Ed Castle, 28, has scalped tickets for a decade, but whatever you do, don't call him a scalper.
"I'm a ticket broker," he said with a scowl.
He's a ticket broker "about to get rich."
Super Bowl XXII, scheduled for Jan. 31 in San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium, may bring Castle his "all-time biggest haul" as a scalper, er, ticket broker. He expects something in the neighborhood of $60,000.
Wednesday morning, Castle was in the stadium parking lot at 7 o'clock, milling around Gate E looking for action. He was hitting up San Diego Chargers season-ticket holders lucky enough to have their names drawn in the lottery for host-team tickets.
Castle was carrying a wad of cash that would stagger a drug dealer, but that was nothing compared to the money his competitors were flashing.
Louis Solovay, 78, is Castle's friend, and mentor. Solovay said he has been scalping tickets for 66 years. Wednesday morning, he was still hustling hard and had in his pocket $10,000, all in $100 bills.
Started When He Was 12
"I've been at every Super Bowl, every Olympics since 1960," Solovay said. "I've been at every World's Fair. Hell, I started scalping when I was 12 years old. Made a living at it all these years. Now, I do a little painting, but scalping is my main source of income."
Solovay lives in Monterey Park, Castle in Los Angeles. Both are here, along with hundreds of other scalpers, hoping for what they call "the biggest one-day payoff in scalping history." The small size of the stadium--about 74,000 seats, making it the smallest ever to play host to a Super Bowl--has driven the demand for tickets to outrageous proportions.
Castle said that annually the Super Bowl brings "a good ticket broker" between $30,000 and $60,000. He said San Diego would "definitely produce profits on the high end--this is the biggest Super Bowl ever."
Castle--who says he doesn't use his real surname but the pseudonym Castle while working--used to work for the Ticket Outlet, an agency based in Los Angeles and one of the largest in the country. He finally figured out he could make more money as an independent broker, which he said most scalpers are.
Even as a "free-lancer," he has a staff of four now headquartered in a local hotel at a cost of $59 a night. Ever the hustler, Castle negotiated a group rate discounted from the normal fee of $125 a night. Was the hotel awarded any free tickets as a bargaining chip? He wouldn't say.
He has his wife answering the telephone, with four other agents prowling the city for tickets. He said that Monday and Tuesday were "the heaviest trading days," at least in the stadium parking lot, and that most scalpers had already "taken the red-eye" to Denver and Washington "to try to score more."
Price Dropping Already
Castle claimed that the price of tickets is already dropping. Brokers were paying $500 to $550 a ticket Monday, $600 Tuesday and as little as $400 Wednesday, he said.
No sooner had he spoken than a woman leaving the ticket office announced her price of $625 a ticket.
Castle offered $600.
A few minutes later, a man got $600 apiece for two end-zone seats. The bidding, which lasted roughly 15 minutes, was intense.
"My partner really got hacked off," said John Deni, 21, a San Diego scalper. "Somebody cut him off, meaning that one of these guys"--he pointed at Castle and one or two others--"stepped in and interrupted, offering a higher price. There's an unwritten rule that you never, ever do that--it's kind of a scalper's law. But he ignored it.
"Then again, some of these have been around longer than we have and know the ropes. They're pros. It's good experience for us to go up against 'em."
It only stands to reason that Castle hopes to pay the least to make the most. And like a good poker player, he employs all sorts of "psychological tricks" to make you think he's suffering, that the price is just too high.
Throughout the morning, in almost every conversation with buyer, seller or passer-by, Castle tried to pound home the point that the price was dropping dramatically. That demand was slackening. His message seemed to have the dual effect of making ticket holders sell quickly and of causing competitors to bid lower, so that his offer would more easily top theirs.
Castle said he could sell most of his sideline seats for at least $1,000 apiece and end-zone seats for about $750. He claimed that the quoted figures of 50-yard-line seats selling for as much as $3,500 are "extravagantly high--there's no way I'll get that."
