Chicago's Official Scalpers
As you sit in the majors' most expensive seats, take comfort
in knowing that things could be worse. As pricey as Fenway
tickets have become, at least the Sox haven't adopted the
Chicago Cubs' latest tactic: withholding thousands of tickets
from the public so the club can scalp its own tickets.
The Tribune Company also owns Wrigley Field. This month the New
York Yankees play there for the first time since Lou Gehrig was
their first baseman. Early this season, an outfit called
"Wrigley Field Premium Ticket Services" was offering
front-row field box tickets for the Yankees games, face value
$45, for a mere $1,500. Bleacher seats, $30 from the box office,
cost $155 from WFPTS.
WFPTS is located one block from Wrigley Field. Its offices are
on land owned by the Tribune Company. Its President, Mark
McGuire, is also a Vice President of the Cubs. Its books are
handled by the Cubs' accounting department. Its only business
is reselling Cubs tickets for more than their face value. WFPTS
sells thousands of tickets which have never been offered for sale
to the general public -- and if it can't sell all of its
allotment, the Cubs will take them back. Yet a WFPTS spokesman
insists, "We're not related to the Cubs ticket
Of course not.
The relationship between WFPTS and the Cubs will soon be tested
in court. Illinois law requires the Cubs to sell their tickets at
their stated face value. The Tribune Company thinks it can avoid
this law by establishing WFPTS as a separate corporation, selling
many of the club's most desirable tickets to this corporation
at face value, then letting WFPTS resell them at scalpers'
prices. all without ever offering these tickets to the general
public. Several angry ticketholders disagree.
In response to their lawsuit, McGuire submitted an affidavit
declaring that the tickets the Cubs sent to WFPTS would not have
otherwise been available to the public. No one was persuaded.
According to McGuire, some of these seats came from a pool of
tickets MLB requires be held back for VIP giveaways. MLB denies
that any such holdback rule exists. McGuire said that others came
from the pool set aside for guests of the players and umpires.
But since player guests and VIPs don't have to reserve their
tickets in advance, the Cubs can't possibly sell tickets from
this pool -- for the very games VIPs are most likely to attend!
-- months before the game.
(All of the information above became public as the result of an
extensive investigation by Chicago Sun-Times columnist
Greg Couch. Except for a single column, the Chicago
Tribune has ignored the story.)
In reality, most or all of the tickets sold by WFPTS would
otherwise have been sold at face value by the Cubs ticket office.
Whether or not this practice is legal (a trial is scheduled for
mid-August), it's a contemptible abuse of the club's best
customers. Season ticketholders who for years had been given
first shot at extra single-game seats were told that none were
available for the most desirable series, the games against the
Yankees, White Sox and Cardinals. Loyal fans who stood in line
for hours, during a freezing Chicago winter, to buy tickets for
these games as soon as they went on sale went home
Wrigley Field and Fenway Park have a lot in common. Both are
ancient, small parks filled to capacity each summer. If the Cubs
are allowed to get away with this scam, there's nothing to
stop the Red Sox from following suit. Instead of raising the
price of their tickets, the Sox could simply make them impossible
to buy except through the team's own "unaffiliated"
This Cubs' ticket scalping scheme is just the latest way the
Tribune Company has hidden revenues that should be shared with
other clubs. The Cubs have long been underpaid for their radio
and TV rights, which are "sold" to Tribune
Company's WGN radio and TV. For example, in 2001 the Cubs
claimed to have earned $6.5 million less than the crosstown White
Sox from local media, even though Cubs games are much higher
Fans don't really care about that. Owners who hide media or
advertising money are only hurting one another, and keeping more
money that they can spend on their team. But the Cubs have
crossed the line from cheating their fellow owners to cheating
their most loyal fans -- and unless MLB does something about
these schemes, they will become more and more common.
If MLB is serious about reducing the financial disparity between
clubs, it can't simply ask clubs to share a larger percentage
of their revenues. It needs to ensure that all baseball revenues
find their way into the revenue-sharing pool. That means hiring
independent auditors and valuation experts -- and it means
banning ticket-scalping schemes and all other ways a club could
improve its bottom line by cheating the paying customers.
Copyright © 2003 Doug Pappas. All rights
Originally published in the June 2003 issue of Boston
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