I just returned from the semi-final soccer match between Argentina and Brazil at Worker’s Stadium. With two of football’s traditional powerhouses meeting, and a shot at the gold at stake, this has been one of the most sought after tickets of the Olympics. The match began at 9 pm, and when I showed up at Dongsishitiao Station (the nearest subway stop the stadium) at 7:30 I still had no ticket. Along the walk from the subway to the stadium, tickets were in abundance…however they were all going for sums in the quadruple digits. I arrived at the stadium at 8 to the same scene, hordes of anxious fans, many without tickets, and eagerly buying them from scalpers for as much as 1500 RMB a piece (face value was between 100 and 400).
At first glance, the situation looked grim. I had only brought around 200 RMB, and really couldn’t afford to pay much more than that anyway. But by 8:20, I had a ticket in hand. It was a “B” ticket, along the side of the field, only three rows back, the same section as Kobe Bryant. The face price was three hundred RMB. A friendly New Zealander whose friend decided not to show, had agreed to take my two bills for it.
The funny reality of the Beijing Olympics is that while tickets are officially sold out, and scalpers are selling them at upwards of ten times their listed price, face value tickets are not difficult to obtain All you need is a little bit of patience, and some flexibility.
When I arrived back to Beijing on August 6, I had no tickets at all. Thus far, I have been to matches every single day and have already seen boxing, judo, hand ball, water polo, basketball, beach volleyball (twice), baseball (twice), and soccer (twice). I have yet to pay more than face value for a single ticket.
So, how exactly does one get tickets to the “sold out” Olympics? The answer requires a basic understanding of the economics of second hand ticket sales.
The Beijing Olympics is an event which has been circled on the calendars of millions of Chinese people for the past 8 years, not to mention all the foreign guests who have flocked to the capital city as well. This is the biggest event that’s happened in Beijing since Mao Zedong stood on T1ananm3n Gate on October 1, 1949 to proclaim the founding of the PRC. The demand for tickets is enormous.
At the same time, the games are being held at 31 different venues, for a span of 16 days. Literally, millions of tickets are in circulation. While the demand for Olympic tickets has reached epic proportions, so too has the supply. In short, there is no dearth of extra tickets for most events.
|Yellow bulls stick out like sore thumbs. Just look for guys who look like this.|
Where then do all the excess tickets go? Extra Olympic tickets are sold by two distinct groups of people. The first group consists of what the Chinese refer to as “yellow bulls.” (黄牛 huang2 niu2) The yellow bulls are easy to pick out of the crowd. They have crew cuts and wear long pants and collared shirts. Most are from the bullish 40-year-old male Chinese know-it-all demographic. They carry man purses, and have tickets budging out of their pockets. You can spot them standing around the gates of venues smoking cigarettes and talking on their cell phones. Somehow they have tickets to every event, and they sell them at prices only Kobe could afford.
The second group of ticket sellers consists of those individuals who have extra tickets, and simply want to dump them off without any desire to turn a profit. Possibly their buddy got sick. Maybe their team was already eliminated. Or maybe they really just don’t give a damn about water polo. Whatever the reason, they have extra tickets, and are more than willing to sell them off for face value.
In reality, the latter group probably far outnumbers the former. The problem however, is that most of the extra tickets from the second group are scooped up by the yellow bulls, who then turn around to resell them at the inflated rates. The key to buying face value Olympic tickets is to get to them before the yellow bulls have a chance.
Here’s how to do it.
-Pick an event and show up at the venue an hour early.
-Arrive at the event knowing you may be walking around aimlessly for the next hour or two scavenging for a ticket. Patience is a must.
-Be aware that there is probably a 15% chance you will not get in to the event at all. This chance goes up exponentially if the event happens to have an athlete named Kobe Bryant, Yao Ming, Michael Phelps, or
Liu Xiang who will be competing that day.
-Find an area near one of the gates where spectators who have just arrived are walking in.
-If you see more than one yellow bull in the vicinity, find a new location.
-Know the price of a face value ticket, and have the money (exact change) in hand ready to pay. On one instance, I had made a deal for face value water polo tickets for a friend and me. As I was fishing the money out of my wallet, a yellow bull swooped in and outbid me for the tickets.
-Approach people heading towards the venue, and politely ask them if they have an extra ticket to sell. It doesn’t hurt to emphasize the fact that you actually want to see the event, and aren’t just going to turn around and re-sell it. Several of the tickets I have bought have been from people who specifically did not want their tickets to get into the hands of yellow bulls.
-If the event has already started and you still don’t have a ticket, don’t panic. The people with extra tickets are in an even bigger pickle than you are. This is prime time for people to be dumping off cheap extras. From the minute the competition starts, the value of tickets drops rapidly.
-This entire process is much, much easier if you are willing to go to events alone as opposed to in pairs or groups. Olympic tickets were originally sold in pairs, but finding someone with two extras is considerably more difficult than finding a single. Finding three or more tickets seated together is virtually impossible. For some more low-demand events (i.e. baseball and beach volleyball) you can usually sit wherever you want once you enter the stadium. These are good events to go to if you want to go in a group.
Using this process, I have been able to get into most Olympic events with little trouble. So far I have purchased 11 tickets for 810 RMB (just over $100 USD). That’s less than the price most yellow bulls were charging for a single ticket to tonight’s soccer match. The longest amount of time I have waited for a ticket has been two hours, and the shortest has been only five minutes. A lot relies on luck, and the longer you are willing to spend looking for a ticket, the higher your chances are of encountering one.
Up until now, the only event which for which I have been unable to secure a ticket using this method has been Chinese women’s volleyball. I also haven’t even tried for US men’s basketball. Athletics, gymnastics, and ping pong (basically anything the Chinese are really into) are tough as well. Everything else though should be smooth sailing. Try it out, and have fun at the games.