Washington residents angry about the practice of filling consignment orders for big money while prepaid ticket orders aren’t filled. Complaints have been made to state attorneys general and lawsuits threatened.
Missing out on the Super Bowl when their prepaid tickets failed to materialize was tough enough.
But several Washington residents say they discovered their brokers were still selling seats at higher prices within 24 hours of kickoff while they watched the game from their hotel rooms. The Seattle Times found that two brokers, 1st Row Seating of San Diego and Ticket Lobster of Phoenix, broke orders with Seahawks fans days before the game and continued selling seats in similar stadium locations for several times more money.
The late sales might involve so-called “consignment orders,” where brokers sell tickets on behalf of others and profit via commissions or service fees. Both brokers could have bought those seats and honored their previously canceled orders — at hefty financial losses — but instead kept selling to new customers.
“I just couldn’t believe what I was seeing,’’ said Issaquah resident Janet Stephens, who ordered four tickets last July at $1,678 apiece with 1st Row Seating, only to be told the day before the game that a supplier hadn’t delivered them. “They told us they had no tickets and then we went online right away and saw they were selling a whole bunch of them — including the section we had paid to be in.’’
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A screen capture by Stephens of the 1st Row Seating website taken the day before the Feb. 1 Super Bowl shows many seats listed for sale, including in Section 401 — one of the areas where she’d been promised tickets by the company. Those Section 401 seats were priced at $9,695 per ticket — about six times greater than Stephens paid.
Stephens says she demanded those seats, but 1st Row Tickets owner Scott Bruyneel claimed they weren’t his and cost too much for him to buy them for her.
Bruyneel, 52, hung up the phone several times when contacted by The Seattle Times and declined to respond to detailed email questions.
One problem within the loosely regulated, $5 billion ticket-resale market is it’s difficult to trace which seats are sold on consignment versus owned outright by brokers profiting solely on sales.
Ticket Lobster owner William Furniss said the tickets he’d sold on game day were “consignment” seats.
“I’m not able to use customers’ consignment tickets because they have a price that they want to get when they give me the tickets and hear what the market is,’’ Furniss said. “I’m not able to use their tickets for filling orders.’’
Furniss referred further questions to his lawyer, including whether he’d considered paying the asking price for the consignment seats to fill his other orders. Instead, he sold two such seats in Section 419 to Grandview residents Heidi and Rick Van Boven for $25,000 the morning of the game.
The Seattle Times later ran a front-page story on the Van Bovens and their Super Bowl experience, surprising several Spokane area residents who read it and found Furniss still selling seats on game day.
Greg Brunette, of Reardan, bought two seats for $1,989 apiece from Furniss in Section 432 two weeks before the game, only to be told after arriving in Phoenix that a supplier had failed to deliver them.
The seats Furniss later sold the Van Bovens — before extra fees — went for $10,711 apiece, about five times what Brunette paid for tickets he never received.
“I even talked to him the morning of the game and he told me, ‘Greg, it’s just not going to happen,’ ’’ Brunette said of Furniss getting him tickets.
Spokane resident Carolyn Gallion paid Furniss $11,600 for four 100 level tickets 13 days before the Super Bowl. She was “appalled” to read Furniss sold to the Van Bovens for several times her per-ticket amount after canceling her order.
“When I read that story about him selling tickets on Sunday, my blood was just boiling,’’ Gallion said. “It took a miserable situation for us and made it that much worse.’’
Gallion complained to Phoenix police and the Attorney General’s Office (AGO) in Arizona and plans to do the same with the AGO here.
Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson has received 138 official complaints about dozens of “short selling” Super Bowl brokers. Ferguson and Seattle law firm Keller Rohrback have filed separate lawsuits against New York-based SB Tickets, alleging, among other things, the broker sold seats at the highest prices possible on Super Bowl weekend after breaking orders with customers who’d paid less much earlier.
Brokers often “short sell” before the Super Bowl before having tickets in-hand. They wait until the week before the game to buy, when street prices typically drop, then use those lower-cost seats to fill higher-priced orders and profit on the difference.
But prices this year soared beyond $10,000 and never really fell. Brokers reneged on deals or lost thousands of dollars per ticket filling orders.
Brunette isn’t planning legal action, saying Furniss refunded his ticket costs plus money for expenses. As a small business owner, Brunette sympathized somewhat with Furniss, understanding supply issues happen.
But he’s still upset Furniss sold seats on game day.
“If he had seats to sell, he should have given them to the people whose orders he was canceling.’’
Stephens says she was offered a 135 percent refund from 1st Row Tickets and owner Bruyneel, but refused. She says the refund wouldn’t have covered her additional travel expenses.
“We bought our seats in July,’’ she said, adding she is contemplating legal action. “If they had seats left, they should have honored the contract instead of selling them behind our back.’’
The National Association of Ticket Brokers (NATB) in Washington, D.C. counts about 225 members nationwide and recommends refunds of up to 200 percent for hotel, flight and other expenses. Spokesman Gary Adler said Furniss and Bruyneel are not NATB members and selling tickets after reneging on orders violates the group’s ethics guidelines and spirit of the refunds policy.
“Our code of ethics requires a member not to deceive or mislead the consumer,’’ Adler said, adding he’s yet to receive such complaints about his group’s members. “And if you’re telling a consumer you don’t have a ticket so you can sell that ticket for a lot more money, then I think we would have a problem with that.’’
He says the group is reviewing its 200 percent refund policy to determine whether it’s high enough to discourage brokers from simply paying that amount to get out of deals and selling tickets elsewhere for more money.
Adler says the NATB doesn’t have an official position or comment to make on brokers selling supposed “consignment” seats after defaulting on orders. But in general, he adds, the association expects members to do whatever they can to deliver the tickets promised.
“We had an unbelievable amount of members who lost fortunes,’’ Adler said. “They lost a tremendous amount of money to make sure consumers got a ticket to the Super Bowl.’’