First of all, I'm really cheap. Jack Benny cheap. I may sleep on a bed of $50 bills, but only because I don't trust the banks.
So what's a tightwad like me doing at a Lakers game? Seeking out an affordable seat, with you in mind. See, you're constantly in my thoughts and dreams. And today I'm scoping out a Lakers game for you -- looking for deals, determining the outlook for playoff tix, that sort of thing.
As you already know, Lakers tickets can be among the most befuddling in all of sports.
I hate to give away the ending, but the surprise is that Lakers tickets are far more available than you probably expect. But as with love or real estate, you usually get what you pay for.
So come along on my Lakers ticket adventure. As you can see, I'm only happy when I'm helping.
A bird's-eye view
We're up a little high up at Staples, Section 301, midcourt. If the roof were off, you could reach up and touch the moon. At the next Zip code over, you can break bread with God.
I paid 72 bucks a pop for these two seats, at a Web-based ticket exchange. I don't know what they regularly go for, but I'm estimating about $40. Ridiculous mark-ups are a way of life in Los Angeles, whether it's a Rose Bowl or a Hannah Montana concert. But in the world of scalping, Staples Center is the devil's workshop.
I don't want to say we're high up at Staples, but with two minutes left in the second quarter, oxygen masks deploy and the guy next to me hits on the flight attendant.
Yet the sight lines are good and the surrounding fans friendly and respectful. You can follow the action easily, and the issue of "excessive standing" never comes up, as it can lower down, particularly behind the basket.
In theory, there are $10 seats available up here in the rafters, but I have never seen one. At $10, this would be one of the best experiences in town. At $72, I start thinking what else I could've done with the money, including:
* One round-trip ticket to JFK on JetBlue.
* Three chilled seafood platters at Water Grill.
* 16 vodka tonics at the Frolic Room.
At $10, I'd be loving every moment of this, eating peanuts on the half-shell and livin' la vida Lakers.
At $72, I'm not so sure.
The ticket trail
Here's how Lakers tickets are born and raised:
Starting in late summer, season-ticket holders get first dibs on renewals or upgrades.
Step two, the team sets aside "house seats" for sponsors, broadcasters, the NBA, the ambassador from Papua New Guinea, etc.
After that, the remaining seats (about half of the total) go on sale, through the Lakers box office or Ticketmaster.
Here is where the fun really begins. This is why next week's Springsteen ticket, with a face value of $100, cost you $225.
Secondary markets such as StubHub or Craigslist like to portray themselves as the free-wheeling, unfettered yard sale of tickets.
The catch? That ticket you bought on the secondary market can just as easily have come from a professional ticket broker as the dentist down the block.
You thought ticket brokers sold their wares only on their own sites? Not quite. Ticket brokers peddle their seats on multiple locations. In fact, you can often find the exact same seat at several prices at several different sites.
So suddenly, that $10 seat up high in the corner is now for sale for $50 or $60 at some Web-based ticket exchange.
The good news? Well, there's always good news.
As with houses and Hondas, ticket prices to Lakers games have started to plummet.
"I think the playoffs are going to be the most affordable in years," says Jeff Brooks of Al Brooks Tickets, the city's oldest agency.
Brooks explains that corporate customers, who used to buy expensive seats without even asking a price, have thinned considerably. So regular-season seats in the first 12 rows of the three center sections, which were $450 to $750 a year ago, have been fetching $350 or less.
Hardly a bargain, he admits, and still out of range for working stiffs like me. But still. . . .
Other ticket tips:
* Unused "house seats" are sometimes placed back on sale to the public, at the team's box office, 60 to 90 minutes before tipoff. It's a little like flying standby, but it's often the best way to get premium seats, minus markups.
* If you're buying on the secondary market, try to find an original buyer, not a broker.
* Be wary of ticket-exchange guarantees, which often turn out to be bogus. "There's a lot of fraud out there," Brooks says.
Finally, my fellow cheapskates, there's a parking lot on Grand Avenue, between 11th and 12th, that charges a mere $5, as opposed to the $8 to $25 you'd commonly pay. On game days, it's the first stop for tightwads like us.
And on Sunday nights, you can park at a meter for free.
Erskine's "Man of the House" column runs in Saturday's Home section.