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Just The Ticket For Fans

Pssst. Looking for tickets for the luge? Or is it the biathlon? Or for maybe that dark horse skating finalist from, where is it?

US speed skater Shani Davis performs during a training session at Richmond Olympic Oval in Vancouver, ahead of the Vancouver 2010 Olympics.
Dimitar Dilkoff | Getty Images
US speed skater Shani Davis performs during a training session at Richmond Olympic Oval in Vancouver, ahead of the Vancouver 2010 Olympics.

While scalping sports tickets has a time-honored reputation of seaminess, it has now entered the mainstream, thanks to popular resale sites like StubHub.com.

Indeed, for the upcoming Winter Olympics in Vancouver/Whistler, organizers have set up the first fan-to-fan ticket marketplace in the history of the Games.

Want to unload your tickets to that thrilling curling match, or unearth a rare pass for the women’s figure skating finale? You’ve come tothe right Web site.

“It’s an Olympic first,” says Vancouver 2010 media relations director Chris Brumwell, who says purchasers can either pick up their tickets in advance or on the day of the event. “It’s a safe and secure way to sell tickets to other fans around the world—and you have the confidence of knowing the tickets are legitimate.”

For U.S. fans, it’s one more way to get access to the events you want, even for the worst last-minute procrastinators. Otherwise Americans have had to secure their tickets through USOC-authorized brokers like Jet Set SportsandCoSport.com, or just arrive in Canada and buy directly from one of the local ticketing centers.

But the most popular events have been snapped up long ago, such as the opening ceremonies or the hockey medal round (this is Canada, after all). Unless, that is, you’re willing to pay the price. At the fan-to-fan site, where ticketholders can set their own fixed price, that freedom can mean a wide range of offerings. At press time, for instance, two seats for the men’s gold-medal hockey game ranged from $3,350 to the tens of thousands of dollars. Two seats to the official Closing Ceremony, meanwhile, ranged from $575 to $4,400 for the pair.

Vancouver’s Jacquie Mather found the fan-to-fan tickets a little pricier than at non-authorized brokers, but was willing to pony up to get guaranteed access to the female long-track speedskating finals.

“If we were spending almost $500 a ticket, we wanted to make sure they were the real deal,” says Mather, general sales manager for TVWeek magazine, who ended up shelling out $980 for the pair. “We got exactly what we wanted, and we knew they would be legit.”

Mather’s advice: Do copious research beforehand, like studying stadium seating charts and pinpointing the events where your countrymen have an excellent shot at a top medal.

“You don’t want to end up in the nosebleed section, and if you’re paying that much money, you might as well be at an event where you’re likely to see a superstar or a world record being set,” she says.

For their trouble in setting up the site, Olympics organizers get a 10 percent piece of the action from both the buyer and seller.

Of course, in a venue where people can ask whatever they want, you also attract greedy ticketholders who are demanding a king’s ransom. Compare your desired tickets with others on the market to make sure you aren’t getting snookered - such as by the fan who wants a sky-high $50,000 for his pair to the gold-medal hockey final.

“The tickets that sell are those that are reasonably priced,” says Vancouver 2010’s Brumwell. “If they’re priced way too high, they’re going to sit there for quite a while.”

A general view during speed skating previews at the Richmond Olympic Oval ahead of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Canada.
Jasper Juinen | Getty Images
A general view during speed skating previews at the Richmond Olympic Oval ahead of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Canada.

Olympics organizers also have an ulterior motive for setting up a StubHub-like marketplace: They want to avoid the embarrassment of empty seats, which doesn’t play well on television with the entire world watching.

Figuring that not everyone might be into more obscure sports like skeleton or Nordic combined, organizers figured this would be the most efficient way for fans to unload their unwanted tickets and get bodies in the right seats.

So, being good Graham & Dodd value investors, we wondered: Where are the best Olympic bargains to be had?

We asked an expert, Jon Rydberg, an executive with prominent resale site TicketNetwork.com. His advice: Lower-key sports like cross-country skiing, curling and biathlon are where still you’re going to find some prime seats at bargain rates. For more desirable tickets like snowboarding or figure skating, you’re only going to get a decent deal if you’re willing to settle for sitting further away and higher up in the rafters.

Rydberg' notes that sellers at the Olympic site aren’t allowed to trade for below the ticket's face value, and the 20 percent cut is steep by industry standards. Nevertheless, he sees the official fan-to-fan site as a good leap forward.

“It’s nothing but a benefit for consumers,” he says. “In general buy with a credit card, and from a site that has a customer-service call center where you can talk to a live agent. Most of all, limit your Olympic buying from somebody on the street, where you don’t have any recourse if the tickets aren’t legit.”