A greasy-looking character in Redskins sweats stood outside RFK Stadium’s main gate just before kickoff Sunday night, apparently liking what he saw across 22nd Street SE. There, the human discharge of a recent Orange-line train had amassed at the curb, waiting to receive the crossing guard’s blessing. With the opening bars of the national anthem wafting from within the arena, the greaser nudged his equally greasy buddy, pointed at the advancing masses, and smiled broadly.
“Another load of victims, comin’ right at us,” he laughed.
His verbal rubbing of the hands pretty much encapsulates the worldview of ticket scalpers. As a breed, particularly in this town, scalpers epitomize “can’t live with ’em; can’t live without ’em.” Redskins home games have been sold out for 30 seasons in a row, and the waiting list for season passes is almost long enough—48,000 names and growing, according to the team—to fill another RFK. Ticket transactions are statutorily prohibited on public grounds within the city, profit or no. However, storefront scalpers, who call themselves ticket brokers, can—and do—peddle Skins ducats for several times their face value from shops around the metropolitan area without fear of legal retribution.
Given that sort of gouging, it hardly seems fair that any putz trying to recoup something close to his original investment near RFK on game day can be thrown in jail.
That’s the theory, anyway. In practice, even though D.C.’s finest come by the busload to each Redskins contest, their presence has limited the illicit ticket trade around RFK about as effectively as Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign eradicated drug abuse. Game after game, the unlicensed vendors can always be found hawking their wares at open-air ticket markets all over the stadium grounds. If you come out to the show without tickets, you can head toward the escalator at the Stadium/ Armory Metro stop, to either of the two tunnels that lead from the main parking lots off I-395, or—the greaser’s place of business—outside RFK’s main entrance near 22nd Street SE.
Before the nationally televised tilt between the 3-5 Redskins and the 2-5 Giants, dozens of scalpers of varying ages, races, genders, and profit goals were working the front-entrance market, in clear view of an equal number of Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) officers. The MPD’s principle of nonengagement was in full effect.
There’s little risk, and much money to be made, even for a loser game between two teams involved in hapless ’95 campaigns. In fact, you can do a lot better working the gray market for tickets than legit stadium vendors. For example, the pair of authorized program salesmen who set up shop at 22nd Street SE—right in the heart of the scalpers’ market—were allotted 650 programs for the night. If they sold all of them at the preset price of $3 apiece, a goal they say should take a total of two hours to meet, they split $90.
“I made more than that in the last 15 minutes,” boasted Dennis, a College Park resident and longtime Redskin ticket scalper, a half-hour before the game. “If I don’t make $300 tonight, I’ve done something wrong.”
Dennis wouldn’t get anybody’s vote for Mr. Congeniality, though he is the self-proclaimed “Most Successful Scalper” among the RFK regulars. Pomposity comes with the territory. Dennis asserts there’s at least one key difference between him and his competitors in the scalping biz: When he shows up at RFK some 90 minutes before each game, he has a pocketful of cash, but not a single ticket to sell. Others start work long before game day, he explains, by exploiting connections or paying off the right people within the Redskins organization to procure a small number of great seats. Those scalpers look to earn their keep by making a few high-dollar hits. Dennis, however, takes a volume approach, relying on frequent and prodigal manipulation of the “buy low, sell high” principle to garner his take-home pay.
“I know before I get here I’m not going to lose money by getting stuck with tickets I had to pay for,” he says. “So I never have any pressure on me.”
A few minutes after the 8 p.m. kickoff, Dennis is still in his buy/sell mode, loudly whining about the bad hand local scalpers have been dealt for the Giants game. Among other business realities, he bemoans the fact that the late kickoff time has severely limited the number of New York fans who have followed their heroes to D.C.
“This sure ain’t a Dallas game,” gripes Dennis, recalling that his proceeds exceeded $600 when the Cowboys visited RFK on Oct. 1.
But the tough working conditions only make Dennis more aggressive. Dressed like a poor man’s Marky Mark in baggy jeans, baggy sweats, and a backward Steelers cap, Dennis works the fast-moving crowd with equal parts determination and duplicity. The Better Business Bureau might not approve of his MO, but it’s an impressive act to behold. When he’s not in the middle of an actual transaction, Dennis is all movement, pacing or yelling or both. What he yells depends on his read of the facial expressions of passers-by. Generally speaking, Dennis will either bellow “Need two!” or “Who needs two?” Approach him after the former, and you’ll get an offer of between $5 and $20 for your tickets. Show interest after the latter, and the numbers are much, much higher. (Word to the uninitiated: Chances are very good that anybody who is aggressively seeking tickets, even a rosy-cheeked kid with a cardboard sign that reads something along the lines of “Redskins Fan Needs Two!” is in fact a scalper—it’s well known around RFK that scalpers use their kids to keep the inventory up.
As the first quarter is nearing an end, so is Dennis’ work shift. In fact, he’s got only one kill left in him.
“Listen, I’m just trying to get $50 apiece,” Dennis says to two ticketless Redskins fans, flashing the potential customers a pair of end-zone seats and a smile that says, “It’s a good deal. Trust me!” After brief negotiations, Dennis gets “talked down” to $80 for the pair. The countenances of both patrons and their patronizer after the deal goes down reveal the verity of that favored salesman’s tenet: It’s not the deal you get, it’s the deal you think you get. Previous dealings indicate that Dennis might have taken another $30 off the selling price if asked the right way, but his latest suckers/customers walk away from the transaction feeling pretty good about their bargaining skills. Dennis walks away at least $50 richer. When asked if he’s met the self-set quota of $300, Dennis finally sheds his scowl.
“Oh, yeah. I did OK,” he chuckles.
The Redskins have three more home games this season, the next being Nov. 19 against Seattle. If you’d like to see that game and don’t have any connections, your options are basically two: You can call up a ticket broker, be treated graciously, and pay an exorbitant fee. Encore Tickets in Chevy Chase, for example, is asking no less than $85—for an end-zone seat—and as much as $165 for a ticket to see the Skins play the deservedly unsung Seahawks.
Or you can go see Dennis.