By Bruce Schreiner and Claire Galofaro
LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Muhammad Ali, who long ago began crafting the plan for his final tribute, insisted the tickets for his memorial service be free. But on Wednesday, after the tickets were handed out, some people looked to make a profit.
People started arriving outside the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville late Tuesday, hours ahead of the ticket distribution. The line stretched around the arena. Thousands of tickets for Ali’s memorial service Friday were claimed on a first-come, first-served basis in about an hour.
When told of the enormous line, Ali’s wife, Lonnie, laughed and said, “Muhammad is directing all of this, and he’s enjoying every minute of it,” Ali family spokesman Bob Gunnell said.
Many fans of the boxing great flashed smiles, chanted Ali’s name, and some danced, upon getting their four-ticket allotments to be part of history. Thousands of others left empty-handed.
Given the supply-and-demand factor for about 15,000 seats in the arena, some ticket holders immediately looked to cash in, going online offering to sell theirs to the star-studded event. Former President Bill Clinton, a longtime Ali friend, will eulogize the champ, who died last Friday at 74 following a long battle with Parkinson’s disease.
Gunnell denounced the profiteering as a “despicable act” that’s illegal.
“It is deplorable that some people are trying to profit off of the solemn service as we celebrate the life of Muhammad Ali,” he said.
Gunnell warned that officials were monitoring the online advertisements. Ticket scalping in Kentucky, defined as selling a ticket for more than its face value, is a violation, punishable by a fine of up to $250.
“I hope that those buying tickets or trying to buy tickets would stop those efforts by not purchasing,” Gunnell added. “Muhammad Ali wanted this to be a free event, an event that was open to all.”
One of the posters offering to sell tickets, when reached by phone, said a friend of his sold tickets to the memorial service. When asked for how much, he hung up.
Others posted online pleas to buy tickets. One wrote that he and his mother were driving in from Chicago for the service and were willing to pay $50 for two tickets. Another wrote that he was flying in from California for the service and offered to pay someone $50 to stand in line for him for tickets to both the memorial service and the Jenazah, a traditional Muslim funeral being held Thursday in Louisville.
But others unable to wait in line refused to pay for tickets to the event Ali insisted should be free.
“The Greatest wanted his funeral to be accessible to everyone instead of the money hungry spectacle that will be taking place on Friday,” one wrote in requesting someone give him tickets for free. “RIP Muhammad Ali, the Greatest of all time.”
Another poster wanted to sell tickets to the funeral. Thousands of free tickets were distributed this week for that event.
Basit Mohammad went online in hopes of finding someone willing to part with their tickets, at no cost, to the Jenazah prayer.
At first, the 22-year-old from Virginia said he heard from several people willing to sell their tickets. He turned them down.
“I think it’s wrong,” Mohammad said. “It’s not how you commemorate someone, by making money off their death.”
Eventually, someone from the Louisville area contacted him with word that four tickets were available — for free.
“I’m glad that somebody has a heart out there,” Mohammad said.
Mohammad planned to head out for Louisville on Wednesday with three friends to pay tribute to the three-time heavyweight champion and humanitarian.
“When will I ever have a chance to attend the funeral of someone that meant a lot to Islam and to our country?” he said.