Scalpers Fortunes Rise and Fall with Team


This is one in a series of eight articles about the Baltimore Orioles and Camden Yards.

James Williams sells tickets outside Oriole Park at Camden Yards before a July game against the Minnesota Twins. (Photo: Steve Kilar)
James Williams sells tickets outside Oriole Park at Camden Yards before a July game against the Minnesota Twins. (Photo: Steve Kilar)

BALTIMORE (Sept. 7, 2010)—On the streets outside Camden Yards, everything is hot except the Orioles tickets several men are trying to sell to the few people walking by.

The scalpers are all men, and they all look to be in their 30s and 40s. They're dressed as coolly as possible—white T-shirts and jean shorts seem to be the unofficial uniform—but beads of sweat are still visible on their foreheads.

Their reward for standing out in the brutal sun seems underwhelming.

One scalper waves tickets in front of a prospective customer on Eutaw Street, offering them for $10 each. Another rushes over and offers his tickets for $9, matching the lowest prices at the gate.

A third scalper confides that he has two club-level tickets that regularly cost $48 apiece. He's hoping to get $20 each for them.

It's hard to sell tickets that have become a national punch-line. On David Letterman's "Top 10 Things You Don't Want To Hear On Your Summer Vacation," No. 2 is: "I got us Orioles tickets!"

The men easily fall into talk about the good old days—the opening of Camden Yards, Cal Ripken's streak—days when they could make much better money. They talk about how much harder it is now, in the midst of a 13th-straight losing season.

They talk, but they're skittish. They don't want to give their names and they're keeping tabs on the cops scattered throughout the plaza across the street.

If they are afraid of legal action, in most cases they need not be. Baltimore does have an "anti-scalping" law, but it only applies to tickets sold above face value. In fact, these men are not technically "scalpers"—at least not by the legal definition and at least not on this night.

One of them says that "Reds" will talk. "Reds" is Richard McNeal, who says he got his nickname because of his reddish-brown complexion. He's in his 40s and powerfully built, with piercing amber eyes.

And yes, he will talk. He will talk loudly and forcefully about how hard it is to get a good price for tickets to see a team that is struggling to win three out of every 10 games.

"It's gotten to the point where now, even the ticket scalpers are losing money," McNeal says. "We need a better product on the field."

He stretches out each of the last five words for emphasis. Like verbal punches.

McNeal, like many of the scalpers on the street, blames owner Peter Angelos for the Orioles' decay.

He said Angelos needs to spend more on the team, that he's not spreading his wealth.

"It seem like he gets all the money for himself, but he don't want to... give us good product on the field," McNeal says.

McNeal says he has been selling outside Camden Yards since the stadium opened in 1992. When the O's were in the playoffs, he said he could get between $200 and $300 for those tickets.

McNeal also makes money selling concert tickets (The Dave Matthews Band was a lucrative draw this year), but a playoff windfall would still be welcome.

A Major League Baseball schedule is similar for the scalpers and the players: The regular season is a grind, with the playoffs as the possible payoff.

The playoffs are also a windfall for off-site sellers like Danny Matta, who owns Great Seats Inc.—a sports and entertainment ticket reseller in Beltsville.

"You can take the X dollars that I make on an Orioles season and add another third to that if I get playoffs out of the deal," Matta said. "It's a substantial boost."

Matta said his office hadn't seen any boost from the hiring of Buck Showalter as Orioles manager and the ensuing hot winning streak.

But McNeal seems plenty optimistic.

He's back outside selling tickets to an Orioles-Angels game two days into the Showalter Era. More people are passing by. McNeal arrived at the ballpark with 35 tickets to sell and, with almost an hour still to go before first pitch, he has six left.

He's almost giddy, shouting out to people passing by, making friends with strangers on the street like any good ticket scalper.

"It's been real good," McNeal says. "The atmosphere done changed. We're going to sit back and have a winning team now, man. I feel it. I feel it. I feel it."

This story was produced by the Baltimore Urban Affairs Reporting class of the Philip Merrill College of Journalism, the University of Maryland, College Park. The class is supported by the Abell Foundation, with other resources provided by The Baltimore Sun. It is distributed by the University of Maryland's Capital News Service.

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