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Sold, not told

Scalping tickets for IU football has never been easy. Now, it’s even harder.

On a misty Saturday morning, the scalper stands at his corner, the stadium looming behind him. He’s right at the edge. The cops are watching, and if he walks a few feet north and crosses into IU property, he’s in danger of getting arrested.

“Tickets?” Jeffrey calls out to the masses shuffling his way. “You need tickets?”

He can see the hope in the fans’ eyes. It’s late August, and IU is playing its first game of the football season against Indiana State. Maybe this year will be different, the fans are telling themselves. Maybe the team will have its first winning record in the Big Ten since 1993. A good chunk of the players on this year’s squad weren’t even born then. Maybe IU will make it to a bowl. Any bowl.

Jeffrey is counting on their early-season optimism. As long as they still believe, his profits go up.

He sees a potential customer and holds up a pair of tickets. He can tell when someone wants to deal. There’s a certain walk. A look of purpose in their eyes. Jeffrey thinks the man walking toward him has that look.

“You need tickets, big guy?” Jeffrey asks. He talks fast and his voice is rough, because he’s been yelling his sales pitch for almost two
decades.

“No,” the man says. “I’m fine.”

“Fifty-yard line, 50-yard line big man,” Jeffrey says. “Put her in the front!”

The man is alone. The rhetorical woman is just part of Jeffrey’s pitch.

The guy walks past, avoiding eye contact. Jeffrey doesn’t take it
personally.

“You’ll get 15,000 no’s before you hear a yes,” he says. “You can’t be sensitive in this business.”

He needs to make some money off today’s game. He has an ex-wife, five kids, bills to pay. So he tries one last time before the man disappears.

“Put her in the front, home opener,” Jeffrey yells at the guy’s back. The man doesn’t even glance over his shoulder.

Nothing.

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Part II

Scalping tickets at IU football games has never been easy. Demand is always low to see a team that has been so bad for so long it has become a punch line. But now, scalping outside of Memorial Stadium is harder than ever.

In recent years, online ticket sites such as StubHub have sliced into the profits of the guy on the street corner.

Ever since StubHub became a household name, street scalpers have found it more difficult to scrounge out a living, especially during IU’s football season. They’re not allowed on University grounds. Most scalpers hang out on the south side of 17th Street, just across from the stadium’s parking lots, where Indiana Avenue comes to a T.

The area is alive with activity before opening kickoff. The smell of barbecue chicken fills the air. From the tailgate fields, Lil Jon pounds from the speakers, singing “Shots, shots, shots, shots, shots, shots.” Across the street at the stadium, the Marching 100 plays the IU fight song.

The scalpers prowl the sidewalks, trying to drown out their competition with calls of “Tickets? Tickets? Anybody need tickets?” They wander in and out of traffic, leaning into open car windows. They eye the scantily dressed co-eds on their way to tailgate parties. When they spy an interested customer, the scalpers pounce, sometimes several at once. They elbow their competitors, fighting for the chance to negotiate.

Jeffrey’s favorite spot is the southwest corner of Indiana and 17th. He patrols his turf with a confidence gained after 18 years of scalping sporting events and concerts around the country. He moves with the swiftness of a younger man. His booming voice rises above the competition with a precisely honed cadence.

“You guys need tickets? No? OK, you fellas have a nice day.”

His name is actually Brian Stapleton. He adopted the name Jeffrey years ago. His mentor knew him as Jeffrey, so everyone knew him as Jeffrey. It stuck.

“Tickets? Who needs tickets?”

The scalpers show no hesitation. This is their trading floor. One of the perennial figures calls himself Dirty. He insists he’s 53 but looks much younger. He usually wears sunglasses, even on rainy days like today. Dirty never gives up his real name.

“Want to know my real name?” he cackles. “Dirty as they come.”

Dirty is constantly moving, usually riding around on his bike. His pitch is one of the loudest.

“You got any tickets?” Dirty says to a woman wearing tight jeans.

“No,” she says. As she walks away, he checks her out.

“You got a man?” he says, only partly under his breath.

A little later, a female student wearing overalls, and not much else, makes her way toward the tailgate fields. As she passes Dirty, his stare hangs.

“Oh,” Dirty says. “I’ll give you a ticket for free.”

