'Massive marketplace' for ticket scalpers

There’s more than one game in town this weekend — with plenty of thrill-of-victory and agony-of-defeat occurring long before kickoff time, among those working to score (or sell) tickets.

And, yes, there’s an app for that.

Jason Crowley, a 29-year-old from Buckhead, chose this game-of-games to launch a smart phone application that connects ticket sellers with buyers.

“There’s a massive marketplace for a game like this,” Crowley said. He’s not even charging for the service at this point. “We just want traction and users.”

The frenzy for access to an SEC championship that could live in history — or infamy, depending on your team allegiance — has scalpers and scalpees finding all kinds of ways to link up.

Even though the game is sold out, thousands of tickets are available in the secondary market, ranging in price from a few hundred dollars to a several thousand. Beyond that, scalpers are expected to ply their trade on many a corner near the Georgia Dome, as well as the many pregame gatherings beforehand in area hotels.

Not everyone comes to the role of ticket scalper easily. Some feel a little creepy doing it. Because he’s donated $22,000 to the University of Georgia over the years, the school offered Ron (he asked that his last name not be used) two tickets to the championship game.

He paid face value of $100 each for two end-zone seats in the stratosphere. But a friend was willing to give him two better tickets at face value, so he decided to sell his original pair.

He’s asking $299 for them on Craigslist, but that’s not what makes him queasy.

“I would feel bad selling them to an Alabama fan,” said the Atlanta resident. “It would be like helping the opponent.”

Another seller, who also requested anonymity, played football for UGA years ago, has retired from a career as an airline pilot, holds season tickets and has donated over $50,000 to the school.

But because his daughter is away at school, he’s decided to watch the game on TV with friends. He posted his two tickets on Craigslist — also in an upper section — for $350 each.

He’s not budging on his price. When he gets a call from someone wanting to haggle, well, those calls don’t last long.

The very term scalping has a negative connotation. But Georgia law allows a person who buys a ticket to sell it at a profit. If they want to sell it game day on the street, they must stay 2,700 feet from the arena.

Atlanta police say they will be enforcing that law around the Dome on Saturday.

“We will be running details to ensure compliance,” said spokesman Carlos Campos.

But he acknowledged that catching scalpers and prosecuting them for the misdemeanor crime can be difficult. These ticket sales often occur on the street or over the Internet, so identifying the seller in the transaction can be tough, he said.

Crowley’s app, called TixSameDay, adds a level of discretion, letting the horse-trading go on anywhere without attracting attention. He said it’s aimed at people who are tailgating and hoping to discretely find a ticket nearby. It’s available only on iPhones but he expects it will soon expand to Droids.

A different technology threatens to dampen the day for some unwary fans: the kind used in counterfeiting. That’s become so sophisticated that many victims don’t know they’ve been duped until they reach the gate.

The SEC estimates that as many as 400 counterfeit tickets show up for these championship games, said David Knight, SEC director of championship ticket sales. That’s several hundred people whose hearts break when they realize they sunk big money into a ticket that doesn’t get them in the door.

“That’s the toughest part of my job,” Knight said.

This year, the Dome will have a ticket validating window at the main box office beginning at 10 a.m. Saturday, where people can confirm the authenticity of their tickets.

Pitfalls notwithstanding, there’s virtually no limit to the lengths some fans will go to in their quest for seats. Scoring tickets to this kind of singular event certifies a fan’s connectedness, status and moxie.

Simply put: The guy walking around with six tickets on game day is the baddest guy in town.

A strategy is essential. On Craigslist, some buyers are trying to soften hearts — and get lower prices — with sob stories.

“We’re two students at UGA just wanting to support the Dawgs this weekend. With tuition and everything coming up, we can only afford tickets for around $250 apiece,” one person wrote in their post.

Some people get even more creative.

Steven Smith came up with one of the more original plans. His friend owns a limousine, so they advertised that in exchange for two tickets, they would drive people to the game in the limo and provide a full-out tailgating experience, including tent, music and food.

“Hamburgers, brats, chicken, hot dogs and everything,” said Smith, 36, of Canton. “In a game like this, you have to get really original to get your butt in the door.”

At about 3 p.m. Thursday, he was contacted by a woman who agreed to the deal.

“They wanted the VIP experience,” Smith said.

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