Joe Albrecht has been a Boston Red Sox fan for nearly 29 years, but he made his first pilgrimage to Fenway Park last month to watch the team raise its World Series banner and hand out championship rings at the home opener.
The dream-come-true experience didn't come cheap. Albrecht flew from his home in Anchorage, Alaska, and bought his ticket online from a company he declined to identify. He said he paid more than $1,000 for a ticket with a face value of $45; his wife, in a separate interview, described the cost as ''less than $2,000."
''This was a once-in-a-lifetime trip for me," said Albrecht, a radio station DJ who goes by the on-air name of Crash. ''I'd be willing to bet that a good 15 to 20 percent of the people at the park bought their tickets the same way I did."
In Albrecht's row of 16 right-field box seats, eight of them were occupied by people who had purchased their tickets on the so-called secondary market, a term that encompasses everything from street scalpers to ticket brokers to eBay. The fans wouldn't say how much they paid, but $45 seats in that area of the stadium were selling prior to the game for upward of $900.
Key players in the secondary market say the business is expanding rapidly, fueled by the Internet, which can cheaply link buyers and sellers and turn virtually anyone into a ticket scalper. There are no federal laws governing ticket resales, but close to half of the states, including Massachusetts, either prohibit them, limit markups, or restrict who can resell tickets. The laws have had some impact on street scalpers but little on Internet resellers.
EBay, the online auction marketplace, says it has about 75,000 tickets to all sorts of events on sale at any given time, and last year sold enough to fill the 90,000-seat Rose Bowl 35 times, more than 3.1 million tickets in all. Hani Durzy, an eBay spokesman, said the dollar value of eBay ticket sales last year was up 30 percent from 2003.
David Lord, the chief executive of RazorGator, an online ticket reseller in Beverly Hills, Calif., said his company alone sold 6,100 tickets, 8 percent of the total, to this year's Super Bowl. He said sales were up 55 percent compared to the year before.
Jeff Fluhr, chief executive of StubHub.com, an online marketplace for ticket resales, estimated 15 to 30 percent of tickets for major professional sports events are now being resold on the secondary market. He said the figure can run as high as 40 percent for the most popular events.
The Red Sox home opener certainly qualified as a popular event. The game was a goodbye toast to 86 years of Fenway frustration, featuring players from the past, the ring ceremony, the raising of the banner, and a game against the archrival Yankees.
Fluhr declined to say how many tickets StubHub sold to the Red Sox season opener, but he said sales were nearly triple the amount sold for the home opener last year. Prices posted on the website for this year's game ranged from 15 to nearly 30 times face value.
Fans grumble about the astronomical prices, but many pay them. Linda Maloney of Everett, who with her two sons sat next to Albrecht at the game, said the tickets were a Christmas gift from her husband.
''It was a lot of money. He didn't tell me how much," she said. ''It was a big deal and we wanted to be there. Every minute of it was worth it."
Fenway Park in many respects is a scalper's paradise because demand outstrips supply so dramatically. Michael Dee, the chief operating officer of the Red Sox, estimated there are 100 potential buyers for each of the more than 35,000 seats at Fenway. He said the renewal rate for the 20,680 season tickets, which include corporate seats, exceeds 99 percent, and the balance of single-game tickets, minus set-asides for players, employees, and Major League Baseball, sell out almost immediately, well before the season begins.
Yet while the enormous demand for all things Red Sox makes it easy for the club to sell tickets to Fenway Park, it also makes it easy for fans to resell them at much higher prices on the secondary market.
One season ticket holder, who asked not to be identified, said he could easily recover half the $3,402 cost of his 81-game package by selling tickets to a few Yankees games. He could even turn a hefty profit by selling tickets to more games, he said.
Jim Holzman, the president of Ace Ticket, a ticket agency with offices in Brookline, Saugus, Framingham, and Chelmsford, said he operates what is basically an arbitrage business, buying high and selling even higher. Sometimes it doesn't work leaving brokers with tickets they can't sell for a profit or at all.
''Many people believe that we get blocks of tickets from teams, promoters, or venues. This is just not the case," he said. ''The fact of the matter is that we buy tickets from dozens of people every day."
Buyers on the secondary market should know who they are dealing with, particularly on eBay. The US attorney's office in Boston in March indicted a Hudson man for charging 41 eBay customers $255,460 for Super Bowl tickets he never delivered.
Tom and Nancy Widell of Mexico, N.Y., said they had an anxious moment after paying $1,040 on eBay for two tickets to the Red Sox home opener that at face value were $45 each. What arrived in the mail was a sheet of paper that didn't look anything like a pair of tickets, but they were, and they got in.
''Mailing away more than $1,000 and getting back something like that was unbelievable," said Tom Widell, who was decked out at the game in Red Sox gear head to toe.
Buyers on the secondary market should also shop around. There are dozens and dozens of websites selling tickets, but the tickets they are selling are often the same and the price can vary dramatically. For a July 14 game against the Yankees, an $80 box seat behind the Red Sox dugout was going for as low as $595 at Ace Ticket and as high as $805 at Coasttocoasttickets.com, a difference of 35 percent.
The Massachusetts antiscalping law, which requires resellers to register with the state and limit their markups to $2 above face value plus any ''service charges," is rarely enforced. Most teams prohibit resales above face value and some back their policies up with ticket revocations, but enforcement is time-consuming and costly.
Dee, the Sox chief operating officer, said the company does everything it can to make sure tickets go to real fans. It has even run an occasional sting to catch scalpers. But Dee said there's only so much the club can do after the initial sale.
''It is impossible for us to police this in any effective way," he said.
The high prices on the secondary market are also a glaring reminder that even though the Red Sox have the highest ticket prices in baseball, they are nevertheless leaving a lot of money on the table.
The club has dabbled in the secondary market itself. It charges processing fees for a service called Replay, which allows season ticket holders to resell unwanted tickets at face value. Last season, Replay processed 24,000 tickets, Dee said.
The San Francisco Giants handled more than five times that number last year, but the team let its fans resell their tickets at whatever price they wanted. Dee said the Massachusetts antiscalping law prevents the Red Sox from offering fans a similar pricing option.
Dee said many fans have also urged the Sox to remove prices from tickets and auction them off to the highest bidder, as many rock bands are starting to do.
''We view that, at this point, as being irresponsible to our fan base," Dee said.
Bruce Mohl can be reached at email@example.com.