End Of The Line

Waiting outside the box office used to make getting tickets a sure thing. But now that most sales happen online, all bets are off

October 17, 2007|By Joe Burris and Sam Sessa | Joe Burris and Sam Sessa,Sun reporters

As many frustrated and tired Hannah Montana fans can attest, camping out at the box office is no longer a sure way to get coveted concert tickets anymore.

But then, neither is ordering online.

Or joining a fan club.

Or even hoping and praying for a decent auction on eBay.

"It's a whole different medium out there," said Frank Remesch, general manager of the 1st Mariner Arena, where a Jan. 8 Hannah Montana concert that instantaneously sold out has left parents angry - and vocal.

With all the options available for purchasing tickets - in person, online, phone, fan club, auction - the sad truth is that there's no longer any guarantee of getting an affordable ticket for in-demand shows. That doesn't mean a great seat or even a good seat - but any seat.

Nowadays, most buyers start with the ticket seller's Web site - often ticketmaster.com. Sixty percent of 1st Mariner seats sell online, said Remesch.

But there, "You're going against a lot of people that are sitting at their house, in their robes at 10 a.m. hitting `Enter,'" he said.

Not to mention scalpers circumventing ticket sellers' purchase limits. Just this week, a federal judge ordered Pennsylvania-based RMG Technologies Inc. to stop selling software that allegedly let brokers scoop up thousands of tickets and resell them for ludicrously high prices.

Some fans pay money to join clubs that have special access to tickets in hopes of guaranteeing seats. But the clubs are limited, too. The fan club for Miley Cyrus - the real 14-year-old behind the Disney Channel's Hannah Montana - controlled less than 30 percent of tickets, according to Florida's St. Petersburg Times.

Other fans have tried online auction sites, such as eBay. But bids for the tickets originally priced at roughly $65 have quickly escalated into hundreds and hundreds of dollars.

Still other fans are camping out for tickets - though it's a far cry from the heyday of camp outs for the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and the Who. Shawn Kelley, manager of Record and Tape Traders in Bel Air, said concertgoers camp out only a few times a year in front of his store. When Bruce Springsteen tickets went on sale this summer, 15 people waited in line. Of them, only 12 got tickets, he said.

"The days of big lines for ticket sales have waned," he said. "It really is a rarity when there's people lining up before we open for anything."

But being among the first 10 people in line at box-office sites is probably the best legal method of scoring a ticket, Kelley said.

When he sees a line of people form outside the store, he knows the people at the end of the line barely stand a chance. "The first chunk of [them] are going to get tickets," he said. "But I know the rest are either going to get nosebleeds [seats high up in the venue] or nothing at all."

For the January Hannah Montana show, Sheri Oberheim arrived at the Bel Air Record and Tape Traders at 5:30 a.m. and joined the other moms in line.

For the next four hours, the Abingdon resident and her friends sat in folding chairs with blankets, waiting for tickets to go on sale. Oberheim wanted three: for herself and her two daughters, Isabel, 6, and Keeley, 4.

Of the more than 25 people in line - some who had been waiting since the night before - fewer than a dozen actually walked away with tickets in hand. Oberheim, No. 11, was the last to get them. The concert sold out in minutes.

"I think it's absolutely insane for anybody to camp out and not be guaranteed at least one or two tickets," said Oberheim, 36. "I'm sure the people behind me were really upset that they didn't get any tickets."

For them, perhaps, it's on to brokers such as San Francisco-based StubHub.com (an eBay subsidiary), where prices for the Jan. 8 show ranged yesterday from $160 to $1,499. StubHub charges a fee for its transactions.

For most people - unwilling or unable to pay exorbitant prices for tickets - Kelley had a few recommendations for ticket purchases.

He suggested buyers multi-task to avoid being shut out. A buyer in line at a physical box-office site should coordinate with someone at home who can log onto Ticketmaster.com when the tickets go on sale and jointly try to buy them.

Ticketmaster's phone services, though, provide no advantage, Kelley said. "You're immediately on hold as soon as you get through, waiting for an operator," he said.

If the ticket seller sells out, buyers should consider venues in surrounding areas, said Sean Pate, public relations director for StubHub.

For buyers who decide to try online brokers, Kelley recommended being patient, checking daily for more reasonably priced tickets and waiting for the market to adjust.

Pate said holding off until a week before the show will sometimes yield the best bargains.

And, no matter what, he said, buyers should set a price that's comfortable and within their budget. Maybe a ticket can be guaranteed at $1,499. But at that price, do you want it?

joseph.burris@baltsun.com

sam.sessa@baltsun.com

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