Scalper Scam, Part Two: Tower Pleads Not Guilty

Thomas Lopez was upset. On a Saturday morning two weekends ago the Tower Records floor manager had just finished dealing with a near riot of rock fans. They’d watched scalpers’ pawns neatly position themselves to scoop up the best seats when tickets went on sale for a Bruce Springsteen show. Many of the fans blamed Tower–Lopez in particular–and he was shaken. “We didn’t expect this,” he insisted. “This is the first time this has ever happened.”

To recap last week’s column: A largely white and affluent group had gathered early to get tickets for the show, which went on sale at eight. To obviate overnight camping the store–the former Rose Records outlet on Wabash–used little red “carnival tickets” in a lottery system to randomize fans’ places in line. But when the numbers were called out, two dozen scruffy-looking scalper minions had somehow magicked themselves to the front of the line. (Most of them were black, making them stand out from the rest of the crowd all the more.) The crowd screamed bloody murder; after a great deal of confusion, the store was forced to come up with a new starting number for the line. Eventually most of the fans there got tickets, though not before the show had been on sale for nearly ten minutes.

Lopez and his boss, Hedian Kim, a ten-year Tower employee who took the reins of the store after the Tower buyout of Rose in September, admit that scalpers had somehow compromised the store’s system, but say they don’t know how. Lopez says, “The scalpers [had] the same color [lottery] tickets and the same order of numbers as our tickets.” Kim’s theory is that scalpers had seen the store’s ticket roll in the past, knew what number was about to come up, and had somehow found tickets to match.

But this tactic would have created duplicate tickets, which weren’t in evidence that morning. How does Tower explain that? “I just don’t know,” Kim admits. To the people in line that day there was a clearer, less elaborate explanation: someone had slipped the first two dozen tickets to a scalper. “I have complete confidence in my staff,” Kim says in response. “We have all the original Rose people here, people who’ve been here for 30 years in some cases. My staff was not involved with these scalpers.”

She acknowledges that ticket brokers bedevil the store. For a giveaway of Smashing Pumpkins tickets a few months ago, she had to contend with a large group of contestants who’d patently been imported from a local shelter to obtain tickets for scalpers. She says this happens all the time. “It’s a tremendous problem,” she said. “You have a kid who’s been saving his money for six months standing in line behind a scalper who’s going to get a better seat.”

For Ticketmaster’s part, the company’s new vice president of midwest operations, Jeff Kline, says that he’ll “look for problems and act on them” and that he’ll talk to the store’s management about whether the store was involved with the scalpers. “I’m concerned if that’s what happened,” he says. “We have a very close relationship with them. They’re as serious about this issue as we are.”

Next week: A scalper talks.


Again Hitsville steps in to save Sun-Times editors the hassle of printing a correction:

“We here at the Sun-Times were so busy pandering to the Beatles hype manufactured by Capitol Records and ABC that our packet of stories last week ended up with a lot of substantive problems. First, of course, we should have at least attempted to justify our wishful claim that ‘a new wave of Beatlemania’ had been ‘unleashed.’ Also we should have noted somewhere that the six hours of broadcast material was basically a promotional device offered by the surviving Beatles to boost sales of their Anthology 1 album.

“More serious were the factual errors. In the main article Sunday we contended that the combined solo careers of the individual Beatles would have a ‘lower commercial profile than, say, Michael Bolton’s.’ This is a risible claim; McCartney as a solo artist alone is one of the biggest rock acts ever. We also said that the Beatles’ recording career ended with ‘diminishing artistic returns such as “Let It Be” (1969).’ Actually, as every Beatles fan knows, the celebrated Abbey Road was recorded after but released before Let It Be, which came out in 1970, not 1969.

“In a sidebar we gave a list of ‘record companies that turned down the Beatles.’ We should have credited Dave Marsh and Kevin Stein’s Book of Rock Lists, from which we lifted it wholesale. Turns out it’s a dumb list: EMI (number 5) is the parent company of HMV (number 4) and Columbia (number 3) as well as Parlophone, the label that did sign the Beatles. Also in a sidebar we trumpeted the factoid that ‘Paperback Writer’ was the first Beatles single not to chart at number one since ‘She Loves You.’ This statement bears no relationship to reality: ‘Paperback Writer’ was a number-one song, and if it hadn’t been, there were still, depending on whether you count B sides that charted, either 9 or 15 singles that didn’t get to number one between the two songs.

“There were other, minor problems with the pieces as well, but that’s enough for now. The Sun-Times regrets the errors.”

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Randy Tunnell.