By Jeff Schultz | Wednesday, August 22, 2007, 08:14 PM
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
On July 6, the same day federal investigators were back in Surry County, Va., digging up Michael Vickâ€™s little yard of horrors, ESPN erroneously reported the Falconsâ€™ quarterback would not be indicted.
On July 7, Orlando Daniels of Acworth, facing a deadline and buoyed by the report, submitted his deposit for two club-level season tickets at $1,390.
Ten days later, Vick was indicted.
Ever feel like you just paid a premium for drilling rights, only to hit sand? Evidence is all over the Internet. Since Vickâ€™s tenure with the team unofficially ended with news of a plea agreement, fans have flooded eBay, Craigslist and StubHub with their season tickets. The Web suddenly looks like a surf shop in Des Moines.
â€œDude, there are people selling season tickets on the lower level, 50-yard line for below face value,â€ said Daniels, who had been on a waiting list for tickets for three years. â€œThatâ€™s unheard of in any market.â€
Another fan, Josh Lewis of Greensboro, N.C., also came off the waiting list and immediately purchased two pairs of upper-level tickets for $1,400 in April. He planned to make the six-hour drive for home games, reasoning, â€œIâ€™m getting married in September, and I figured a couple of wedding presents would cover it. About a week later is when all the dogfighting stuff started to come back. It kinda made me sick.â€
Daniels is more than sick. Heâ€™s jumping head-first into the conspiracy pool. He believes itâ€™s too big of a coincidence that the ESPN report coincided with his deadline to purchase tickets, and charged that the Falcons and owner Arthur Blank leaked the â€œnewsâ€ to spur ticket sales. Nothing like a ticking Hail Mary to start the year.
â€œAt the end of the day my gut instinct tells me that Blank, with millions of dollars at risk, had something to do with the [ESPN] story â€¦ or the [timing of the] indictment,â€ Daniels said. â€œIâ€™m as upset as anybody about Mike. But I believe a bigger fraud has happened â€¦ people bought into a press story and made a financial commitment based on false or misleading information.â€
In better times, conspiracy theories would be laughed off in Flowery Branch. Um, these ainâ€™t better times.
Falcons executive vice president Kim Shreckengost said the charge is â€œabsolutely not true.â€ She added: â€œWe donâ€™t control the media, and we certainly donâ€™t control the government. We learned about the indictment at the same time everyone else did, and had no inside information about whether or not he would be indicted along the way. More importantly, we would never treat our fans that way.â€
Now, Iâ€™m sure there are worse jobs today than trying to market the Falcons. But I canâ€™t imagine too many exist outside of Washington or Baghdad. No Vick. An aging running back (Warrick Dunn) coming off back surgery. Little in the way of star quality. Or playoff hopes.
With Vick, the Falcons were a tough ticket. Now theyâ€™re a tough sell, at least emotionally. Yes, the games already are sold out. But empty seats seem inevitable.
â€œItâ€™s going to be like it used to be, an empty dome with more visiting fans than Falcons fans,â€ said David Easley, a 10-year season-ticket holder. â€œIt almost makes me want to go because I hate when that happens. But not for this much money.â€
Itâ€™s a little late. Easley owns his four tickets at $890 a pop. His ad includes the words, â€œMake me an offer.â€
He decided 10 years ago to purchase Falcons instead of Georgia tickets because of the proximity of the stadium and the available seats. â€œNow I regret it,â€ he said. â€œI bought Thrashers tickets last year for the first time, and it seems like they take better care of you with benefits. Iâ€™d rather keep my Thrasher tickets and go back to Georgia games.â€
He said he â€œfeels sorry for Blank,â€ but only to a point. â€œHe can sell the team tomorrow, and heâ€™ll have a good return on his investment. Heâ€™s not losing money.â€
The Falcons say they havenâ€™t been overrun with fans demanding refunds. But logic dictates most people know better. As Daniels said, â€œI didnâ€™t want to waste my energy calling. I know itâ€™s buyer beware.â€
Another buyer, Ryan McDowell, was told this year he could purchase up to six tickets. He went for the max at $520 each.
â€œI had a friend who sold tickets to the Steelers game last year and made money,â€ McDowell said. â€œI thought I could make a profit and still keep two. That ideaâ€™s pretty much gone.â€
Show me a good loser, and I'll show you a loser.
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