One of Dirty’s competitors is an old white man sitting nearby in a metal folding chair.

His name is Paul Shockley, but others on the corner call him the King. The King has been working outside IU games for more than 40 years. But don’t call him a scalper.

“It’s like calling a police officer a pig,” he snarls. “I’m a buyer and seller of tickets.”

Why do people call him the King?

“I don’t cheat people.”

His voice is soft and doesn’t travel well, even when his temper acts up — which is often. His white beard and a ball cap hide his eyes. He’s heavy. Unlike Jeffrey and Dirty and his competitors, he doesn’t move quickly and can’t stand for long periods. Confined to his throne, the King waits for people to come to him.

Back when Bob Knight was the coach of the IU men’s basketball team, the King says he made $5,000 a game. His yearly profits eclipsed at $100,000 a year.

But if it weren’t for his regular customers, he wouldn’t make anything now, he says. That’s why he vows this is the last year he’ll work the corner.

“There’s no money in it anymore.”

The King doesn’t hide his disgust for the other scalpers. He thinks they have no respect. He says they don’t appreciate the finer points of negotiation.

“These sons of bitches,” he says, “will sell their grandmother for a nickel.”

His inability to move around is a disadvantage. But he looks like Santa Claus, and when the fans notice his grandfatherly features, they relax.

The rivalries are intense between the scalpers. They’re not only selling but also buying. It all depends on the market.

On the day of the season opener, Jeffrey engages a potential customer in negotiation, and Dirty comes up to the two men and starts yelling, “Hey, hey, hey,” trying to steal Jeffrey’s deal.

“Come on, Dirty,” Jeffrey says, but he never breaks eye contact with his
customer.

“What you got?” Dirty asks the man with the tickets, ignoring Jeffrey’s plea.

Jeffrey starts talking louder. So does Dirty.
Jeffrey turns his right shoulder slightly, trying to box Dirty out.

The customer doesn’t engage Dirty in his attempts to steal Jeffrey’s deal. Dirty walks away.

The man wants $100 for four tickets, $25 each. He ends up taking $30 total. That’s how scalpers make their money — buying low. Most of the time Jeffrey goes to a game with nothing in his pocket except cash.

“Not even $10 each for them,” said the man who sold the tickets. “I was just trying to unload them, though.”

Later, Jeffrey gets a chance to turn a profit.

He leans inside the passenger window of a dark blue Hyundai Tucson, holding up traffic. He wants $100 for four tickets.

A cop standing across the street yells, “Hey, move it.”

The Tucson creeps forward, and Jeffrey jogs to keep up. He takes their money and gives them back their change.

The Tucson turns right on 17th Street.

“Thank you!”

Jeffrey stuffs the cash into his cargo shorts.

Seventy-dollar profit.

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"Dirty" gets his name for being loud, obnoxious and flirtatious with the women he encounters while trying to conduct business. "Want to know my real name? Dirty as the come," he said, laughing heavily.

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Part III

In his Indianapolis apartment seven weeks later, Jeffrey picks up a half-smoked cigarette from his ashtray. For him it’s always Marlboro Reds.

He lights it and takes a drag. He’s turning 50 in three days. He’s going to try and quit smoking then, he says.

“Got to start taking care of myself,” he says in between drags.

He makes around $40,000 a year from scalping, he says. For about a decade, scalping was Jeffrey’s full-time job. But with StubHub and other online sites making street scalping harder, he works on air movers and heating and cooling units during the day.

He’s adapting, though. He’s a licensed ticket broker. His ultimate goal is to be more like the online sites and not have to deal with the street anymore. Scalping is going through a transition, and so is Jeffrey.

His brand new apartment is equipped with new appliances and a Mac desktop. The air stings eyes from cigarette smoke.

He turns on his big-screen television and flips to College GameDay on ESPN. The GameDay crew is in Tallahassee, Fla., previewing the Florida State-Notre Dame game. It’s a big game, No. 2 vs. No. 5.

“That’ll be a tough ticket,” he says.

He takes a sip of his
coffee.

Hope is fading for IU football. The previous week against Iowa, IU’s star quarterback Nate Sudfeld injured his shoulder. He’s out for the season. IU is 3-3, and today — Homecoming — they’ll rely on a true freshman quarterback against No. 8 Michigan State.

