The battle between the Michigan Brewers Guild and ticket scalpers has gotten ugly.
Ever since the Guild's Winter Beer Festival sold out in 13 hours on Dec. 1, the organization has actively pursued those who are re-selling tickets at two to three times their $40 face value.
Demand for tickets is so high, scalpers are purchasing tickets from other scalpers for $80 on Craigslist, and turning them around for $120, according to Dianna Stampfler of Promote Michigan, which handles publicity for the Michigan Brewers Guild. It gets worse: Stampfler's pursuit of one scalper resulted in her personal Facebook account being flagged for pornography. "The only porn I've posted on my page is food porn," Stampfler said with a laugh. "I got into a heated discussion with one of these morons, and was blocked from his (Facebook) page. An hour later, I'm flagged for porn. It probably could be a coincidence - but probably not." Stampfler said the alleged scalper - whom she wouldn't name - taunted her, claiming he wouldn't be caught, and bragging that he sells $200,000 in aftermarket tickets every year. She added that she's pursuing legal repercussions for a handful of scalpers whose contact information she has acquired on the Internet.
"Will it make a difference? Probably not. Will there be any jail time or penalties? Probably not," she said. "But it's the principle of the matter at this point."
Stampfler cited a 1931 state law addressing the legality of aftermarket sales of tickets for entertainment events. She also said she's looking into whether re-sale of the tickets is illegal without a liquor license, since the admission price includes 15 three-ounce samples of beer. "The law is the law," she said.
Organizers were surprised when all 6,000 tickets for the eighth-annual event, to take place Feb. 23 at Fifth Third Ballpark, sold out in record time. The festival has sold out in the past, but in a matter of weeks, not hours.
The resulting outcry and demand for tickets prompted the Guild to implement changes for the 2014 festival, which it outlined in a Facebook post. They include further limiting the number of tickets a single person can purchase, and offering pre-sale tickets to Guild members, dubbed "enthusiasts." There are currently 1,391 members. Sales were limited to 50 tickets per person this year, but Stampfler said that wasn't necessarily tied to the scalping problem. She said there were fewer than 20 purchase orders of more than 10 tickets; the largest, a 35-ticket sale, was for a bus group, and one 20-ticket sale was for a restaurant group.
Stampfler said she believes scalpers used multiple names, email addresses and credit cards to purchase numerous tickets to resell.
The Guild's Facebook post also mentions voiding the tickets gobbled up by scalpers, then offering the open spots to members who didn't get a ticket. However, Stampfler said a potential problem could arise when those who previously purchased exorbitantly priced scalped tickets show up at the gate, and are denied admission. Stampfler also warned against desperate beer lovers buying tickets from scalpers, saying it doesn't help the larger problem. "We ask that you not buy tickets from scalpers at more than face value," she said.
Despite heated online discussion - on Facebook and the Craft Beer in Michigan Yahoo group - the Guild does not intend to change the event. The group asserts that increasing the number of available tickets would make lines at the festival longer, and expanding it to two days is a logistical problem, because the cold weather could have adverse effects on the quality of the beer.
"We care deeply about the experience and will not compromise it," the Guild's Facebook post reads.
Stampfler said further updates on the situation would be posted on the Guild's Facebook page or at the Yahoo group.