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'Celebrating Freedom' May Not Be Free: Scalpers Do Brisk Inaugural Business

By Megan McIlroy
Capital News Service
Friday, Jan. 14, 2005

WASHINGTON - Tickets to an inaugural ball: About $150.

Cost of renting a tux: About $75.

Watching President Bush's second inauguration in person: Priceless?

Think again.

Tickets to the president's swearing-in, thousands of which were handed out free by congressional offices, are now commanding hundreds of dollars from scalpers who are hawking them on Web sites like eBay and in the classified section of local papers.

Entrepreneurs are also selling tickets to the inaugural balls, parade and other events at steeply marked-up prices. Ball tickets that were available for $150 through the Presidential Inauguration Committee are now selling for about $1,000, for example.

It is not illegal to sell tickets to inaugural events, said Ben Porritt, a spokesman for the Presidential Inauguration Committee. And this is not the first inauguration to see a brisk business in resale of tickets.

StageFrontTickets.com in Laurel is one of the companies selling tickets to the balls, the parade and the swearing-in. Owner Karl Roes thinks that this year's inauguration sales are the greatest he has seen in 20 years.

"We thought because it was incumbent not a lot of people were going to plan to come out here," Roes said.

He attributes the unusually high demand for tickets this year to Bush's popularity and the uncertainty that followed the 2000 election.

"Because of the recount last election, information was not released until about 10 or 15 days before the event, which was too late for people to make plans to get out here," Roes said.

StageFrontTickets.com got its inaugural tickets by advertising for them online and in the newspaper, and then buying from individuals who responded. On Roes' site Friday, tickets for the inaugural balls were going for $750. Ticket prices for the swearing-in ceremony vary, but can get "pretty costly," Roes said.

A Columbia firm, iTixx.com, was offering inaugural swearing-in tickets that ranged from $90 for standing-room tickets to $4,500 for coveted seats. Prices for ball ticket ranged from $625 to $1,600.

An iTixx.com representative said the company got many of its tickets from "kids that work on the Hill."

Tickets were also being sold last week on eBay, the online auction behemoth. Bids in the hundreds of dollars had been placed on tickets for many of the balls Friday, but tickets for the Texas Wyoming Ball were fetching as much as $750 and inaugural packages were drawing bids of up to $2,000.

Though commercialism is not new to the inaugural celebration, today's technology makes it easier to scalp tickets, said Tim Blessing, chairman of the history department at Alvernia College in Reading, Pa.

Blessing, who is an expert in presidential inaugurations, said the 2005 inauguration celebration will be trump those in the past. He said there is likely to be greater demand for tickets this year, which he attributes to the bitterly divided electorate and the possibility that Bush supporters might view getting tickets as a status symbol.

"It's kind of like kind having a trophy mounted on your wall or an Olympic statue on your bookcase," Blessing said.

Copyright 2005 University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism

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