Closing in on their targets with urgency this season, scalpers belch, "Need tickets?"
It's a fierce environment on the streets surrounding Target Field just a year after back-to-back seasons of record-breaking attendance. With interest in the last-place Minnesota Twins fading quickly, scalpers fight for the fans' dollars by not only fluctuating their volume, but also their ticket prices.
The team's lack of success, poor weather and dwindling excitement over a new stadium have led the secondary-ticket market to its bottom as scalpers are desperate to sell.
Casual fans are now in the driver's seat.
Attendance has dropped on average about 5,000 fans per game compared to the past two Aprils. In 11 games this spring, 367,728 tickets were sold, down from the 383,806 sold in 10 games last season (excludes one rainout each year). And the stands are emptier than these figures portray, with scalpers struggling to unload their gobs of tickets.
"This year has been really, really bad," 20-year secondary-ticket salesman Tom Hoffe said. "And that's probably what you're going to see to come in the future. It's going to be like this unless [the Twins] come up with a really good team."
'Won't pay full price'
With a smirk on his face, longtime Twins fan Tom Harm of St. Paul walks away from what might have been considered a great offer from a scalper the past two seasons. With so many tickets on the street, he can make offers 60 percent below face value and get what he wants. It might take a few rejections, but the bad market eventually wins out when Harm and his three guests pay $30 a ticket to sit in the Dugout Box ($73 face value).
Most casual fans are happy to take advantage of the Twins' inability to win. For the ones who are willing and have the time to barter with scalpers, they get the most for their dollar.
"If there is a way not to pay full price, I won't pay full price," Harm said. "You have six guys listening to [your offer] and when others quit laughing, someone comes up to you and says, 'I've got a ticket for you.'"
Even one of Major League Baseball's most popular teams, the Boston Red Sox, couldn't help the Twins' ticket sales. In an early-week matchup April 24, Hoffe managed to scalp only 20 of the 50 tickets he was selling on a night attendance was reported nearly 6,000 under capacity.
This sort of loss has become the norm for the 60-plus regular scalpers surrounding Target Field. Instead of trying to profit, the goal is to get back to even.
"You're down here just trying to get two-thirds and even half your money back sometimes," said Frank "the Bank" Cartwright, owner of Premiere Tickets. ''If you're lucky and sell some in advance you make a little money, but down here on the streets, it's gruesome."
Websites hurting scalpers
Making things worse for an already battered secondary ticket market are websites such as StubHub, Craigslist and Ticket King. The services allow anyone to resell tickets at any price in the convenience of their home or office. During the Twins' second homestand against the Red Sox and Kansas City Royals, tickets were selling for as low as $3.99 plus a 10 percent service fee and could be delivered immediately.
Longtime scalpers believe the StubHubs of the world slowly are killing their business. If everyone has a ticket before they come to the ballpark, there is no reason for their existence.
"It doesn't matter what [price] I'm selling them for if everyone who is here doesn't need a ticket," said Jason Gabbert of Metro Tickets. "Look at the [box office] windows. No one is buying tickets. When the games aren't sold out you have no leverage, because fans know there is minimum amount they can pay to get in."
Twins draw 3 million fans?
The Twins front office is confident the worst is behind them. According to Kevin Smith, Twins executive director of public affairs, the organization already has sold 2.4 million tickets in 2012. Though that number will increase, if the season were to end today it would average out to about 30,000 fans a game. In 2010 and 2011 the club sold 3 million-plus tickets for average attendance above 39,000.
"Obviously, we'd like to do better," Smith said. "But we're tracking pretty well right now despite the on-field woes.
"I don't think it's out of the question we will get to 3 million [tickets sold] this year."
The Twins still are among Major League Baseball's top 11 in attendance, despite having the league's worst record. This gives Smith and his colleagues hope that a few victories can fix this problem.
"There is no question we would like to have people in those [empty] seats," Smith said. "If the team is 33 and 18, I don't think we are having this discussion."
Jason Gonzalez • 612-673-4494