How to nab 'sold out' Olympic tickets

Scalpers are technically subject to jail. But the black market for Olympics tickets is flourishing – sometimes right outside the venue.

Peter Ford
Going, going...: A scalper sells Olympic tickets for 10 times their face value outside the Aquatic Center. Tickets are hard to come by, and police have not interfered with these illegal sales, which are technically punishable by up to two weeks in jail.

The seven printed signs plastered over the windows of the ticket office outside the Workers’ Gymnasium say it all – in English and Chinese: “SOLD OUT."

Tickets to events at the 2008 Olympics here have been harder to find than at any Games in recent memory, according to fans who follow them every four years. But there are still a few available – at a price.

“Tickets, tickets, anyone need tickets?” The familiar cry of the scalper is making itself heard above the hubbub of the crowd in Beijing, as both local and foreign hustlers defy rules against re-selling tickets that the police had warned would be strictly enforced.

And for those reluctant to do street deals in public, Chinese and foreign websites are hosting advertisements by ticket sellers who prefer to be more discreet.

Wherever you look for tickets, though, be prepared to pay 10 times the face value for them, which seems to be the going rate.

Officials with the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games (BOCOG) have given differing figures over the last year or so about ticket sales, and how many tickets were available for customers outside China. The best estimate appears to be that BOCOG kept about three-quarters for domestic sales, which is understandable when you think that they have 1.3 billion citizens to try to satisfy.

Whatever the exact figures, this year was “a catastrophe” for foreign fans, says Michel Perrin, a Frenchman who has brought 20 members of his judo club to Beijing for the Games.

In Atlanta, Sydney, and Athens, he bought all the tickets he wanted from official agents, he recalls. This year the French agency had so few tickets it would sell them only to customers who bought a travel and hotel package, too. Even the French judo team’s sparring partners could not get tickets.

Mr. Perrin found 47 tickets in Monaco, and came here hoping to scrape up a few more somehow.

Initially he turned to scalpers, known in Chinese slang as “yellow bulls”: They are having a field day.

Plenty of tickets are going unused, judging by the rows of empty seats sighted at many events so far. Chinese citizens with tickets to sell appear mainly to be individuals trying to unload tickets they won in the lottery system that applied here, but which they don’t want. Outside the Olympic Green, though, is an organized band of young foreign men with satchels full of tickets for all sorts of events.

A three-man police patrol wandered through the same throng that the scalpers were working on Tuesday morning, but did not intervene.

Nor do the authorities appear to be terribly strict about ticket sales over the web, which are illegal if the asking price is more than the face value, which it always is. Some sites are deleting all posts that advertise tickets, but the Chinese version of eBay, a popular local cultural listings site called “The Beijinger,” and Craig’s List all carry plenty of offers.

If you’ve got money to burn, that is. If not, the place to go seems to be CoSport, a legitimate Olympic ticketing agency with an office in Beijing whose website is currently selling last-minute tickets reallocated by BOCOG at face value.

That’s where Perrin picked up enough judo tickets to make his group’s trip halfway across the world worthwhile. And it’s where Tony Stockman and his fellow United Airlines crewmembers found rare-as-gold swimming tickets on Monday.

“We saw them on Craig’s List for $800 apiece, and we bought ours for $44,” Stockman crowed. “We got lucky.”

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