tickets for Saturday's game.

Emmett Manley, one of several people holding signs that said "I need tickets" on High Street hours before the UK-St. John's game, said he heard tickets for the UNC game were selling for about $500 on the street.

James Collins, who was selling tickets a couple blocks away, said UNC tickets had been offered to him for $400.

"They're asking too much money. Out here, we're not willing to give more than $150 for them," said Collins, of Erlanger.

Since everybody seems to be holding on to their stock, it's anybody's guess what prices will be on game day. Collins said they could be significantly lower than predicted if the market is flooded.

"Presale, you try to get as much as you can. Game day, you just come out and dump your inventory," he said.

Online, secondhand ticket prices varied from hundreds to thousands of dollars. Lower-level tickets were selling for $1,000 to $2,001 on on Thursday. Prices on Craigslist averaged from $200 to $800., the official online reseller for this season's Final Four, was selling tickets from $88 on the low end to $2,970 for a pair of fourth-row seats.

Though selling tickets above face value is illegal in some areas — including Kentucky — ticket resale is big business nationally.

"It's a $25 billion market. I don't know if people know how big this market is," said Grant Cardone, Los Angeles-based economist, sports expert and author of The 10X Rule, a book about how to achieve success.

Lexington police Lt. Brian Maynard said police will be "beefing up enforcement efforts" to deal with an expected increase in street scalping Saturday. Not only is selling tickets above face value against state law, but selling anything within a block of Rupp Arena on game day is against local ordinance.

Maynard said scalping waxes and wanes depending on demand for tickets. The last time police significantly cracked down on scalping was during the 2009-10 season, when anticipation was running high during Coach John Calipari's first season — the same season counterfeits surfaced for the first time in almost a decade.

In 2010, 35 people were charged with ticket scalping in Lexington, compared with just one charge in 2009, first assistant county attorney Brian Mattone said. Most pleaded guilty and paid a fine.

So far this year, there have been seven charges, Mattone said. Six occurred during last basketball season, and one happened this spring, likely for a concert or other event at Rupp.

"We have not had any new charges since the start of this season — yet," Mattone said.

While most tickets on the secondary market are legitimate, the possibility exists that a ticket holder will be turned away from Rupp, unwittingly having bought a fake or a ticket that has been reported stolen.

"When demand exceeds supply, the criminals come out from every angle," Cardone said.

Counterfeit tickets have not turned up in Lexington since the 2009-10 season, but Saturday's game might tempt fakers.

A ticket might look genuine, "but if it does not ring up a proper authorization from the bar code, you don't get in," Lexington Center President Bill Owen said.

With a game of the stature of UK-North Carolina, many scalpers will be willing to pay the $250 fine, and buyers might be just as willing to take a chance.

For them, Cardone had simple advice: ask the seller for the ticket number before you make the purchase, then call the box office to verify it isn't stolen or fake.

"If the seller says 'no,' just go watch it on TV. You're not going to get your money back," Cardone said.

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader