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THE STATE

Hoping for Game Tickets? Say a Few Hail Marys

Fans beg, barter and deal as "perfect storm" scenario pits the top-ranked Trojans against rival No. 11 Bruins.

December 02, 2005|David Wharton | Times Staff Writer

With the football game between USC and UCLA selling out weeks ago, and scalpers charging unheard-of prices, Michael Schneider figured that to get inside the Coliseum on Saturday, he had to offer something special.

Like whiter teeth.

The dentist placed an ad on the Internet proposing to swap laser bleachings for seats. Schneider had tried this barter with other sporting events.

"It usually works pretty well," he said. "This time no one wanted to part with their tickets."

The 75th game in the cross-town rivalry has created a buzz unlike anything Southern California college football fans have witnessed in years.

If the top-ranked Trojans win and remain undefeated, they will earn a berth in the national championship game at the Rose Bowl on Jan. 4. If the 11th-ranked and once-beaten Bruins score an upset, they will end a six-year drought against USC and surely crack the Top 10, completing an unexpected resurgence this season.

So tickets are commanding unprecedented sums, local ticket brokers say, and after-market sales have set a record for college sports on a website where fans across the nation buy and sell seats.

"For a college football game, it's off the charts," said Sean Pate, a spokesman for the StubHub site. "It's a traditional rivalry. There's so much on the line. It's a perfect storm of variables."

At midweek, USC-UCLA tickets -- face value $65 -- had sold for an average of $352 on the site, with the most expensive seat going for $2,500. Those prices ranked only slightly behind the recent World Series and last year's Super Bowl.

Los Angeles ticket brokers said they have never seen such interest in the rivalry game, which has sold out seven times in the last decade. With asking prices ranging from $120 to $3,000 a seat, the game has entered the realm of a Laker NBA championship game or a premium rock concert.

"The Rolling Stones at Hollywood Bowl was a more expensive ticket," said Barry Rudin, president of Barry's Tickets in Encino. "But Paul McCartney was probably more in line with the USC-UCLA game. And this game is five times more than the Eagles because the Eagles played so many dates."

The marketplace has been just as active on the want-ad website craigslist.org and at fan sites for both teams -- the scramble leading to all sorts of propositions.

There have been emotional appeals, fans claiming they need seats for elderly parents or veterans returning from Iraq.

"I want to give them to a student who lost his legs in a car crash, and one who is failing miserably in junior college," a posting read. "This is no joke."

A potential buyer offered to trade six piano lessons for seats; another dangled new Tumi luggage and Swiss Army watches.

Cheryl Ho invoked the specter of Mickey Mouse. The Culver City woman got the idea of exchanging four Disneyland passes for two seats, figuring "you could take your whole family to an amusement park for the whole day, instead of going to a three-hour game." But as days passed, it seemed she had misjudged the average football fan.

"It hasn't worked," she said. "And there's a lot of scalping going on, so prices are outrageous."

Demand has spiked over the last month or so as 11-0 USC survived close games against Notre Dame and Fresno State to extend a winning streak that now stands at 33, Pate said.

Even though the Bruins lost to Arizona in early November, they rebounded to defeat Arizona State and, at 9-1, are having their best season since 1998.

Because the Trojans are the home team -- the game alternates between the Coliseum and Rose Bowl -- USC commanded about 70,000 of the 92,000 seats. About 50,000 went to season-ticket holders and 8,500 to students with yearlong athletic cards, an administrator said. Donors, sponsors and companies that do business with the university gobbled up the rest.

Still, the athletic department has been bombarded with requests this week.

"Unfortunately, they wait until the last minute," said Steve Lopes, a USC senior associate athletic director. "At a certain point, it's easy to say no because you don't have anymore."

UCLA has faced a similar predicament. The Bruins, who gave USC about 27,000 seats for last season's game at the Rose Bowl, received 21,500 for Saturday. That took care of season-ticket holders and students with season passes, but an administrator said more than 1,000 fans have landed on a waiting list.

"It's been going on for a while," said Ken Weiner, an associate athletic director. "Our student interest is higher than it has been in years."

The last time the rivalry drew this much attention, in 1988, the second-ranked Trojans defeated the sixth-ranked Bruins, 31-22, at a packed Rose Bowl.

This time, as kickoff approached, a Los Angeles Police Department spokesman said officers would watch for scalpers. It is a misdemeanor in California to sell tickets for more than face value on stadium grounds.

The hunger for seats has also filtered down to USC players, who receive four tickets to each game.

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