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The Freeloaders' Handbook 

If you ask, they will give. Really.

Wednesday, Jun 11 2003
We drove our beat-up Mazda to the Oakland Coliseum on a recent evening with just a stick of gum and bridge money in our pocket. Four hours later, we returned to San Francisco with two ticket stubs originally valued at $30 and warm memories of Miguel Tejada's game-clinching home run in the bottom of the 11th. Experiences like this have been more the rule than the exception at sporting events, concerts, and other shows Dog Bites has attended in the past two years. This is because we have mastered the fine art of freeloading.

Our Oakland adventure began when a short, bespectacled man passed between the metal barriers leading to the Coliseum's entry turnstiles. He led a multiracial coalition of four kids of elementary-school age, all tugging and playing with one another. From our vantage point at the end of the barrier, we were within earshot of the young fans and their chaperone. "Who's got free tickets? Looking for extra tickets here," we repeated at a carefully calibrated volume; discernible, but not pestering. Despite the distraction of his bustling pre-adolescents, the man tilted his head toward us as he passed.

"I have a ticket," he announced, continuing down the chute.

To a 24-year-old sports junkie like Dog Bites, these are words of ecstasy. "Thanks very much, sir," we babbled as we followed him toward the gate. The man barely heard us as he herded his charges. On final approach to the gate, our benefactor pulled a wad of tickets from his jacket pocket, peeled off the last one, and handed it to us. "Thanks again, sir," we gushed. The man ignored us and rustled up his flock into some semblance of a line for the turnstile.

We had made our first score of the evening.

Pocketing our prize, we returned to the end of the barrier and continued our banter in the hope of procuring a second ticket for our girlfriend. Latino high-schoolers whispered "sorry" in response to our requests. Cheerful girls in puffy coats politely informed us they were out. Older white men were more likely to ignore us, but also more likely to chuckle at our endeavor. "You need a sign that says, "I need a miracle!'" laughed one Deadhead-looking guy.

Undaunted, we waited. That evening's matchup was against the league laughingstock, the Detroit Tigers, and the crowd wasn't very big. Clean-cut twentysomethings helpfully related that other guys by the BART station had tickets, and we thanked them for the tip. We had already talked to the scalpers back there.

"Got any free tickets?"

"Yeah, I got three. Where you wanna sit?" the leader had responded, solicitously.

"I just need two. And I'm looking for free tickets," we reiterated.

"Free tickets?" He laughed, then looked away. "No free tickets here. You'll get 'em, might have to wait a while."

We nodded, acknowledging the most serious drawback of our ploy. As we endured further rejections, someone fired up "The Star-Spangled Banner" on the PA. Fortunately, only a half inning passed before we met Rudy, a buyer for a medical supply company whose friend had bailed on the game. Since he was attending solo, Rudy did not enter with the same urgency as had our first benefactor, but still we kept the conversation brief. Now that we had our two tickets, we wanted to catch the game ourselves.

A week later, we were on the prowl outside Pac Bell Park.

The Chicago Cubs were in town, and attendance was much heavier for Dusty Baker's homecoming. We arrived a half-hour before the first pitch and positioned ourselves near the Willie Mays statue on the corner of Third and King. A legion of fans halted on the far side of King by a red light was unleashed by a green. Another phalanx of gamegoers descended on us as it got a "walk" sign going south on Third. The lights changed again and the cycle began anew. Perfectly situated in the midst of the swarm, we went to work.

We soon discovered that San Francisco fans are significantly more brusque than their Oakland counterparts. In Oakland we had received many acknowledgements of our existence; in San Francisco, there were almost none. What little notice we provoked generally came in the form of sniggers, smirks, and exclamations of disbelief at our gambit; most fans remained stone-faced. We overheard failed dot-commers ask each other in disbelief, "Who turns down money in this economy?" People waiting for friends obliquely observed us with interest. A few asked if our scheme ever worked, to which we brazenly responded, "Always."

After 10 minutes of diligent begging, a voice behind us said, "I've got some free tickets, if you're not a Giants fan." We turned and removed our Giants cap in one smooth motion, and spotted a smiling man in a blue Cubs cap. He passed us two tickets behind home plate.

A rabid Cubs fan who lives in Oregon, Roger had flown down with his son for the Cubs' annual trip to San Francisco. "We were going to go with an older guy I used to work with. He sits around and watches the Cubs all day, but he had a setback," Roger told us in the bottom of the second. "I told some Cubs fans in a bar that I was going to give a lucky Cubs fan the tickets, but I appreciated your style."

