In the summer of 1993, I found myself still living at home, working at Utica Golf Club, and spending my last summer in Oshkosh getting ready for my junior year in Madison. Now on these hot days, when you are working the ranger cart or hustlin’ to sell a frosty can of Coors for $1.45, you have a lot of time on your hands to sift and daydream the hours away. Now my mind has always gravitated towards business, the art of the trade, and during one of those blistering afternoons, I concocted what would be a memorable and savory plan.
During the previous year – my sophomore season on campus in Madison, the student body was treated to a moment in Madison musical history. Public Enemy led by Flavor Flav and U2 roared through Camp Randall in an epic concert spectacle! Demand for tickets was fierce…high schoolers came from Lancaster and Randolph, city kids rolled in from the west side of Milwaukee. Whether you came from the farm fields up north or the streets of the inner city, it was an event not to be missed!
Leading up to the concert, I anticipated a sold-out show and scraped together 23 tickets by battling the crowded phone lines of the Ticketmaster matrix. Welcome Week was not only about commencing that year with a bang but making sure everyone in Sellery Hall and the southeast dorms knew which door to knock on if they wanted tickets to the event. The ticket buyers came and went, and the dollars flowed.
Now in 93’, I had greater ambitions and recognized a more unique opportunity. In 1990, Barry Alvarez had been hired to resurrect the Badgers football program from the abyss Don Morton had dug during the 1980s. Barry and the boys won one game his first season in 1990, and five games in 1991 and 1992. But you could feel the tide turning in 1992. Games were close…when a perennial pigskin heavyweight rolled through Madison, no longer were students heading to the exits by the end of the 2nd quarter. The table was set for the 1993 Badgers football team.
Now, given my success during the previous year riding Bono’s bandwagon, I felt confident in scalping tickets as a side hustle. But more importantly, on that summer day on the 8th hole at Utica, I eyed what appeared to the perfect setup for making a buck.
The gods had looked down on the scheduling that year and picked a Saturday in October for the Badgers slugfest with the Wolverines of Michigan. With fall colors in splendor, an ABC Game of the Week was set for Keith Jackson to soothe our combative souls with his silky harmonious chorus of play-by-play commentary. Michigan had not played in Madison in several years, had not fallen to the Badgers since 1981, and was ranked #3 in the preseason polls as the showdown neared.
“What could be better?” Well hold on a minute, we’re just gettin’ started…
In addition, the university had decided that weekend would also be designated Parent’s Weekend. That’s right, whether mom and pop were from Neenah in the valley or flying in from Long Island, a weekend in Madison in October was a great opportunity to bring your kid a care package and stick a few extra laundry dollars in his back pocket. As part of the event, Badger Blast – an annual mega celebration of Bratwurst, Cheese, and Beer would be held in the Fieldhouse prior to the football game. Nothing like rolling out the red carpet of Germanic Dairyland tradition for the peeps paying the tuition bills.
But if all of this was not enough, the date of the game was set for October 31st. Come on…Halloween, I shit you not! The mecca of Madison where thousands frolic in State Street in revelry bliss was the day of the big game. Store keeps, batten the hatches…the circus was coming to town!
And that my friends, created a confluence of unsatiable demand one can only imagine in a fairytale. A combination of forces from distinct corners of Midwestern communities. Ticket demand spurred by disparate reasons and events. A layered sequence of buyers that fuel an outlier that statistical laws of finance fail to bind.
Now over my career, my investing objective has always been to look broadly for these types of opportunities. Divergent tethers in the state of play that on rare occasions marry in a united fashion. My job as an investor was to find those rare moments where a combination of force, circumstance, and sometimes, a little Lady Luck, would converge.
This process is woven not only throughout the markets and investment world but in the fabric of our lives and decision making. From relationships to parenting, and yes in this example, ticket scalping – the combination of distinct forces is the foundation for the creation of outliers. And within the realm of outliers, alpha is created in the investment world and crispness in one’s decision making.
