A lack of fans at the Masters Strains. Those Who Would Sell the Experience

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AUGUSTA, Georgia – For about two decades, James DiZoglio has run a bazaar selling some of the most treasured tickets in the sport. His scalping environment has always been the same – near the TBonz Steakhouse and the Augusta Best Inn just down the street from the Masters location.

But the traditional Jimmy D & # 39; s Tickets space along Washington Road was empty this week. There are no spectators at the pandemic-upended tournament at the Augusta National Golf Club, and so there are no prized badges to sell to potential customers, as fans are known to at the Masters, for maybe $ 2,000 each.

"The Masters is really the biggest ticket in the world in my opinion," said DiZoglio, who estimated that about 40 percent of his sales come from this tournament, the only major wave held at the same club every year . "It is a once-in-a-lifetime event for many people."

This week usually draws well-off couples, old men with their middle-aged sons on pilgrimages, corporate titans, aspiring moguls and many others to parking lots, tents and hotel rooms that have become offices so they can pay thousands of dollars for $ 75 or $ 115 face value day tickets.

In the absence of them, their absence is a symptom of this year's secondary ticket industry crisis: with so few live events – and fans mostly excluded of the events that do take place – there are even fewer tickets to resell. Since the coronavirus pandemic hit the United States in March, just before the N.C.A.A. baseball season and basketball tournaments, many brokers have seen revenues drop sharply. At the same time, they were faced with requests for reimbursement, which put pressure on balance sheets and prompted them to resort to layoffs, leave and emergency grants and loans.

“Everyone is trying to navigate this runway and stay in business. so that when the industry comes back, they'll be able to get back to what they did before, ”said Gary Adler, the executive director of the National Association of Ticket Brokers.

The Masters-linked slump is going on a lot Beyond ticketing, the Augusta region has traditionally relied on the tournament for a multimillion-dollar infusion to support hotels, restaurants, as well as bars and their employees.

This year, hotel rooms are normally sold out during the Masters are vacant, available for less than $ 100 a night Step into a few restaurants in downtown Augusta, along the Savannah River, and you might find less than a dozen customers at the height of dinner. Traffic is hardly an issue.

And there's no ticket seller in sight to close deals or make existing deals run smoothly.

"A normal week would be to ground and there for my clients, ”said Amy Stephens, who said her company, Amy's Tickets, receives about half of her revenues in partnership with the Masters.

"It's stressful and it's hard and we don't sleep much," she added. "But it's just the best week. Everyone who comes to the Masters is happy.

Yet even before the pandemic, the broader secondary ticketing industry was under pressure, partly due to declining attendance in some sports and an increase in direct sales by teams and event promoters. For example, TicketIQ, which tracks resale data, found that nearly two million N.F.L. tickets were offered on the secondary market in 2013. In 2019, the number was closer to 600,000.

In addition to being a rapid economic trap, the pandemic may have accelerated the changes already underway for ticket brokers, experts said.

"The way I think about the secondary market in the future is what it was originally intended for: crazy high volume events where the demand far exceeds the supply and there is an opportunity for people who own tickets to sell them and make some money, ”said Jesse Lawrence, the founder of TicketIQ.

The Masters will certainly be one of those events once spectators are allowed back in. Indeed, the market centered around the graceful and curated celebration of golf, Southern hospitality, and social standing has proved largely immune to the shifts in the industry, mainly because of the way Augusta sells National Masters tickets.

Instead of simply giving the tickets for sale at a box office a year later. year, club officials effectively organize a raffle for participation in the tournament. Series badges, which allow someone to buy tickets every year, are "fully subscribed", according to Augusta National. The waiting list for those badges has been closed since 2000, when it briefly reopened for the first time since 1978.

The system has made ticket scarcity as much a Masters tradition as the chilli and cheese sandwiches (finally $ 1.50 each year tournament) – turning the tournament into a beacon for scalpers , who often buy tickets from rule-defying badge holders and buyers.

Since Augusta National announced the ban on customers this year, Stephens, who usually works with companies that buy tickets for employees or valued customers prior to the tournament, has spent much of her time refunding sales from which she said they were worth hundreds of thousands of dollars together. Houses near the club that rented them out for the tournament are empty.

"It's like a tight ball of yarn that we unwind," she said. "I'm a religious person, and I don't know why, but I handled this very well."

Other brokers no doubt have less liquidity and are determined. Some have declared bankruptcy and experts believe more will follow.

Although DiZoglio Masters described scalpers as "the strongest of the lot", the resale industry has long been stressful that has sometimes led to tragic extremes. In 1997, the year Tiger Woods first won the Masters, a broker who couldn't fulfill an order for about 100 badges, committed suicide. relegated to basement bargain prices. "A week of rain could destroy many brokers," said DiZoglio, adding that he had enough savings this year to make it without a Masters.

DiZoglio also said he had lost a family member to the virus, and that he did not grudge Augusta National for a decision rooted in public health recommendations. & # 39; You can only be so selfish & # 39; he said. “I can take a year off anyway. It seems to work best.

Although Augusta National rolled out sanctioned ticket purchases from this year to April next year, the nature of the pandemic means there is no certainty that the club will be able to welcome spectators in the spring. The club's president, Fred S. Ridley, has made no commitments this week.

“We would need objective data that would give us a high level of confidence that we could bring large numbers of people onto the property before April,” he said Wednesday, adding that it “certainly is a wonderful circumstance. would be if we could test large numbers of people ”.

Some brokers were skeptical that potential advancements such as a vaccine or improved and more comprehensive testing promptly prompted the club to reopen its gates, especially if the coming months turn out to be particularly tragic.

“Will Augusta really be able to get it done with fans in April, as we're coming out of a winter where it looks like we're going to get a lot of business?” Stephens asked before the tournament started . "I don't think the storm is over."

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