Sunday December 16, 2012

LENOX

Can someone explain why a high-profile event to aid folks in need has to be contaminated by vultures seeking to make a quick buck?

The marathon, internationally televised rock concert at New York's Madison Square Garden to aid victims of Hurricane Sandy has raised double-digit millions -- the exact amount was still being tallied by the Robin Hood Foundation at this writing. We do know that proceeds from ticket sales totaled $30 million, including corporate sponsors, but plenty more was presumably raised from donations online and by phone as well as merchandise purchased on-site.

It was inspiring to see a Who's Who of legendary performers -- Springsteen, Bon Jovi, Mick Jagger and the Stones, McCartney, Joel, the Who, Clapton, many more -- joined by younger stars like Alicia Keys and Kanye West in an uplifting display of generosity and community spirit.

New York, of course, has a tradition of marquee events like this, memorably seen at the Concert for New York in the aftermath of 9/11, and the mix of bravado, pride and compassion for those suffering from the storm's ravages certainly packs a powerful emotional wallop.

Sadly, the event was tainted by reports of widespread profiteering by scalpers who snapped up thousands of tickets (13,500 seats were available) the second they went on sale on the Web. Many of these tickets were resold by secondary marketers such as StubHub, where asking prices were astronomical, especially for prime seats near the stage (up to $48,000 apiece!).

Just hours before the Wednesday night concert, which ran from 7:30 p.m. until just after 1 a.m., several hundred ducats were still listed on StubHub for up to $6,500.

State lawmakers in Albany would do well to finally pass proposed legislation outlawing the resale of tickets for charitable events at a markup. Any such law would be thwarted by diehards, of course, but it would cut down on the volume of scalping. Previous efforts to crack down on profiteering for all concerts have failed ever since the legislature deregulated ticket sales in 2007, all in the name of a thriving free market.

For reasons perhaps not so hard to fathom, major arenas, the StubHub sites and their competitors, promoters and, of course, ticket brokers, are all in favor of letting the demand dictate the price.

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer of New York joined the chorus of outrage days ahead of the concert by urging the secondary ticket-marketers not to accept the inflated listings, to no avail.

"Every dollar spent for these concert tickets should go to help the victims of Superstorm Sandy, not to line the pockets of unscrupulous scalpers," Schumer stated. "Ticket resale Web sites have the opportunity to make it much more difficult for scalpers to make money off this charitable event, and they should seize it." At least StubHub was shamed into donating its markup (25 percent on each ticket sold) to the Robin Hood Foundation -- several hundred thousand dollars. StubHub execs argued that they allowed the profiteering to continue because the scam artists would simply turn to EBay, Craigslist and other sites which had no plans to donate proceeds.

Good for Ticketmaster, the official distributor of tickets on line, which acknowledged the scalpers' efforts to snag huge blocks of tickets by using high-speed computer programs. Ticketmaster's own techies sought to block some of those sales and also banned resales on its own subsidiaries, TicketsNow and Ticket Exchange.

In the past, I've blasted the practice of secondary ticket sales for all concerts, the polite term for sanctioned scalping, arguing that it's unfair to individual buyers without access to those superspeed computers and that the practice creates ticket inequality in favor of the rich who don't mind paying inflated prices. People I respect -- especially sports fans -- have pushed back, contending that the StubHubbers and their ilk are simply a reflection of free enterprise, the American way.

Maybe so, but when it comes to relief concerts like 12-12-12, free enterprise should take a back seat to the spirit of giving and folks at all income levels should have equal opportunity to contribute to the cause and to hear a memorable gathering of rock talent.

After tearing through "A New York State of Mind," Billy Joel stated, "We're going to get through all this. This is New York and New Jersey and Long Island, and we're just too mean to lay down and die."

That gently combative spirit suited the occasion perfectly. As for those counting their ill-gotten gains, shame on you.

Clarence Fanto can be contacted at canto@yahoo.com, or
(413) 637-2551
On Twitter, @BE_cfanto.