Councilman Edd Tuttle was aghast.
The day tickets went on sale for an upcoming Kenny Rogers concert at the Long Beach Arena, Tuttle phoned the box office and found that every last $17.50 ducat had been sold. When he tried at a local ticket agency, the councilman learned that, sure, he could purchase tickets--but only if he shelled out more than $125 apiece.
"My first reaction was that I couldn't afford it," Tuttle said, recalling the early January incident. "My second reaction was one of anger."
As Tuttle sees it, his chances of attending the concert were undercut by independent ticket agencies that swoop down and snap up tickets to hot entertainment events, inflating prices beyond reach of the average fan.
Now the councilman wants to get even.
On Tuesday, Tuttle began a push to outlaw what he called "legalized scalping" by ticket agencies in Long Beach. The City Council voted unanimously to have city staff determine what steps can be taken to restrict the resale of tickets at inflated prices by agencies.
"In my opinion, these ticket agencies are operating in a very sleazy manner," Tuttle told his colleagues Tuesday.
Councilman Wallace Edgerton agreed, saying the city ought to "bring the hammer down on some of these agencies."
"My reaction is we ought to go out and give those people hell, and to hell with the economics," Edgerton said.
Just what can be done, however, remains to be seen.
Under California law, the resale of tickets at an inflated price is illegal only when done on the grounds around an arena, stadium or other venue. Nonetheless, legal officials say, the law is extremely difficult to enforce because authorities must prove that a scalper purchased tickets solely for resale.
The City of Los Angeles, meanwhile, has taken those anti-scalping restrictions a step further, making it illegal to resell a ticket for any reason or at any price outside a sporting event or concert.
Those laws, however, do nothing to restrict ticket brokers. Because of that, Tuttle has proposed that Long Beach take a much tougher stance.
Price Cap Called Option
Tuttle said he would like to see the council either place a lid on the resale price of tickets or enact restrictions on the transfer of tickets once they are sold for an event in Long Beach.
Legal problems could stand in the way. City Atty. John Calhoun said in an interview that Tuttle's proposals "raise some legal concerns" because they may amount to illegal restrictions of personal property. Calhoun cautioned, however, that he could not rule out any proposal until he studies the issue further.
Since many of the agencies selling tickets to events in Long Beach are located in other cities, Tuttle said he may ultimately push for a statewide ban on the resale of tickets by agencies. Such a law is in effect in New York state, Tuttle said.
It could be an uphill battle: Efforts to adopt similar laws in California have failed in recent years. In 1978, a bill that would have limited the resale of tickets to $2 over the original price was defeated in an Assembly committee. Two years later, a similar bill was shelved when its author, former Assemblyman Mel Levine (D-Santa Monica), realized the measure lacked the necessary votes to pass.
Ticket brokers, meanwhile, say the council would be ill-advised to adopt legislation restricting their business.
'A Public Service'
"The only reasons we're in business is because there are people who don't want to stand in line for 10 or 12 hours to get tickets," said Ken Oberlin, owner of the Ticket Shack in Costa Mesa. "It's more of a public service we're offering than anything else."
Besides, Oberlin said, if Tuttle had shopped around a little bit he could have found cheaper tickets for the Rogers concert. Oberlin said he was selling fourth-row tickets for $65.
Efforts to regulate the operation of ticket brokers, Oberlin said, would be difficult to enforce and eventually might backfire on the council by forcing scalpers "back out on the streets."
Tuttle, however, maintains that the agencies are little better than street scalpers. As he sees it, the brokers pay scores of teen-agers to stand in line and snare the best tickets. Oberlin insisted that most ticket brokers do not engage in such organized tactics.
Under the current system in force at the Long Beach Arena box office, a customer is allowed to purchase only six tickets at a time. For any event that management anticipates will be sold out, the sale of tickets is regulated by issuing numbered wristbands to people waiting in line. When a person's number is called, they can step forward and pick up the tickets.
The system is tedious and time-consuming, requiring fans to stand in line for hours at a time while they wait for their number to be called, but it has effectively restricted ticket sales to six per person.
Ticket agencies, Oberlin said, get around that system by purchasing extra tickets from fans, who are eager to get rid of the spare ducats and make a profit.
"Most of the people we buy tickets from are just kids who are willing to stand in line because they want to see the show," he said.
About one-third of the tickets for performances at the 14,000-seat Long Beach Arena are sold through the arena box office, with the remainder distributed through an arrangement with Ticket Master. That agency charges face value and a service charge ranging from $2.50 to $3.75 per ticket.