Crazy Like the Stock Market
"This is one crazy business," he said. "It's just like the stock market. One minute, you're doin' great, the next you're suckin' air. I do dig the action, though. I kind of groove on the anxiety and the pace. I suppose there's something sick about that. Well, I can't help it.
"Take a boxing match in Vegas. You're payin' $600 to $800 a ticket but makin' a whole lot more off profit. If it rains, the value of the things drops to zero--and you're sittin' there holdin' 'em. It's a chance you take. This is a business built on risk.
"You buy a wad of tickets for the Rose Bowl, the price is sky-high, the demand crazy, then the bottom drops out. The Super Bowl is a ton of preparation--year-round preparation. Exhausting stuff. Baseball games are a trip. You go two hours before and work like a demon. You score big, or you don't."
Castle doesn't know how long he can stand the pace. He and his wife talk about children--so far, they have none--but he sounds uncertain. He doesn't like the thought of a scalper as father. He craves the action too much to stop and be a daddy.
As a sports fan, he likes the dividend of getting to see the world's top events--the Indianapolis 500, the World Series, the National Basketball Assn. Finals (his favorite) and the NCAA Final Four. He's on hand every year for each one.
He even buys press pins from media covering the Super Bowl.
"I pay about $500 for one of those things," he said. "I can always find some sucker to sell me one. They're all-access credential pins. I get one and that lets me get to the players to get even more tickets. Somehow, I come up with one every year."
He said he detests the pace--he's now working 16 to 18 hours a day and sleeping fitfully on an uncomfortable mattress. He does like the traveling--he's on the road 12 months a year--but he's also aware of the danger. Once, in San Francisco, he waited for two buyers to show up at the door.
They pounded hard.
He looked out the peephole to see two large men with handguns drawn.
He telephoned a hotel security guard, who quickly came up and arrested the men. If he had opened the door, Castle said, he's convinced he would have been robbed and shot.
Solovay, who walks slowly and with a bent back, carries a can of Mace to ward off potential muggers trying to rob him of his $10,000 cash.
He doesn't fret about the image of scalpers, but his younger cohort does.
"The media make us look so bad," Castle said. "Most guys out here aren't crooks who do drugs. I don't know any brokers who do drugs. Scalping is such an awful term, so unpleasant. I'd say we provide a service for people who can't get tickets any other way."
Scalping--the colloquial term for selling tickets at prices higher than face value--is, with one restriction, legal in California and many other states. The restriction: Do not scalp on the premises where the event is being staged. Hence, the law has been broken numerous times this week in the stadium parking lot--not by men such as Castle buying the tickets but by the season-ticket holders who sell them.
The Chargers are aware of what's happening and don't like it. They've announced plans to stop it.
Joe Scott, the club's ticket manager, asked a clerk Wednesday morning, "Do we have any police out there? Any security guards? Let's get one out there right now and try to stop this stuff."
The Chargers have other methods. Scott said the club's policy is to make every season-ticket holder picking up tickets sign a contract stipulating that they will not sell their allotment, much less at a scalper's price. Of course, many did just that moments after the agreement was signed.
Scott said that if the club finds out--and it knows of several who have done so--it will probably revoke the person's tickets for future seasons.
"The law is one thing, and our policy is another," he said. "We have the right to assess any policy we want. We're pursuing a couple of cases right now in which the individuals involved will find themselves with no tickets. We're going to get serious about this."
As for Castle, he's dependent on such policy breakers for getting him tickets--tickets are his bread and butter. He sells most of his on a "large wholesale basis" to travel agencies and tour companies advertising lavish Super Bowl caravans.
"As soon as the game ends, I'm out of here," he said. "I'm off to Calgary for the Olympics. And after that? It's back to the phones to start setting up buyers for the '89 Super Bowl. Whew! Where is that? You know, I don't even know. I guess I had better find out. I had better get with it. As the big boys say, you snooze, you lose."