No one present at next week’s swearing-in ceremony of Barack Obama as president is supposed to pay a dime to attend the event. But some attendees may be paying thousands of dollars for the privilege.
Earlier this week, The Hill reported that scalpers have been trying to sell tickets to the January 21 swearing-in ceremony of President Obama for thousands of dollars each. Multiple ads offering tickets have popped up at Craigslist.org, and the D.C.-area ticket broker GreatSeats.com is listing general admission tickets in the neighborhood of $300 to $400, as well as seats near the stage for as much as $7,500 apiece.
That’s quite a profit considering that all tickets are originally handed out for free by congressional offices. And, considering that members of Congress seriously frown upon the reselling of such tickets—some require ticketholders to pledge they won’t scalp seats for a profit—the secondary marketplace raises other concerns as well. For instance, the website of Congressman Charles B. Rangel (D-NY) posts this notice about tickets for the ceremony:
All official tickets for the Inaugural Swearing-In Ceremonies will be provided free of charge. Please be aware of potential scams. No website or ticket outlet has official tickets for the Inaugural Swearing-In Ceremonies to sell, regardless of what they may claim.
Major resale sites such as eBay and StubHub (which eBay owns) are refusing to list inauguration tickets. Make an inquiry about such tickets at StubHub are you’ll see the following message in response: “Because the majority of tickets for this event are free we will not be offering tickets to this event.”
When asked for further comment on StubHub’s decision to not sell tickets to the swearing-in, a company spokesperson said via e-mail that, “StubHub has a blanket policy of not listing tickets for event that are free.” What’s more, StubHub has concerns about the possibility of tickets to such an event getting into the wrong hands. “With the inherent security risks that go along with political events we have traditionally shied away from allowing resale of these tickets as well.”
Regardless, the impression given by reports from the likes of the Associated Press is that the marketplace for inauguration event tickets is hot:
“These tix are going like hot cakes, and for FAR more than I am listing them for on here,” boasted one anonymous seller in a post Wednesday on the website Craigslist.
The listing in question offered two seats to the swearing-in ceremony for a total of $4,000.
Spend any time searching online for inauguration tickets, and you’ll likely wind up at GreatSeats.com, which is listing all sorts of inauguration-related tickets for sale, including the swearing-in ceremony and a spectrum of balls—Inaugural Ball, Black Tie and Boots Ball, Delaware State Society Ball, Kentucky Bluegrass Ball, and beyond. Call up the GreatSeats’ toll-free number, and the automated message is filled with options related to the inauguration as well.
Even so, Danny Matta, founder and CEO of GreatSeats, said over the phone that the market for inauguration tickets is not nearly as hot as it seems. “The demand is miniscule compared to the inauguration four years ago, which was a truly historic event,” Matta said. Thus far, his company has helped sell around 100 general admission tickets to the swearing-in ceremony, typically with prices of between $300 and $400. None of the seats with asking prices of $7,000 have sold, he said. “Just because somebody goes to the Internet and says he’s selling a ticket for $10,000 doesn’t mean that anyone actually pays that much for the ticket,” Matta said.
As for why GreatSeats is selling these tickets at all when Congress is trying to clamp down on the black market, and when StubHub and other sites are staying out of the game? “It was not a conscious decision,” he said. Buying and selling these tickets is not prohibited by law, and so GreatSeats—which has a leg up on inauguration events due to its D.C.-area location—has no problem facilitating sales. “We live in America, and people can sell whatever they like as long as it’s legal,” Matta explained. “It’s capitalism at this point. No one is getting hurt.”