[8 October 2007]
McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)
MIAMI—Kim Snoke’s daughter doesn’t ask for much. Like most of her friends, 6-year-old Amaiya is a huge Hannah Montana fan.
So when the single mom from Kendall heard the Disney pop star was coming to the BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise, Fla., she vowed to get two tickets. The morning they went on sale, she showed up three hours early and was second in line.
But a regular mom was no match for computer hackers, scalpers, ticket brokers and a lottery system that sent her to the back of the line. The concert sold out in minutes.
Snoke didn’t have a chance.
“This is the only thing she has asked me for. I was devastated that I could not fill this wish for her,” Snoke said. “I walked away from Ticketmaster in tears.”
Snoke joins thousands of parents and kids across the country who have been shut out of the 54-city tour.
Ticket brokers use software to shut out the everyday fan for popular shows by getting around safeguards. With Hannah Montana, though, they may have angered the wrong fan base: mothers. Parental complaints have two states investigating the suspicious sale of the teen pop star’s concert tickets.
Face value for tickets capped at $66. But a great many of them are now in the hands of ticket brokers, who are selling them for at least twice that. Many more are being flipped by individual sellers at stubhub.com, the eBay of ticket sales, for an average $232.
Front-row tickets are offered for as much as $4,572.
“People buying tickets to make a quick buck is what makes it harder for regular people to get tickets at face value for popular shows,” said Debra Rathwell, vice president of AEG Live, which is handling the Hannah Montana tour for Disney.
“Hannah Montana is the biggest thing for little girls age 5 to 12,” Rathwell said. “And ticket brokers and scalpers are treating this show as they would the World Series or the Rolling Stones.”
Disney officials couldn’t be reached for comment.
As practically any girl that age can tell you, “Hannah Montana” is the Disney Channel show starring 14-year-old actress-singer Miley Cyrus (daughter of country singer Billy Ray Cyrus), who lives a double life:
By day, she is Miley Stewart, a normal, everyday teenager. But at night, Miley is pop music sensation Hannah Montana, who in one song tells her fans she is a girl “just like you.”
“She is the role model for little girls,” said Kathy Collins of Coral Springs, Fla., who tried in vain to buy tickets online and by phone through Ticketmaster from the moment they went on sale. “They all want to be like her.”
Unfortunately for most, the girls need to be Miley’s rich alter ego to afford the show.
“It’s too much money,” said Collins’ 10-year-old daughter, Kourtney Good, whose room is decorated with pictures of Hannah Montana. “I guess I’ll just have to see her on TV.”
Snoke said she doesn’t hold the performer responsible for her inaccessibility to her fans.
“I think it’s disgusting that people are taking advantage of the fans and the mothers who will do anything to get the tickets,” she said.
Some industry experts say all hope is not lost.
“I would expect that as we get closer to the concert date that prices will come down considerably,” said Sean Pate, spokesman for stubhub.com, where at least 1,000 BankAtlantic tickets are available via auction—and going nowhere fast.
Prices last week ranged from $112 for nose-bleed seats to $4,572 for front row center. Pate said buyers are not going for those prices, and he expects most sellers to lower them.
“Realistically, I doubt anyone is going to pay $4,572 for a Hannah Montana ticket, but the response to this show has surprised everyone in the industry.”
Joe Freeman, spokesman for Ticketmaster, said Hannah Montana is not only the biggest-selling kids’ concert in the company’s history, but that it rivals sales of superstar acts like The Rolling Stones.
“We have not seen levels of demand for a show like this since the times of The Beatles or Elvis,” Freeman said.
He attributes the quick sellouts to public demand and scalpers armed with sophisticated, speed-dial computer hacking software.
“As hard as our technicians work, hackers are working twice as hard,” Freeman said.
The software lets a computer dial several hundred times a minute into Ticketmaster, leapfrogging over other calls, getting past the encypted code that people have to type in.
The user buys the tickets using multiple credit card numbers that are programmed into the system. The computer does all the work. Ticketmaster has filed lawsuits against the software manufacturers and certain ticket brokers.
Rathwell, the concert’s promoter, said the outcry from angry mothers may change the way future shows are handled.
“By the next tour, we hope to have some solutions to getting tickets into the hands of mothers and away from scalpers,” she said.
So many parents complained in Arkansas that Attorney General Dustin McDaniel launched an investigation into how companies like Ticketliquidator.com, Tickets-For-Events.com, TicketsNow.com, Gotickets.com, and StubHub.com acquired so many Hannah Montana tickets.
McDaniel is looking into how hackers are breaking into Ticketmaster and whether tickets posted on broker sites before they even go on sale are phony.
Florida Attorney General Bill McCollumn’s office is looking into a few complaints.
Meanwhile, Tom Corbitt, the attorney general of Pennsylvania, is looking into whether people who paid $39.95 to join the Hannah Montana Fan Club should get refunds. Membership comes with access to a password that allows fans to buy show tickets during a presale.
Less than half of the tickets are sold through the fan club. Presale seats for Miley’s Sunrise show sold out in hours.
Robin Mermelstein of Plantation, Fla., will get her daughters to the show—in New Jersey.
They struck out working the phones and computer for tickets to the South Florida show. But a family member in Newark got tickets that coincide with their holiday visit.
“My husband is taking the girls to see Hannah Montana,” Mermelstein said. “I’m taking a break and seeing Kelly Clarkson.”