By Derek Zumsteg
Special to Page 2

Proving that there's as much justice in the justice system as jazz in Utah, an appeals court ruled recently that the Chicago Cubs' ticket-scalping scheme did not violate state anti-scalping laws, despite clearly violating the state's anti-trust law.

The Illinois Ticket Scalping Act says that if you put on a sporting event (or a Cubs game), you can't sell those tickets for more than their face value. The Cubs set up a sham firm, Wrigley Field Premium Tickets, which was owned by the same people who owned the Cubs, run by a Cubs VP, and even had the Cubs do their accounting. The Cubs would then funnel them face-value tickets before they were available to anyone else, which the sham company would scalp. I've followed this story since 2002, when two Cubs fans took the whole rotten system to court, and I have no idea how this can be ruled legal.

The best part about this saga has been the amazing lies of the Cubs that this scheme is good for fans.

"Fans have more choices [to] buy tickets," Cubs vice president Mark McGuire said in 2003. "Brokers should be very disappointed today. Fans who buy tickets through those sources will have more choices, good seats, at better prices, than what they would have if freedom did not exist."

Because those other ticket brokers, like terrorists, hate our freedom.

Legally blessing this kind of front-company silliness, though, is like opening the Ark. How often have baseball owners ever had a chance to make money and passed it up as being too evil to flirt with?

This allows a team to make more money off their tickets by scalping them -- and they avoid paying other teams revenue-sharing money from that income. I'm surprised the highest-revenue teams haven't pooled their resources to build a time machine so they could start doing this through baseball's history. (Kill Hitler while you're in the '30s, as long as you're back there. It's worth a shot.)

The big teams, like the Yankees and Red Sox, who have rabid fan bases and see an active market for scalping their tickets, would love something like this. Instead of pricing a seat at $50 a game and seeing a ridiculous third taken away through revenue sharing to fund the infant-like flailing of the Royals, they can instead sell that ticket to their side business for $20, scalp it for $400, and then use the profits on whatever they want: starting pitchers, three platinum Escalades for each executive (one for them, one for their honeys, one for their money), a personal hair stylist for Manny Ramirez, whatever.

What are the Royals going to do when that money's cut off? Scalp tickets themselves? Where, at the Dollar Store? Please.

This kind of trick also provides a way to get around annoying lease terms that require teams to sell a certain number of their tickets at low prices so Joe Average Taxpayer can attend a game played on the field the team received from public money. That's the theory, anyway. In reality, those $6 bleacher tickets all get bought up by scalpers anyway.

But now you can promise the city to sell 10,000 tickets a game for $5 and then sell those tickets to your side operation, which will then extract maximum flesh pounds for them.

Tickets are boring, though. Scalping's existed as long as tickets have. When is someone really evil going to take this idea a step further? Like Steinbrenner. What would he do if he took this idea and ran with it?

Concessions
Food and drink are priced up based on the length of the line, and then individually marked up further based on the presence of screaming kids and the recommendation of a facial recognition software that determines how much hunger pain a potential customer is in. Drinks and food served either hot or cold carry an additional refreshment charge, so that soda and ice cream cost more at a sweltering August day game, while hot chocolate may cost as much as $10 for a 4-ounce cup on a cold April night.

The team spokesman says: "This is a huge win for fans. This ensures that market forces ensure shorter lines and greater freedom in food choice for everyone."

Bonus: in-stadium water fountain pressure turned down, requiring you to suck on spigot and roll the dice with communicable diseases if you want free water.

Parking
The price of parking is unknown when the ticket-holder drives up. The price goes up for games where ticket sales have been strong, of course, but that's only the start. Each driver's license is scanned on entry and using public license-plate information, the vehicle make, model, and year, a demographic profile is generated and used to determine the maximum amount the customer is likely to pay rather than drive off. Supply is weighted against demand and willingness to pay: as game time approaches, a customer is going to have to miss the first inning if they drive off. That's a "Last-Minute Convenience Fee." The system aims to have the last space sold to a desperate family of eight that's spent at least an hour driving in from an affluent suburb for $500.

The team spokesman says: "We've had great feedback from our fans. Fans are happy to finally have an option that combines convenience with dynamic pricing that ensures there's always a spot open."

Promotions
Teams announce a giveaway, like a free hat to the first 20,000 kids through the gates. All 20,000 hats are given to the owner's son, who is let in early through a side gate. Anyone who wants a hat can buy it from the little brat, who'll demand $5 for his college fund (which will be used to buy a series of Jettas between ages 18 and 22 for him to crash).

Souvenirs
Fans find all popular sizes and styles of jerseys, shirts, hats, sweats and baby clothes in the team store are marked "sold." Fans who would prefer something other than a clearance-priced Carl Everett Mariners alternate home jersey are informed that a desirable jersey is on back order, but they can talk to a clothes broker. The clothes broker, who is an associate of an ownership-affiliated clothing group, has already bought up all the good stuff but is willing to sell it for a substantial markup, at which point they pull it off the rack and hand it to you.

Bathrooms
All stalls and urinals are occupied by license holders, who get them through a Byzantine process of bribery, timing and inside information. The license holders are willing to sublet their spot, though, setting their prices as they best see fit as independent agents. A small portion of facilities are left open to all without cost, but are no longer maintained.

"Facility Access Passes allow all fans to guarantee that they'll be able to use the outstanding restrooms and changing rooms for a small one-time fee," the team spokesman says. "Ninety-four percent of surveyed license holders reported they were happy with the program."

It's going to be a fun, expensive time at the ballpark soon. You may want to start saving now.

Derek Zumsteg is the author of "The Cheater's Guide to Baseball" due out this spring from Houghton Mifflin Company, and one of guys who write about the Seattle Mariners at U.S.S. Mariner. You can e-mail him at derek@ussmariner.com.




Derek
Zumsteg
TICKET SCALPED