As a veteran freeloader, we have asked for, and received, 20 free tickets to nine sporting events, concerts, plays, and other gatherings where entry has a price. We have never failed to get into an event. Friends and like-minded folk have had similar success, sliding into a smorgasbord of events ranging from baseball games and B.B. King concerts to Olympic events and the Bon Jovi homecoming show in New Jersey.

If you ask, seasoned freeloaders know, they will give.

Freeloaders are not without resources; in most cases, we can afford the tickets. As the office manager for a trial consulting firm, Dog Bites makes bleacher-seat bank. Yet why pay if you can get in free? Our method is morally sound: As the ticket has already been paid for, our attendance does not suck money from the baseball club/ opera company/heavy metal band's coffers. There is no coercion: Ticket-holders help us of their own free will. Our tack is merely a modification of old-fashioned philanthropy, with one difference: Dog Bites, as a beneficiary of the largess of folks who generally are better off materially, is not a nonprofit entity.

Many are skeptical of this approach when we gear up to attend an event for free. "It'll never work!" they scoff. "Who gives away tickets when they can be sold?"

"All sorts of people," we reply, although we know they're usually the rich and generous. But there are some rules that freeloaders must observe. Ticket-givers generally want to enter the event with little additional conversation after dispensing their goodies. This constitutes an important codicil to the unseen contract of ticket donation: Freeloaders must understand that givers are not to be bothered unless obviously open to further chitchat.

This unwritten code is based on respect. In exchange for tickets, recipients offer givers a courteous interchange, indicating that their gifts hold real value for us. Freeloaders are honor-bound to show appreciation for givers' magnanimity, which in turn provides them with a sense of altruistic satisfaction. Conversely, ticket-holders may choose not to part with their assets if a recipient comes off as brash or obnoxious. Not only does that make one seem undeserving, but also ticket-holders will wonder if they want to share an armrest with you for the next few hours.

Once you decide to pursue free tickets, your next move is to set up shop right by a major entrance to an event. Giveaways do happen in the parking lot, but many patrons with extra tickets prefer to test the waters of the scalping market first. Some are in a rush to rendezvous with friends or family, while others just don't appreciate being bothered immediately after parking the car.

Closer to the entrance, more factors come into play. Friends have called to cancel, ticket-holders realize they have an extra ducat, the higher crowd density makes an approach for freebies seem less offensive. Alcohol may have sharpened the giving instinct. Importantly, many patrons don't want to stop to hammer out a transaction this close to starting time. The ease of giving away tickets outweighs the delay of negotiating with buyers. The finality of entering a venue is upon ticket-holders; once they pass through the gate any extra passes they have lose all value. Giving the ticket away seems like a better option than just letting it go to waste.

Once you establish a good position, start your chatter.

"Anybody got extra tickets?" is the textbook line, but feel free to utilize iambic pentameter, poetry, or other variations. Make clear that you are looking for free tickets only. A handwritten sign can be effective as well; be careful not to get too ornate, as ticket-holders will wonder why you applied your funds to a sign rather than a ticket.

From there, exercise patience and basic etiquette. Ticket-holders will appreciate your spirit. After all, you and they are already united in support of the home team/Shakespearean tradition/Master of Puppets album. If you don't get much of an initial response, market yourself with unobtrusive smiles and eye contact. Soon enough, someone with an extra will find you.

A disclaimer: Trolling for freebies is not 100 percent effective. (Of course, neither are LASIK surgery or birth control, but they are still useful in appropriate situations.) Moreover, it's almost as tough to obtain tickets for poorly attended events (smaller supply of extras) as it is for more popular and expensive ones, like the 2002 World Series. And if you'd prefer to miss a body part than a big game, you might be better off with Ticketmaster.

But with its cornucopia of musical performances, vibrant theater scene, and six professional sports teams, the Bay Area is heaven for freeloaders. This is particularly true if you're a Giants fan. About 10 percent of all purchased Giants tickets go unused, according to Shana Daum, the team's public affairs director. "We have a large base of 30,000 season ticket holders," she explained. "They're just not going to make it to all 81 games." That means roughly 4,000 unused tickets are floating around town before every game, ripe for the plucking.

Besides scoring seats at no charge, freeloading presents many opportunities to make new friends. For example, as Dog Bites worked the crowd outside the Giants-Cubs game, a drunk fan wearing a Bonds jersey laughed at our request and promised, "You'll never get in in a million years."

A half-hour later, we had the pleasure of continuing the discussion when we ran into him on the way to our seat.

About The Author

M.J.F. Stewart


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