Sunday, February 3, 2008

More on Elton's Ticket Lottery

There were two kinds of people in Sudbury on Friday - those lucky enough to get Elton John tickets and those who sat at their computers growing increasingly frustrated because they couldn't.

Sudbury Community Arena manager Ray Mensour said there were one million - yes, one million - hits on the website when tickets to Sir Elton's March 2 Sudbury concert went on sale at 10 a.m.

The City of Greater Sudbury reported more than 6,000 tickets sold out to about 1,200 buyers within 45 minutes.

Do the math and figure out how many people were left cursing a computer ticket-buying system they say is antiquated and arbitrary, and swearing they would have been better off to wait in line for tickets than try to purchase them online.

"I really wanted to get a birthday gift for my mom," said a disappointed Charlie Andrews about noon when he called The Sudbury Star to complain.

The first-year Laurentian University music student and a dozen classmates worked 15 or more computers at once, trying to buy tickets to the biggest act ever to visit Sudbury.

Like many other disgruntled would-be ticket buyers, Andrews was annoyed at "sitting" in a virtual waiting room, which refreshed itself every 15 seconds.

At one point, Andrews thought he struck gold when he got into a second waiting room and was able to select six tickets.

But, like so many others, he was bounced back to the virtual waiting room until after all tickets were sold out.

"I know my way around a computer," said Andrews, but that didn't make it any easier for him or his computer-savvy friends to hit pay dirt.

"Well, I guess we'll go see Cats," he said without much enthusiasm. The Andrew Lloyd Webber classic is at the Sudbury Community Arena on Feb. 21.

Before noon, tickets for the Sudbury Elton John concert were already for sale on EBay at five times their purchase price.

By 6 p.m., 10 ticket-sellers, many from Sudbury, were listing on EBay. One was asking $1,200 for two floor seats, but hadn't received any bids. He had a "Buy Now" price of more than $3,000 on the tickets.

Sellers asking as much as $700 for two standing-room tickets had received a dozen or more bids.

Mensour said the computer system used to sell Elton John tickets,, was as secure as any service in operation.

"The level of security was the same as for all major league playoff baseball games," said Mensour, who worked for three years with the Montreal Expos.

"Actually, we feel we passed the test extremely well," he said of the city's efforts to help concert promoter Live Nation sell tickets.

"Unfortunately, we knew ahead of time the people who don't get tickets would be disappointed. We were prepared for it."

Trying to buy tickets online with hundreds of thousands of other fans is like playing a lottery, said Mensour.

"Odds were you weren't going to get tickets."

Some people who didn't get tickets were angry they had been advised to buy online rather than wait overnight in a lineup outside the arena.

"We warned people not to come and wait in the cold. The odds of getting tickets online were better. We sold 90 per cent online, five per cent in person and five per cent over the phone," he said.

About 200 people waited in line, some overnight, and only 50 were lucky enough to get them.

Mensour said big acts such as Elton John are choosing to come to Sudbury Community Arena because it is gaining a reputation as a good concert venue.

That's partly because arena staff have "exceeded expectations" of show promoters, he said.

Arena staff go out of their way to provide the best possible service to travelling acts.

In one instance, musicians couldn't get to a laundromat so staff took the artists' clothing home and did their laundry for them.

Mensour said a Sault Ste. Marie resident phoned Elton John's promoter "absolutely irate" because he wouldn't play there despite the fact it has a newer and better concert venue.

"The promoter's response is that the service is second to none at Sudbury arena," said Mensour.

Sudbury Star bloggers might beg to differ with Mensour - if they weren't so busy writing about how miffed they were at not being able to buy tickets online.

One blogger wrote: "I had six windows open in my browser and bounced between them for one hour. It was horrible. I was also stuck in the waiting rooms. You sometimes would get the option to purchase a ticket. If it wasn't available in that area, you were back in a loop again. I hope this format is never used again. What a disappointment. I'd like to know whose bright idea this was!"

Some critics said purchasers should have only been able to buy two tickets each, not six. But that's the concert promoter's decision, said Mensour.

"It is a lottery," Mensour repeated. "A million people wanting 6,000 tickets? You have to be lucky."

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