Spice Girls' Speedy Sell-Out Prompts Ticket Probe

New York State attorney general widens investigation of possible illegal bulk sales for shows.

A blink-of-an-eye sell-out of tickets for a July 1 Spice Girls concert at Madison Square

Garden has prompted New York State Attorney General Dennis Vacco to widen an

ongoing investigation into questionable ticket-selling practices in that state.

After 13,000 tickets for the inaugural show on the highly anticipated, first-ever extensive

U.S. tour by the British pop music sensations were snatched up in 12 minutes last Friday,

Vacco's office announced that it would be looking into the possibility that large blocks of

the $35-50 tickets wound up in the hands of ticket brokers selling them at upwards of $400

each, according to Andrew Kandel, chief of the investor protection and securities bureau of

the attorney general's office.

"We are looking into why tickets go to ticket brokers and not the public, straight from the

venues," Kandel said Thursday, three days after he said Vacco's office had served

subpoenas to employees of Manhattan's famed Madison Square Garden venue, nationwide

distributor Ticketmaster, a number of ticket brokers and others parties whom he refused to

name.

Kandel said the ongoing investigation was targeting not just the Spice Girls date, but also

previous fast sell-outs at MSG, as well as similar problems with sporting events,

Broadway shows and recent speedy sell-outs by blues-guitar rocker Eric Clapton and pop

diva Celine Dion.

The attorney general's office has been probing ticket sale practices in New York for nearly

three years, according to David Corvette, press officer for Vacco's office. To date, two

cases are scheduled to go to trial, one involving a husband and wife team who are accused

of ticket scalping and sales-tax violations and another in connection with a former box-

office manager of the New Jersey-based Jones Beach Marine Theater, who was indicted on

ticket-scalping charges last year for selling front-row tickets to a Hootie and the Blowfish

concert to ticket brokers. Once informed of the phony sales, members of the Blowfish

insisted that the tickets be voided and reissued for sale at face value.

While it is no secret that ticket brokers frequently pay "diggers," often local homeless

persons, to stand on line and purchase prime tickets for shows, Kandel said it was the

payments of "ice" -- under-the-table cash bribes to ticket sellers in exchange for large

blocks of premium tickets -- that the attorney general's office was most concerned about.

As far as the attorney general's office is concerned, the problem lies in the venues and with

Ticketmaster, who Kandel said were not doing enough to combat the problem. "They need

to clean their houses," Kandel said. "If we only want the rich and famous and fat cats and

their sons and daughters to be going to live events, that's fine, because that's what we're

getting now."

Although a four-ticket limit was set on all sales for the Spice Girls show,

the attorney general's office is looking into the possibility that tickets were sold illegally in

bulk to select individuals.

But Fred Rosen, CEO of Ticketmaster, insisted that there was nothing illegal about the

Spice Girls ticket sales. "Listen, when demand far exceeds supply, a lot of people can't get

into an event," said Rosen, who said he reviewed the sales and that they seemed normal to

him.

Rosen, who said his company has always cooperated with such investigations, said that the

2,000-ticket-a-minute capacity of his company's system enables tickets to be snatched up in

minutes. "Don't you think it's a brilliant move on the part of the Spice Girls' management

that they put on one show in the entertainment capital of the country and get national

publicity about little girls crying because they can't get tickets?" Rosen said.

Representatives for the Spice Girls could not be reached for comment at press time,

although Corvette said the attorney general's office had been contacted by the group's

management, who expressed interest in identifying any illicitly obtained tickets, voiding

them and offering them for resale.

New York State anti-scalping laws make it illegal to resell tickets for $5 above or 10

percent more than the face value, whichever amount is greater. Earlier this week, the

New York Post reported that city brokers claim some out-of-state competitors were

dealing Spice Girls tickets for as much as $700. The Post also reported on

Wednesday that Vacco told the paper that his investigators had found evidence that seats for

the Girls' show were "mysteriously" put aside well before tickets went on sale.

A statement from MSG officials, who stated that demand exceeded supply for the show,

expressed disappointment for the Spice Girls fans who were unable to obtain tickets. The

release stated that tickets for the show went on sale simultaneously at 180 Ticketmaster

outlets and 350 Ticketmaster phone outlets, as well as the MSG box office. "As we have in

the past," the release read, "MSG will embrace and support any effort that leads to the

elimination of illegal scalpers and unauthorized brokers."

Meanwhile, Kandel said the attorney general's office will be on the alert.

"They've told us in the past that they can sell tickets very quickly," Kandel said of

Ticketmaster's claims of per-minute sales capacities. "That's not what prompted the

investigation. But even Mr. Rosen admitted that the 72 [Spice Girls] tickets sold in the first

minute at one Manhattan outlet is an impossible number. That's just the most glaring

example. Those 72 tickets had to go to brokers."