Cheap Olympic Tickets and the Running of the Yellow Bulls

Posted in Business 'n Economics, Olympics at 1:40 am by Benjamin Ross

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.


  1. Leslie United States said,

    August 20, 2008 at 2:19 am

    I really like your blog. I lived in China for 18 months in 2006 and 2007 and can identify with many of your insights about life in China. I came across your blog via Google Reader, though I do recall reading about your barbershop experiment on Shanghaiist last year. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to live vicariously through your Olympics adventure!
    SF, CA

  2. Ji Village News United States said,

    August 20, 2008 at 5:06 am

    You are quite resourceful, Ben. Have fun in Beijing!

  3. 刘彦龙 China said,

    August 20, 2008 at 9:33 am

    I really admire your ability of “survival and discovery in China” and especially getting the Olympic tickets for face value.I think everyone would be excited when reading this instruction.It is really useful and cost saving.

  4. Jet So China said,

    August 20, 2008 at 9:44 am

    The track & field events are going around 1,300 RMB a pop (although some Jamacian guy was just asking for a mere 1K) yesterday. However, with the advent of Liu Xiang’s injury, most ticketholders wanted to bail out (退票)and may consider drastically lowering the prices after extensive “negotiations” close to opening time. So far, the most expensive I’ve hear was for diving which can set you back +3,000 RMB!

  5. Amy Canada said,

    August 20, 2008 at 10:26 am

    Sounds really reasonable. I’m gonna try it out this weekend. And will get back with an update. Thanks Ben.

  6. Fiona China said,

    August 20, 2008 at 12:49 pm

    How do you get into the Olympic Green without tickets? I’ve been using the subway and there’s a checkpoint right at the entrance into the Line 8 station, and as far as I know, you can’t get through without tickets.

    I *really* want tickets to see Usain Bolt in the 200m finals.

  7. WoAi China said,

    August 20, 2008 at 1:49 pm

    Fiona you MUST have a ticket to get to the Olympic Green, it’s a restricted area for ticket holders only during the event. Of course, when the Olympics are over, you should be able to walk freely around there and all the fences will be dismantled. I recommend you just go to the subway line 10 entrance and get tickets there as I did and managed to see Usain Bolt win 100m gold.

  8. Benjamin Ross China said,

    August 20, 2008 at 2:11 pm

    @Fiona et al:

    Line 8 is pretty bunk. In order to get on it, you have to exit the subway at the “transfer” station, then walk a few hundred meters north. Then you have to wait through a long, slow-moving security checkpoint. Considering it only takes you 3 stops away, it really isn’t much of a time saver when you figure in all the aggravation. The best way to get into the Olympic Green is to go to the East Entrance. Lines are much shorter.

  9. Jiang China said,

    August 20, 2008 at 4:55 pm

    You are a white bull 白牛!

  10. Atticus Singapore said,

    August 21, 2008 at 12:40 am

    Great tips! I wished I had read about this when I was still in Beijing.

  11. michael China said,

    August 21, 2008 at 12:51 am

    Dude, let’s get lunch sometime. How long are you around?

  12. chriswaugh_bj China said,

    August 22, 2008 at 2:40 pm

    I second Ben’s assessment of Line 8. What a major pain in the arse that was. What’s much worse, though, is that ATMs in the Olympic Green will only take Visa cards. So if you’re going there, make sure you have either plenty of cash or a Visa card.

    But Ben, you forgot the third kind of ticket- that handed down free through work units. Two days ago my wife’s boss was trying to persuade everybody to take these Olympic Green tickets they’d got free. There were 5 left and nobody was interested. My wife knew I was having lunch with a mate who might be interested so she phoned me, I asked my mate, who was keen, and she claimed two tickets. Only for the Olympic Green, mind, but it was still heaps of fun and cost us no more than bus and subway fare.

  13. Benjamin Ross China said,

    August 22, 2008 at 5:20 pm


    Visa is definitely running the table at the Olympics. Anybody who can get Michael Phelps, Yao Ming, and Liu Xiang all on a single advertisement clearly has a lot of clout.

  14. James Creegan China said,

    August 23, 2008 at 5:09 am

    Hey Ben, not sure if you saw this but I gave you a plug on Shanghaiist


    Got to say that I never miss a post and think your stuff- from the barber shop to How To Order Chinese Food Dot Com is blogging the way blogging should be: insight into a life different from ours.

    Me and three friends went to Beijing last weekend, literally on the back of your reports. We had an amzing time. Now doesn’t it feel good to influence people like that? 😉


  15. jusesliwei China said,

    September 4, 2008 at 12:40 pm

    I bought 2 brazil&argentina semi-final football tickets from a yellow bull for 1000RMB each.

Leave a Comment

/* line below was changed, used to be wp-comments-post.php */