N.Y. Ducking Ducats Dilemma

With “Miss Saigon” tickets being hawked in New Jersey for as much as $275 each, legit insiders on this side of the Hudson are showing renewed interest in regulations on scalping.

But like anyone hoping for Friday evening orchestra seats, the anti-scalpers will have to wait for results. Even with a proposed – and controversial – amendment to New York’s scalping law headed for a public hearing later this month, Broadway producers and theater owners annoyed by out-of-state brokers won’t get much relief.

A hearing on the amendment is slated for Madison Square Garden Feb. 28. Strongly backed by the Garden, the amendment could put a dent in street scalping at sporting events and concerts. The amendment also could pit two New York entertainment powerhouses – the Garden and Broadway – against one another.

Broadway producers long have known what scalpers know, too: Broadway theatergoers are willing to pay top dollar for access to the best seats at hit shows. That’s one reason “Saigon’s” Cameron MacKintosh set choice ducats at the Broadway Theater at $100.

The amendment’s impact on preventing legit resales would be negligible, at best. Although the bill could put more bite into efforts to do away with scalpers in limousines lining Broadway, the licensed brokers in legal scalping states would be untouched.

“It will be no help,” says Gerald Schoenfeld, chairman of the Shubert Organization. “We need a coordinated effort among the states.”

What the bill has done, arm-in-arm with the “Saigon” prices, on and off the street, is focus attention on legit scalping. Frank Fioramonti, New York-based assistant attorney general, says his office is working on proposals that would address out-of-state brokers.

Fioramonti says he has spoken with representatives from the League of American Theaters & Producers and the Shubert Organization and will continue meeting with them to develop proposals. He says early drafts of legislation could be written this session, although a resolution could be two years off.

“This is not just a New Jersey problem,” he says. “We’re trying to secure legislation that would be enacted in New Jersey, Connecticut and Massachusetts. It’s easy to say it’s going to be plenty difficult.”

The amendment is designed primarily to prohibit ticket reselling within 500 feet of a theater, arena or other “place of amusement.” Such facilities would, however, be allowed to designate “ticket resale areas” within the 500 feet, a provision some theater owners say could cause more harm than good.

Daniel Brambilla, attorney for the League, says that not only would the reselling areas cause safety and traffic problems, they would “create an aftermarket” of legitimized scalping. Although theater owners undoubtedly would resist establishing the areas, public pressure could be daunting.

Even within the areas, resale of tickets would be limited to four tickets per seller, with prices not to exceed $2 above the printed face value. Enforcement, Brambilla charges, would be difficult: “How could you tell who’s legal and who’s not?”

“Not only doesn’t it help,” he adds, “it hurts. We would like people not to have the ability to resell tickets, period.”

Brambilla says the anti-scalping effort could ultimately result in a multi-state or even national agreement. A first-step interim approach could be to expand the reach of New York’s anti-scalping law to cover tickets to Gotham events regardless of where the tickets are sold.

Calls to several New Jersey sellers put the going rate for “Saigon” tickets at between $150 and $225 per seat. Those ballyhooed mezzanine seats that Mackintosh has given a $100 boxoffice price are going for $250 to $275 on the broker circuit.

“It diverts an enormous amount of money from the boxoffice,” per Schoenfeld. MacKintosh’s office is particularly touchy on the subject that the street market prices add to the public perception that “Saigon” tickets are impossible to obtain from the boxoffice. While Friday and Saturday evening orchestra seats are sold out through 1991, other seats and times are available in varying numbers.

Proving that Broadway scalping isn’t limited to the tri-state area, ads purchased by a small Houston outfit in recent editions of Theater Week and USA Today offer “The Phantom Of The Opera” seats for $99 each.

The cut-rate scalper, Cameron Frye, owner of North American Ticket Outlet, says he’s sold close to 10,000 “Phantom” tickets during the past year. Purchased with American Express cards, the ticket flow was halted by Shubert and American Express last August. Frye says he still has about 1,000 tickets left to sell.

Scalping the scalpers, Frye says he makes only $10 to $15 profit per ticket, as opposed to New Jersey outfits selling tickets for twice his price. A die-hard “Phantom” fan who has seen the show 17 times, Frye has threatened to sue both Shubert and American Express for restraint of trade.

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