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THAT SEASON TICKET ON EBAY? IT COULD COST SELLER THE SEAT

By Richard Sandomir, The New York Times
Posted date: 09/24/2006

The Yankees are revoking the season tickets of fans who have sold their unused tickets on StubHub.com and other Web sites and are looking to start their own entity to sell tickets in the lucrative secondary market.

"Why pick on me?" said Orlando Bautista, a doctor in Smithtown, N.Y., who was told by the team in August that his upper-deck and bleacher seats at Yankee Stadium would be revoked after the season.

He added: "I'm a good fan. I don't drink. I don't curse."

Another fan whose tickets were revoked, and who spoke only on the condition of anonymity because he did not want to imperil any chance he had of reclaiming his seats, said: "I'm contemplating being a Mets fan. I'm really hurt. You feel like you're trying to fight City Hall, but this is worse."

Lonn A. Trost, the Yankees' chief operating officer, said he was not sending a misleading message to season-ticket resellers, while at the same time considering a plan to make the Yankees their own authorized reseller.

"It's a violation of our policy to resell tickets," Trost said. "It's in our contract. If you don't want to sign it, you don't have to buy tickets."

The tickets come with licenses stating that reselling tickets is not permitted. But that has not deterred fans from posting hundreds or thousands of tickets for sale or auction on any given day on StubHub and eBay.

But those two Web sites say that season tickets should be treated like a car owner who can sell to anyone. "If a fan spends hundreds or thousands of dollars on tickets, they have the expectation that they can do what they want," said Greg Bettinelli, eBay's director of event tickets.

Trost said that the team's historic stance against reselling season tickets would not prevent it from considering entering the secondary market.

"Times change," he said. "You re-examine everything."

Elizabeth Block, an assistant New York attorney general, said the Yankees seem to have the legal right to prevent their season-ticket holders from reselling on outside Web sites while making their own site the exclusive one. But, she said, "You could argue it's deceptive."

An exemption in a state law passed last year allows the original sellers of event tickets, like the Yankees, to resell tickets online on their own sites.

The legislation, which essentially legalized scalping, allows ticket holders to resell their seats online for a maximum 45 percent over face value for events at facilities with at least 6,000 seats. Most states have no such limits.

If the Yankees start their proposed site — Pinstripe Marketplace is listed as "coming soon" on Yankees.com — they would be able to earn money on both the first sale of the tickets and on their subsequent resale. If the plan proceeds, the Yankees would follow the lead of 27 other major league teams that are already in the secondary market, including the Mets.

"The other teams are successful and making money, but that's not our chief issue, which is to make sure scalpers aren't ripping off our fan base," Trost said. To make money on its site, the Yankees would charge a fee on every sale, most likely only to the season-ticket holder who is selling.

StubHub charges the sellers and buyers, and eBay charges only the seller. The Mets charge sellers a 10 percent fee on the ticket price and buyers 11 percent.

Stephen Happel, an economics professor at Arizona State University, said there was only one reason for teams to get into the resale market. "Teams realize there is a lot of money to be made in the secondary market, but they weren't getting any of it," said Happel, who has studied the market.

The Yankees' efforts to snare season-ticket holders on StubHub or eBay have become more noticeable in recent months, said Sean Pate, a StubHub spokesman, although Trost said it has been going on for years.

The Yankees troll the online resellers looking for tickets with seat numbers attached, but fans tend to avoid being so easily detected.

Fans who post tickets with resellers listing only the section and row numbers are more difficult to hunt down, but Trost said that stadium security will "flood the area" to try to learn who sold the ticket. He did not describe how guards find a ticket buyer sitting in a resold seat.

Pate said guards have stopped fans who visibly carry StubHub envelopes and questioned them about where they got their tickets, which would help to pursue the season-ticket holder. Trost confirmed the tactic.

Pate said only 10 StubHub customers have had their season tickets revoked. In eight of those instances, the team detected that fans were e-mailing their tickets to StubHub through a Yankees.com forwarding service.

"It's a witch hunt against us and eBay for giving fans more access to these games," Pate said. "These aren't scalpers. Season-ticket holders are their most loyal fans."

He added: "We're just trying to get fans to games. Why are they putting the fear of God in them?"

A spokeswoman for EBay said that it was unaware that any of its customers had had their season tickets revoked. Trost would say only that the total number of revocations from all the outlets investigated by the Yankees had exceeded 10.

Pate said its customers were safe from the Yankees' surveillance in virtually all of their online transactions. He suggested that resellers e-mail their tickets to themselves before forwarding them to StubHub.

Bautista said that he did not know how his ticket sale on StubHub was discovered by the Yankees, his adopted team. He came to New York in 1979 from Kansas City, Mo., as a Royals fan and started rooting for the Mets. But his children are Yankee fans and did not want to attend Mets games with him, so he bought his Yankee tickets.

In June, he received a letter from a Yankee lawyer, Alan Chang, telling him that his six tickets had been revoked because the tickets he had sold to an early season game had been tracked to a sale on StubHub.

"They caught me in June, and I said, fine, I can't complain. It's their policy,' " Bautista said. He said the team sent mixed messages by enforcing the sanctity of its license, but on its radio broadcasts on WCBS-AM, John Sterling read StubHub ads that did not carry any cautions about team policy.

(Trost said that he has asked WCBS not to accept the ads.)

Bautista said he pleaded that he would not resell any more tickets and was reinstated. But he was bounced again last month when the Yankees traced his tickets for late-season games for sale on StubHub. He insisted that he posted them before Chang's letter, but he said that the Yankees did not believe him.

Trost offers little compassion. "Most of the individuals say they did it just once. Pity me," he said. "Or, I gave it to the salesman who gave it to his brother, who gave to his son and he put it on eBay,' and it's usually not true."

The Yankees typically write to violators that it is the team's "absolute right" to revoke their season tickets at the end of the year, deny them postseason tickets and refuse to offer them a season-ticket license "for the 2007 baseball season and beyond." Trost said he had not determined if amnesty would be granted at some point.

Two teams that have preceded the Yankees into the online resale market, the Mets and the San Diego Padres, have not punished fans for peddling their unused tickets on StubHub, eBay or other Web sites like RazorGator.com, and seem content to co-exist with them.

"Our license says not to resell unless it's on a Padres Web site," said Jim Kiersnowski, the team's ticket operations director. This season, 36,000 tickets have been resold on the Padres' site. "We could revoke their tickets, but we don't think it would help our relationship with our customers," he said.

The Mets have resold about 6,000 tickets on their marketplace site, which opened this season. Dave Howard, the team's executive vice president of business operations, said, "We don't have a legal policy against reselling on other sites, but we will take action against scalping."

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