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Jilting the Fans Is New Ticket

It is September 2010. The Lakers are going to be hot. You want to catch a few games.

You drive to the Staples Center advance ticket window to take your place in line.

But there is no line.

Come to think of it, there is no window.

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You call the team.

You say, “All sold out?”

They say, “None for sale.”

You say, “None for sale?”

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They say all 20,000 tickets for each of 41 home games have been previously allotted to sponsors and partners and soap stars and rappers and every Staples store manager who meets his paper-clip quota. They say, “Just watch all the games on TV.”

You say, “At $49.99 a game?”

*

Never happen?

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It’s happening this weekend.

Across the desert, in that neon land built on the common man’s dream, some boxing cronies are staging the common man’s nightmare.

The welterweight championship bout between unbeatens Oscar De La Hoya and Felix Trinidad is not a sellout, but something far more intimidating.

A not-for-sale.

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For one of the biggest fights this decade, and what may be one of the biggest fights in history, there were no publicly sold tickets.

No first-come, first-served. No seats for those who stay up all night on the sidewalk. Nothing for those who have their local ticket outlet on speed dial.

There’s not even the cruelest of all ticket methods, the public lottery.

Even the NCAA Final Four has a lottery. Even Super Bowl tickets are potentially available to fans of the competing teams.

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Heck, even the Masters has a public waiting list, even if it has been filled for 20 years.

Tickets for the 12,000-seat Mandalay Bay Events Center were grabbed during a three-hour meeting last June between De La Hoya promoter Bob Arum and the eight hotels that have helped underwrite the event.

The Las Vegas Hilton received 3,000. Mandalay Bay received 3,000. Steve Wynn’s hotels received 1,500. Officials’ comps numbered 1,500.

Arum received the remaining 3,000, only 500 of which were contractually obligated to Trinidad promoter Don King.

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Which may explain why King keeps calling Arum on his cell phone.

Which also may explain why Arum has stopped taking his calls.

“I have never seen anything like this,” Arum said. “We got into this meeting, and the cell phones start ringing from all around the table, and by the time the meeting ended, the fight was sold out!”

Arum said he knew it would look bad. He stopped the hotel executives before they left the room.

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“I said, ‘This bothers me, let’s all take some of our own tickets and make a little lottery out of them,’ ” he said. “They wouldn’t do it.”

Arum realized the strength of their convictions when he returned to his office.

There, on his desk, less than an hour after the meeting, was a check from one of the hotel owners for $1.6 million.

“He wanted to make sure his tickets were guaranteed,” Arum said. “In the beginning, I thought this would be the biggest non-heavyweight fight of all time. Now I think it may be the biggest fight, period.”

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Amid some outcry, muted as it was by the slot machine’s jingle, some of the hotels have started to blush.

Now that their tickets have all been passed out to high rollers, of course.

“We’re very sensitive to the public and, in hindsight, we would consider doing something like the NCAA lottery,” said Bill Doak, director of marketing for Mandalay Bay.

The Final Four would be lucky to contain some of the athletic moves the absent tickets have caused.

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The fighters on Saturday’s undercard will have to hustle out of the arena after their bouts. They don’t have tickets.

Bill Caplan, veteran Los Angeles publicist, has spent weeks touting the fight, yet he can’t even plop down and watch it live.

“I don’t have a seat,” Caplan said. “I will either kneel, stand or go back in the press room and watch it on TV.”

He won’t be the only one in front of the tube. About a million pay-per-view buys are expected, making it the largest non-heavyweight event of that type in history.

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But nothing is quite like witnessing a major boxing match in the same room, sweating with the fighters as they take the ring, the air thick with smoke and anticipation.

Nothing is quite like cheering for a punch while thousands of others cheer the same punch, thousands of hands thrusting through the air, witnessing sports at both its most gruesome and dramatic.

Perhaps this is why that little boy who approached Arum on the sidewalk this week was crying.

“He said he was a big fight fan, and just had to see Oscar’s biggest fight,” Arum said. “What could I do? I went back to my office and sold him one.”

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Yeah, sold. The demand for tickets is so great, even during the brief moments when Arum has had any, he couldn’t afford to give them away.

For prices that range from $300 to $1,500, Arum has sold them even to the people who expect freebies.

“Yeah, even the Hollywood stars are paying for their tickets for this one,” Arum said. “That’s how big this fight is.”

And for the usual last-minute guests?

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“Forget it,” he said. “Even the President of the United State could come, and we couldn’t accommodate him unless Mandalay Bay agreed to put in an extra row.”

While Arum doesn’t scalp tickets, he has found it interesting that companies have paid him as much as $20,000 for one small mention during the undercard--as long as they can also have the right to buy some of his tickets.

“So you have sponsors whose names nobody will ever hear, they’ll be announced when everybody is going to the bathroom or something, but the sponsors don’t care, as long as I will sell them ringside seats,” he said. “Now, is that scalping? Call it want you want.”

To those who would call it unfair, former ticket guru Fred Rosen has a question.

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“How do you think all these billion-dollar hotels in Las Vegas get built? Not from winners,” said Rosen, former president and chief executive of Ticketmaster. “These casinos need their high rollers, and big events like these need subsidizing, and the average fan can’t do it.”

Rosen said there is little difference between this fight and a New York Ranger game where only 250 public tickets are available.

“The fans want the top athletes and entertainment, they have to realize somebody must pay for them, and that somebody is the season-ticket holder,” he said. “If this fight were part of a package where all these people had season tickets, you would never hear a word.”

Except the fight fans here never even had a chance to buy a season ticket. There was no waiting list, no priority postmarks, nothing.

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This fight will set a record for many things, and snobbery will be one of them. And while it may be the first time, the growing elitism in sport assures that it won’t be last time.

Already, the average fan is not expected to get within three stories of the Staples Center floor.

That same fan also probably won’t be able to afford good NFL tickets when we get a team, so he’s saying, “Why get a team?”

Las Vegas is closer than you think.

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Larry Adelman, a Las Vegas car salesman and longtime boxing fan, was walking around casino lobbies looking for tickets Thursday when Caplan asked him to call me.

Said Adelman: “No tickets on sale, I’ve never heard of that before. I’m not happy about it. But what the heck, it’s America. And who knows, maybe by me agreeing to talk to you, Caplan will sell me two.”

Said Caplan: “Forget about it.”

Bill Plaschke can be reached at his e-mail address: bill.plaschke@latimes.com.

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