domingo, 6 de febrero de 2011

Best Seats in the House


A ticket to the Super Bowl.

The Ticket Man, whose name is Richard Ebers, was on the phone. He is always on the phone. The best way to speak to the Ticket Man is to call him, even if you’re standing next to him. His wife has trouble getting a word. Often, he is juggling three calls.

“Allman Brothers? What’s the date?”

“Robbie? Hi, boob. Tell me what you want.”

“Yeah, babe, what do you need?”

The Ticket Man’s business is the resale of premium tickets to sporting events and concerts. By premium ticket, he means “the best in the house.”

Mr. Ebers sells tickets to all the elite events: the World Series, Daytona 500, Triple Crown horse races, Grand Slam tennis tournaments, the four golf majors, the Olympics. He does rugby in England, the Cricket World Cup, the Westminster dog show, the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas. All the New York games and any out-of-town game a customer wants. Plays, operas, ballets, “American Idol.” Taylor Swift, Justin Bieber, Jay-Z. Among the more than 90,000 people attending the Super Bowl on Sunday in Arlington, Tex., 136 of them got their seats from Mr. Ebers, paying $2,250 to $9,500.

The Ticket Man counts 6,000 clients, 500 of whom are his core; a big-spending individual might buy 250 seats a year, a company 1,500. These are people who can afford the best in the house: heads of hedge funds and real estate companies, successful lawyers. Mr. Ebers sells to Goldman Sachs, Chase, Barclays, Morgan Stanley. Of the many maxims by which he operates, perhaps the most vital is one a longtime customer conveyed: “I never want my competitor sitting in front of me.”

If a client asks, the Ticket Man will arrange hotel reservations, restaurant bookings, party invitations and celebrity meet-and-greets, whereby clients can duck backstage and shake hands with Lady Gaga for a nanosecond.

“If you paid me enough money,” Mr. Ebers said, “I’d wait in line at the car wash for you.”

The so-called secondary market where tickets are resold is a cluttered and controversial landscape. These days, most purchases unfold online, where customers click through diagrams of stadium layouts and deal with layers of hidden fees. Many consumers view it with derision. Its legality has been much contested, and its societal value is something that can keep academics talking for eons.

While they converse, the Ticket Man keeps selling, not online but on the phone. He figures he sold $10 million last year. That’s a blip in a sprawling multibillion-dollar industry, but Mr. Ebers thinks he may sell more premium seats than any other person in New York. When the economy roared in the late 1990s, he said, he eclipsed $20 million a year in sales. He said he would never obtain tickets illegally, though he acknowledged he didn’t know how some of his suppliers built their inventory.

“I sell pieces of cardboard,” he said, summarizing his existence. “I’m obnoxious enough to think that once people see me, they love me,” he added, unblushingly. “My friends kiss me on my lips because they love me.”

The Ticket Man considers himself to be “electrifying.”

“I send out an electrifying vibe,” he said. He stuck out his arm. “You can touch me, though, and you won’t get shocked.”

Mr. Ebers is a stout, animated man of 59 whose hair has long retreated to the balcony, and who struggled with his weight for decades, until gastric bypass surgery in May. He has a point-blank gaze and seems to be in motion even when he’s not. He’s up around 4 a.m. and often asleep by 8:30 p.m. Since every chirp could mean a sale, he sleeps with his BlackBerry parked on his chest, set to vibrate in deference to his wife, Harriet Ebers, who still objects. The Ticket Man attends about 20 events a year, far fewer than when he started selling tickets 24 years ago, and he is always checking to see where clients are sitting and whether they look happy. Crowds rattle him, so he rarely stays until the end of events: at concerts, he gets the playlist in advance and heads home with several songs left. If you ask him if he’s a big sports fan or a Broadway buff, his answer is always the same: “No, I’m a ticket fan. I’m the biggest ticket fan in the world.”

THE phone rang, rang, rang, rang.

Mr. Ebers works out of the echoing offices of Inside Sports and Entertainment, a ticket and event agency on East 33rd Street with a staff of 20. He is chief sales officer. He said he earned in the high six figures — or low seven — a year.