Montana fans cry `scalp'

Federal judge bars computer programs that enable brokers to buy up tickets before the public

October 16, 2007|By Sam Sessa and Joe Burris | Sam Sessa and Joe Burris,Sun reporters

Too late — First, Karen McVearry spent $30 to join the Hannah Montana fan club and buy presale concert tickets for her 9-year-old daughter Maddie.

Too late - they had sold out.

The 36-year-old Catonsville mom tried again the day the tickets went on sale to the public. As Maddie played soccer, McVearry stood on the sidelines, a cell phone in each hand, calling Ticketmaster, while a friend also called and tried ordering online.

Still too late. The Jan. 8 Hannah Montana show at 1st Mariner Arena sold out in minutes.

Now, people are looking online for tickets originally priced at roughly $65 that are reaching $2,500 - and Ticketmaster is crying foul.

Yesterday, a federal judge in Los Angeles ordered Pennsylvania-based RMG Technologies Inc. to cease producing and distributing computer programs that Ticketmaster alleges allow brokers to digitally cut in line, buy thousands of tickets and resell them for exorbitant prices. These practices shut out customers hoping to buy tickets to high-demand events such as the Hannah Montana tour, Ticketmaster claims.

"We will not allow others to illegally divert tickets away from fans," Ticketmaster Chief Executive Sean Moriarty said in a statement.

The injunction comes as Arkansas, Missouri and Pennsylvania already have launched state investigations into online broker sites.

Fans and parents have been incensed at the difficulty of scoring tickets for the 54-city "Best of Both Worlds Tour," which launches Thursday in St. Louis. Based on the popular Disney Channel show Hannah Montana, it stars 14-year-old Miley Cyrus as Miley Stewart, a run-of-the-mill teen by day and a renowned pop performer called Hannah Montana at night. The show has been among basic cable's top-rated shows and has resulted in two albums that sold a combined 4.4 million copies in the United States - setting the stage for high ticket demand.

James Kinstle was infuriated at the prices scalpers have been charging for a kids' show. The day tickets went on sale last month, he spent several hours online trying to buy tickets for himself and his 8-year-old daughter Ruby.

"The biggest frustration to me is that Disney made this concert affordable and the scalpers have made it unaffordable," said Kinstle, the artistic director for the Baltimore Shakespeare Festival. "I would have paid the price for two front-row tickets at what Disney was going to charge. Now I can't even get back row seats for that price."

Kinstle said Montana is one of the few teenage role models in the music world. When he told Ruby she wouldn't be able to go to the show, she was disappointed but understood.

"This is the first time she's ever asked to go to anything like this," he said. "I tried to explain it to her, and I think she was the one who used the word ridiculous."

Some industry officials dispute Ticketmaster's allegation that scalpers play such a powerful role in the ticket marketplace. Scalpers' presence is undeniable but not overly influential, said Sean Pate, public relations director for StubHub, a San Francisco-based company that acts as a marketplace for buying and selling tickets.

"On occasion, some people have sophisticated software," he said. "But for the most part, you're talking about a very small number of tickets available, maybe 10,000, with about 100,000 people trying to buy them. You're going to get a crush of people looking to buy."

The demand for Hannah Montana tickets caught many in the industry off guard, but such demand is not unusual for popular events, Pate said.

"The insinuation that there's funny business going on is unfounded," he said. "This is typical of the dynamics you see when Bruce Springsteen or Madonna or the Rolling Stones or Van Halen tickets go on sale. It's just that with Hannah Montana, you're seeing a whole new demographic."

That tween-age audience fueled similar demand last year for the Cheetah Girls, which outsold the Rolling Stones and Barbra Streisand in the resale ticket market, according to the TicketNow Entertainment Index.

In Baltimore, Hannah Montana fans were willing to sacrifice large measures of time and money for tickets. Some camped out in front of 1st Mariner Arena nights before tickets went on sale. The concert's promoter provided the arena's box office with a pool of tickets in advance - which rarely happens, said Frank Remesch, the arena's general manager.

"They looked out for the people on the street," Remesch said. "If you're nostalgic at all and you remember how it used to be, it's kind of neat to see that someone that sits out there overnight can get access to the tickets."

At a 150th anniversary gala last weekend for St. Augustine School in Elkridge, a basket with two tickets to Hannah Montana and some other souvenir items was offered in a silent auction. It sold for nearly $1,600.

McVearry refuses to pay such large sums for Hannah Montana tickets. Instead, she said, she'll re-create the concert experience at home.

"All my daughter's friends and their parents tried, and none were able to get tickets," McVearry said. "We'll probably end up having our own mini-concert here at home - rent a DVD or something."

Wire services contributed to this article.

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