The Freeloaders' Handbook

If you ask, they will give. Really.

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.

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