No Capitol Gains: eBay Bans Sales of Inauguration Tickets

Under pressure from Congress, online auction giant eBay agreed to ban the re-selling of free tickets to the Presidential Inauguration ceremony in January. But doesn't this move stifle the free market? If people are willing to pay, why stop them?

This week, eBay is getting some positive feedback from Capitol Hill. The online auction giant recently agreed to ban the sales of tickets to President-elect Barack Obama's inauguration ceremony in January, in cooperation with California Senator Dianne Feinstein (D). Sen. Feinstein is drafting legislation to make the scalping a crime, so eBay is putting their foot down on peddling the free tickets (available through your local member of Congress). This comes after some tickets -- which have yet to be distributed -- were selling for as much as $40,000 a pop.

There are only 250,000 tickets to be had, but District and federal officials are expecting up to four million people to descend upon the Mall on that chilly January morning. Since there are sixteen times as many expected viewers as there are available spots, shouldn't ticket "prices" be sixteen times greater? Perhaps it is wrong to exploit such a momentous occasion, one that truly shouldn't have a price tag, but scalping is a staple of public gatherings in this country. While scalpers might be irritable and generally unpleasant people, they are simply playing the numbers: price goes up with demand is much higher than supply. Yet, scalpers aren't allowed to "re-sell" tickets to the Inauguration, because Sen. Feinstein and others believe that the tickets are initially free and should remain so.

So the tickets will officially remain free of charge for all spectators, not just those lucky few (well, few hundred thousand) who managed to call Rep. John or Jane Q. Congressperson on time. But what about scalping in general? Why no outcry from Congress when people are illegally reselling tickets for sporting events or concerts all over the country? If John McCain was elected president (assuming the same number of people were planning on attending the inauguration), would Sen. Feinstein have put the kibosh on eBay aiding scalpers? Methinks not. Though her actions were noble, it seems like this decision sets an uneasy precedent for the US government to intervene in the Invisible Hands that govern e-commerce.

Or, perhaps, the US will never see this much interest in an inauguration ever again. In that case, problem solved. What do you think?

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2 Comments

  • Rip Empson

    Brendan, if a tree falls in the woods on a scalper, and no one is there to hear it, does anyone care?

  • Michael Logsdon

    Does it really take one event to pass Federal legislation? What about the fate of concert-goers in this country? While it is great that a company like eBay is acting socially responsible affection--rightfully so--given that scalping has been and always will be a problem. For Sen. Feinstein to waste tax payer money any further is an affront. Persons will still find other outlets to scalp and purchase tickets because demand, especially in this instance is prodigious. Once all the hoopla is over with the Inauguration, and this new supposed legislation we will be left with a greater problem: Ticketmaster and the likes which have formed a monopolistic grasp on event tickets across the country. If a concert ticket is 35 dollars, you may pay an additional 20% or more for a convenience fee, an extra 10-15% to have them "TicketFast", i.e. emailed to you, which is cheaper. Then the infamous building surcharge of a couple bucks. Depending which shipment option you use, you could pay in upwards of 50-90% more for your ticket. Ticketmaster has an unfair clench on tickets across the country. Perhaps Sen. Feinstein should tackle this more pertinent issue rather than her and Congress's usual cabalistic knee-jerk reactive policies.