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Annual Return on Red Sox Tickets: 240%

More holders are scalping season tickets on eBay.

BOSTON -- You can find the most spectacular investments in the most unexpected places.

Forget gold, emerging markets, even your




Today's asset of choice? Season tickets at Fenway Park in Boston.

No, I'm not kidding.

Annual return on investment: oh, about 240%.

Something to think about as the playoffs loom. If you're wondering why you are finding it harder and harder to get tickets for a baseball game anywhere in America, this is why.



has transformed the economics of the game for some lucky fans -- at the expense of all the others.

Anyone with a season ticket can now, very easily, become a semiprofessional scalper with little risk or effort.

The inevitable result? No one ever wants to give up their tickets. Families are doubtless finding ways to keep them even after the named owner dies. Tickets are simply worth too much.

So tickets become rarer and rarer. That sends prices higher and higher ... making the tickets even more valuable.

It's a vicious circle ... unless you're on the right side of the trade.

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Baseball could stop it pretty easily, but it doesn't.

Ron Bumgarner, a senior ticketing advisor to the Sox, says the online trade has emerged as a major industry. The "secondary market" in Red Sox tickets is now worth about $100 million a year, he says.

That's money being taken out of the hands of fans, but it isn't going to the team.

The story will be similar in most American cities, although the numbers probably won't be as dramatic. Boston probably favors the ticket holders most, because Fenway Park is pretty small and Sox fever is so intense.

The key fact? According to Bumgarner, who monitors the online trade, Sox tickets on average change hands now for about three times face value.

Three times.

Do the math. A holder will pay about $3,200 for a single season ticket in, say, Fenway's infield grandstand. That works out at around $40 for each of the 81 home games.

Each of those tickets has a face value of $45 when sold individually, but according to Bumgarner's data the holder can probably sell them online for about $135 each.

That's an average, of course. When the Yankees come to town they can pretty much set their own price.

At $135 a pop, the total revenue for the season comes to $10,940.

That's a 240% profit on the initial $3,200 investment -- not bad.

Ultra-low risk. Steady income stream. And you can do it year after year.

All the owner has to do is auction off the tickets ... and email the e-tickets to the winning bidders.

Even if they only get around to selling 80% of their inventory, they're still raking in $8,750.

Return on investment: 170%.

And that's a very conservative estimate. The tickets they don't sell will usually be the ones with the lowest profits anyway.

Oh, and we're not counting any postseason games, when the best tickets at Fenway can fetch $1,000 online.

You might wonder, too, if the season ticket holders are paying tax on this income.

As ever, the only thing better than an oligopoly is a monopoly. They don't come much better than Fenway.

Among the ironies: The professional mutual fund managers at local companies like Fidelity, Wellington and Putnam, who crowd the corporate junket boxes at Fenway Park, would consider themselves lucky if they make 20% in a year.

In keeping with TSC's editorial policy, Brett Arends doesn't own or short individual stocks. He also doesn't invest in hedge funds or other private investment partnerships. Arends takes a critical look inside mutual funds and the personal finance industry in a twice-weekly column that ranges from investment advice for the general reader to the industry's latest scoop. Prior to joining in 2006, he worked for more than two years at the Boston Herald, where he revived the paper's well-known 'On State Street' finance column and was part of a team that won two SABEW awards in 2005. He had previously written for the Daily Telegraph and Daily Mail newspapers in London, the magazine Private Eye, and for Global Agenda, the official magazine of the World Economic Summit in Davos, Switzerland. Arends has also written a book on sports 'futures' betting.