He hops into his Mazda. The road changes from the concrete of Indianapolis to the forests surrounding State Road 37 on the way to Bloomington. It’s the middle of October, so the leaves look like a painting. He cracks the window and lights a Marlboro Red. He talks about scalping. When young scalpers ask for his advice, he has a simple message for them. Something he was told when he got into the
business.

“The game is sold, not told,” he says.

In Bloomington, with three and a half hours until kickoff, Jeffrey pulls out $200 at a Chase ATM.

He stops in a convenience store at the corner of 17th and Dunn streets to buy a pack of cigarettes. As he comes out, he sees his favorite corner empty.

“Good,” he says. “Ain’t nobody in my spot.”

At 12:16 p.m. Jeffrey drapes his sign around his neck: “TICKETS BUY/SELL.” He’s in business.

Right now he has no
tickets.

A college student is
giving out free strawberries. “Strawberries?” he keeps asking people.
“Strawberries?”

“You got any tickets?” Jeffrey asks him.

The strawberry man looks confused. He looks at his carton of strawberries. He looks back at Jeffrey and walks away.

It’s that kind of day for Jeffrey. It doesn’t make sense. The weather isn’t rainy or cold. Michigan State always brings fans.

“Tickets?” he asks a group of Spartan fans.

Nothing. People aren’t biting today.

Jeffrey was aiming to make around $300 from today’s game. By the end of the day, he’s made $100.

His voice is tougher than usual. His walk is more
anxious.

“Man, that was a tough $100,” he says.

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Jeffrey stands in his kitchen in Indianapolis, drinking two cups of Folger's coffee before starting his day.

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Part IV

With a lull in foot traffic, Dirty sees another chance to tease the King.

“Do you know what Paul said to Santa Claus?” Dirty asks, already laughing.

The King scoffs and waves Dirty off.

“He said, ‘Do you have change for a quarter?’”

The King growls.

Putting up with Dirty and other scalpers is one reason the King is getting out. He admits the online vendors, like StubHub, are cutting into his business.

“You know those sites are illegal, don’t you?” he says.

Not true.

Alison Salcedo, the StubHub head of consumer public relations, says the biggest difference between the street scalpers and StubHub is safety. StubHub offers a 100-percent guarantee on all its tickets.

“The notion of the scalper on the corner selling tickets — we’re the opposite of that,” she said.

For the 2013 and 2014 seasons, IU football has had the worst ticket sales of any Big Ten team, according to StubHub data.

So why is ticket scalping not allowed on IU grounds?

“It’s against the law,” IU Assistant Athletic Director Jeremy Gray said.

Not true, either. Scalping laws vary from state to state. The only restrictions are in Indiana Code 25-9-1-26, which says selling a ticket to a boxing or unarmed sparring match over face value is illegal. Other than that, scalping is legal in Indiana.

IU doesn’t allow scalpers on University grounds because of the issue of buying a dead ticket, IU spokesperson Mark Land said. Also, IU doesn’t want to subject its patrons to the aggressive nature of some of the scalpers.

To be boisterous and loud, they have to stay south of 17th Street.

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Part V

It’s another Saturday in late November. Last game of the year.

Since the starting quarterback got hurt, IU has lost five straight games. The hope is gone.

IU isn’t going to a bowl. It’s going to have a losing season, again.

All the Hoosiers have to play for is their hatred of Purdue.

Both teams have had miserable seasons. By the end of the day, they’ll finish with the two worst records in the Big Ten. Tickets are a tough sell.

“Can’t believe it,” the King says. “Old Oaken Bucket game, and there’s nobody buying.”

Jeffrey is having a rough day.

“Tickets?” he asks.

“How about two bucks?” says a man in a Purdue hat.

“Oh, sorry, sir,” Jeffrey says, not bothering to hide his sarcasm. “Didn’t see the black and gold.”

Purdue fans are notoriously cheap, Jeffrey says. He’s trying to sell tickets to a game between two of the worst teams in the country.

“I have seen better seasons,” Jeffrey says.

Like he’s said before, Jeffrey is trying to reinvent himself. The money is going online.

Can he change, though?

Jeffrey stands at his corner. He’s looking for a customer. He looks anxious. He’s frustrated. He’s not making a lot today.

He reaches into his pocket, breaking his vow.

He lights another Marlboro Red.