Daniel Retzena shelled out roughly $225 for a face-value ticket in the rafters to Game 3 of the NBA Finals.
But Retzena wasn’t in his seat Sunday night. He was home in Shavertown, Pa.
So who was in his designated spot for tipoff? Me — and I got in the door for $147, a savings of nearly $80.
And here’s the real kicker: I feel like I overpaid.
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Granted, I did better than Retzena — a 26-year-old freelance ticket broker who took a bath on his long-distance gamble. And I certainly didn’t spend as much as the Arabian sheikh who dropped at least $9,000 apiece for courtside seats.
But with a little bit more patience, I could have gotten in the door Sunday for under $100.
And, with the proper planning and a bit of luck, you can do the same for Tuesday’s Game 4 at AmericanAirlines Arena.
I started out Sunday with a loose game plan: Take the $150 allowance granted by The Miami Herald and find a way into Heat-Thunder Game 3. Why $150? That was roughly the cost of a standing-room-only pass through Ticketmaster for those lucky enough to snag one before the event officially sold out.
My editors had hoped this would be a story about haggling the price down with some street scalper in the minutes immediately before or after the game began. That’s the danger time for brokers, when anxiety builds over possibly getting stuck with expensive tickets that turn into worthless pieces of paper if unsold.
And I tried to write that story. It just didn’t want to get written.
I spent most of pregame walking some three miles around the AmericanAirlines Arena grounds, yet was not approached by a single person barking, “Need tickets?”
Disclaimer: it’s illegal (not to mention risky) to buy or sell a ticket within 1,500 feet of the venue unless done through a licensed broker. But I couldn’t even find a scalper a full half-mile away from the arena.
It seems the street hustler is yet another job eliminated by technology. Now, they either do it through professional brokers or websites such as StubHub.com.
I paid a visit to the former at roughly 6:30 p.m. Sunday, chatting up Tickets of America owner Michael Lipman in his office an hour and a half before tipoff — just before the peak of his game-day rush.
It was Lipman who sold the pricey courtside passes to the sheikh and who also made perhaps the most lucrative deal of the night: $19,500 per seat to a rap star whose name Lipman declined to disclose.
“This is turning out to be one of the biggest tickets in Heat history,” said Lipman, nattily attired in a charcoal suit and a grey paisley shirt. “It rivals Game 7 of the Celtics series. My phone’s been blowing up.”
Lipman said he expected to move roughly 75 percent of his total inventory for Game 3 Sunday, and acknowledged prices fall closer to the game you get. Still, he deals mostly in premium seats and had nothing under $200 when I left his shop, and so I kept searching.
After another lap around downtown Miami, time began to grow short. I finally broke down and did what I should have all along: I pulled up the StubHub mobile app on my iPhone. I had monitored prices on the second-hand ticket website throughout the day, and they had steadily fallen because of a glut.
At 10 a.m., the cheapest get-in was $160 (before fees), but that had dipped to as low as $75 by around 6 p.m. Problem was, I only wanted one seat, and finding one wasn’t easy. Those who owned multiple tickets by and large didn’t want to break them up.
Finally, at 7:23 p.m., I found what I thought was the perfect opportunity: $120 (plus a hefty $27 in fees) for Section 417, Row 13, Seat 4. I pulled the trigger, and bought the ticket, which had originally belonged to Retzena. I know this because his name was conveniently (for my purposes at least, but surely not his) printed on the ticket. I hopped in a cab, and felt pretty good about myself as I arrived at the arena.
My mood darkened when I, out of morbid curiosity, went back on StubHub to see where the prices stood 10 minutes before game time.
They had absolutely collapsed, falling as low as $24. Let that marinate for a second: A seat for a sold-out, championship-round game was marked down by more than 80 percent. And it could have been yours, simply by knowing the right time to buy. In all, StubHub sold 4,203 tickets to Game 3, at over $500 a piece. That figure would have been even lower if not for the four courtsides the website sold for a combined $60,000.
There’s no reason to think Game 4, which is also sold out at the box office, won’t be more of the same. As of Monday afternoon, roughly 2,400 tickets remained for Tuesday’s game, starting at $160 each. Short of an unexpected run on them overnight, there will be a similar backlog of inventory Tuesday. That means prices will likely again nose dive.
My advice for bargain hunters who don’t care about sitting near Lil Wayne, but instead just want to get in the door without going broke:
• Download StubHub’s mobile app so you can purchase remotely — and wait to get the best deals.
• Consider licensed brokers such as Tickets of America, which are flexible with prices depending on demand.
• Monitor the action throughout the day, but don’t commit outside of three hours before tipoff, unless the deal is really sweet or there are fewer than 400 passes left available (StubHub sold 270 tickets between 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. Sunday).
• If possible, get a seat. The standing-room only areas are about as big as a balcony on one of Micky Arison’s cruise ships. As I proved, chairs can be had cheaply.
The game was a blast, even though I had the Goodyear Blimp view. Sat three rows from the top next to a father and son, Brett and Blake Stern, who stayed until Miami had salted away the victory — even though it likely ended past rising fourth-grader Blake’s bedtime. The Sterns had paid face value for their two seats, plus $250 to join the Heat’s Priority Access club, which gives members first crack at tickets. I was embarrassed to admit what I spent on mine.
On Monday, I decided to give Retzena a phone call in Pennsylvania to get his story. As I assumed, mine wasn’t the only ticket he bought purely as an investment opportunity. He slashed prices when it became clear he was asking too much.
“All I can say is, you got lucky,” Retzena said with a chuckle, when asked about my sales price. “It’s like the stock market. But if the Heat wins Tuesday, I strongly believe that the prices for Game 5 [a potential series-clincher] will be high.”
I, for one, will be watching Game 5 from home. No matter how great the deal, you can only talk The Herald into picking up the tab once.