Monday, August 25, 2008

2008 Beijing Olympics: Rampant Ticket Scalping

My first Olympic event that I went to was the Men's basketball preliminary game between the USA and Angola.

After receiving a free ticket to ride the metro - all people with a ticket to any of the day's event had free access to any of the public transportation, my mom and I arrived at the Wukesong stop.

Before walking over to the beautiful and state of the art basketball arena, we had to walk about 500 yards. In that single stretch, we were constantly approached by ticket scalpers either looking to buy "tickets you were refunding" or to sell the tickets they had just acquired. I personally saw or came across 50-100 ticket scalpers in that general area.

Without thinking too much of it, my mom and I proceeded into the arena to see the game. It turned out to be a wildly entertaining and overall solid performance by the All-Star NBA cast on the "Dream Team 8" or aka "Redeem Team."

A couple of days later, my friend Dave somehow got his hands on some USA v. Greece men's basketball tickets. He said it cost him about 2000RMB (285USD) each. I won the same ticket in the ticket lottery for 100RMB a ticket. That's a difference of 1900RMB or a 20x increase over the face price. That's ridiculous.

I was later told that tickets to the men's basketball prelims were the toughest tickets to get. They were sometimes going for 4000RMB for some games and even 10k RMB to 20k RMB for the China v. USA game. Tickets for the swimming & diving events in the Water Cube, the track and field events, the gymnastics events and all other events that China was supposed to do well were going for crazy prices as well. The primary locations of this included the area just outside the basketball area (where I was) and the subway entrance to the Olympic Green - where the bird nest, water cube and many other venues are.

There was so much extraordinary demand for tickets from Chinese people that these prices were maintained throughout the Olympics. It was a quick way to make money for everyone who did it. Even foreigners got involved. Only after more than 11 days of competition did the police start to crackdown. My Chinese friend explained, "It is soo hard for us to find tickets to buy that we'll buy at just about every price. Can you help me find some tickets?" On August 18th, Beijing police arrested more than 200 ticket scalpers. They placed anti-scalping signs in visible places just to deter further scalping.

It didn't work. On August 19th, when I went to the Bird Nest to watch track and field, I was still approached by scalpers who wanted my ticket. Some were offering 500RMB. Others were offering 1000RMB. The face price was 200RMB. All of them were doing it in front of anti-scalping signs. While I saw a few people being arrested, there were still more than 20 people out there. I thought about selling my extra ticket, but my friend who came along would've been really pissed.

I thought about joining in the scalping fun. The ticketing website, was constantly selling tickets that had not been bought up by foreigners during the initial ticket selling phases. They were offering these tickets to only westerners in Beijing through their online system. No Chinese could buy from them. At the end of multiple tries to obtain tickets - I almost got my hands on 6 tickets for the final swimming event (cost 500RMB that could be scalped for 2000RMB) - I gave up on the pursuit. Those tickets could've paid for my entire trip! I guess that's why so many others were doing it.

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