So what happened…well, on a quiet afternoon in June when single game tickets went on sale, I called the ticket office. An agent picked up the line and asked which game I was interested in, she said, “Let me guess, the Michigan game.” I said, “Why yes, that’s correct.” And she asked the magic question – “How many tickets are you interested in purchasing?” And for a moment, I paused…I was not prepared for this question – an open-ended option at my disposal. ”How many should I take?” And ending the uncomfortable silence, I finally replied, “I will take 100 tickets in the end zone please.”
Now I know, you are thinking – Impossible! They do not sell tickets like this. But they did back in the day, prior to StubHub, prior to scalping bots, prior to variable pricing, prior to internet connectivity that enables every kid with a couple of bucks and a laptop who believe they are the next Gordon Gekko of ticket scalping – they allowed bulk purchases. And when you are the UW ticket office and those bleachers have sat empty for the last decade, you better bet your bippies the Board of Regents is telling those agents to hit the bids as fast as they came in.
So, with that quick reply, I owned 100 end zone tickets at $8 each. For a college kid making $4.25/hour…a legit spec. Now there was a secret sauce to this bet. At this point in UW football history, they allowed one to migrate throughout the stadium and basically sit anywhere. They essentially had an empty stadium for the past decade and had never really envisioned sold-out games and having to control fans. So those $8 end zone seats essentially were the equivalent of student section seats. Now all the kids wanted to sit in the action – in Section O, in Section P, and to be in the feeding frenzy of students fueled by firewater. My end zone tickets were hot items…scalding HOT baby!
When I arrived at school in August, word went out…and as quickly as it did, a thundering herd of demand galloped back to my door. Random calls from around campus, “Hey are you the guy with Michigan tickets?” were the daily routine. Needless to say, that investment – that anticipation of confluence was a layup drill on how to leverage a buck.
Now it would be cute if the story ended with that cheeky anecdote…but alas, there is more to the tale – a more serious chapter to the story.
The game was historic…a slugfest with two of the best teams in the country taking their best punches as they battled on the gridiron. Fortunately for Wisconsin, the good guys won a hard-fought battle 13-10 and pandemonium ensued.
As I mentioned, the stadium and security in Camp Randall were not built for sold out masses of people, and given the untethered nature of people sitting – standing in any and every corner of the stadium, the student section was massively overcapacity. And with the countdown of the clock and final whistle, an enormous confluence of force ensued. Students whether they were in Section O, P, Q, R, or S – in row 2 or row 66 all had the same idea, to rush the field and be a part of history in the making.
However, as we have discussed…disparate forces from distinct origins when united have the power to create outliers, unique events that change the course of history. And that’s exactly what happened that Halloween evening in Madison. The Crush Game was memorialized in the annals of Badger football history and the confluence of people’s actions made history and nearly cost lives.
Now for those too young to remember, it was a near tragedy for the school. Over seventy people were injured, many succumbed to the pressure of force and stopped breathing for moments. If not for emergency personnel and the quick wits of some football players in the heat of the moment, many would have died.
Non-collapsible barricades at the base of the stands had created an unyielding wall that when combined with the force of people from above, strangled the human stampede and compressed the joyous fanbase into a destructible force of bedlam. I had friends at the bottom of that pile of people, some that would be able to don a PNB pin (Pulseless Non-Breathing) to their lapel. It was a surreal, visual moment in time I will never forget.
Now luckily, no one died at the scene and we all live to tell the tale of being at that game. But whether it be the light-hearted forces of nature that led to the success of my ticket scalping or the near-tragic forces of hysterical people that nearly took the lives of students that day, confluence plays a powerful force in our lives, our decision making, and creating alpha in the investment world.
So, with that conceptual tenant laid as groundwork, you will have to wait for Part II of the story.
To be continued…
Bold Coast Capital
UPDATE: August 17, 2020 Investors and Friends, I hope all of you are well and healthy. To kick-off the fall writing season for the...Read more ›