A major stub hubbub

It may take Hannah Montana to get concert ticket problems fixed.

By SEAN DALY, Times Pop Music Critic
Published October 14, 2007

Talk about pressure. As Jennifer Anderson was trying to buy tickets to the hottest concert of the year - a Nov. 19 show at the St. Pete Times Forum starring a teen idol beloved by the Disney Channel set - her daughter was redecorating her bedroom to celebrate that very purchase.

"One side of Chrissy's room was going to be all Hannah Montana, the other side was going to be all Miley Cyrus," says the 34-year-old St. Petersburg mom. She chuckles at her 9-year-old's obsession with the show starring Cyrus as a fictional pop star. "She was sooo excited."

But as Chrissy was creating Hannah Montana heaven, her mother - along with thousands of other parents around the country - was entering concert ticket hell.

Anderson, who hasn't bought a hot ticket in a long time, learned that the Internet has made the process a lot tougher than camping out all night at a box office. No longer are buyers competing only with fellow fans. Now ticket brokers are gobbling up large blocks of concert tickets in mere seconds, and then reselling them for many times the face value.

Plus, far fewertickets are available to the average fan these days, as concert venues, fan clubs, promoters and sponsors claim a hefty share of tickets before general sales even begin.

So despite having three people - her mother, a friend and herself - trying to buy tickets from Ticketmaster via phone, computer and the mall, Jennifer Anderson came up empty on Sept. 15.

Tickets went on sale to the general public at 10 a.m. They were gone in 14 minutes.

In fact, the entire 54-date tour has sold out. Every seat. Gone.

A few days later, the Internet was flooded with Hannah Montana tickets. Face value for the most expensive seat was $68.75. But online, the average asking price was $214, with some sellers seeking as much as $4,572 per seat.

Normally, fans of perennial hot acts such as U2 or Bruce Springsteen are the ones complaining about the harsh realities of the concert-ticket business. But industry insiders believe a 14-year-old TV star in a silly blond wig is the one who will change the way concert tickets are bought and sold.

It's one thing to shut out a fan of Bono or the Boss. But hell hath no fury like a mommy scorned.

Little Chrissy Anderson was a great sport about the whole thing. "Mommy, tickets are too expensive. You don't have to take me to the concert," she said.

"That," her mom declares, "made me even more determined to get them."

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Teeny-pop heartthrobs Shaun Cassidy and Leif Garrett stirred up the '70s. Boy bands such as New Kids on the Block, the Backstreet Boys and 'N Sync whipped the kids into a frenzy in the '80s and '90s.

And now, in the '00s, there's Miley Cyrus, whose average ticket resale price is remarkably greater than such popular rock acts as the Police $209, Beyonce ($193) and Justin Timberlake ($182).

"We haven't had a youth-oriented tour of this magnitude since the secondary market has been active," says Ray Waddell, senior editor of touring at Billboard magazine. "It's a perfect storm."

Storm is a good word for it.

The tour, which starts Thursday in St. Louis, has shed harsh light on the concert-ticketing industry. It has also inspired anger, tears and lawsuits.

"You have uneducated ticket buyers ... awakened by the modern-day realities of the business," says Waddell about the angry parents. "You also have ticket brokers who have an unfair advantage," using computer software to buy online tickets faster than normal buyers.

After hundreds of complaints from parents, Arkansas, Missouri and Pennsylvania launched state investigations into various online broker sites.

The Florida Attorney General's Office has received 19 complaints about the Hannah Montana imbroglio so far. There's no formal investigation yet, but the office said it is reviewing the information it has received.

It's not at all clear that a law has been broken. In Florida, as long as online ticket brokers post an array of disclosure rules, they are essentially allowed to charge hefty prices.

Ticketmaster, the primary seller of Hannah Montana tickets, has promised to sue a company that makes software allowing online brokers to purchase tickets with lightning speed.

Gary Adler, general counsel to the National Association of Ticket Brokers, says his industry is being unfairly targeted. What's wrong, he asks, with a broker hiring 10 people to sit in an office and buy tickets online? "That's a moral and ethical gray area," he says.

Ticket brokers say the real problem starts with ticket distribution, arguing that most tickets go to fan clubs, venues and various sponsors. In many cases, "less than a third of the house tickets are sold to the general public," says Adler.

Sean Henry, executive vice president of the St. Pete Times Forum, says that the Miley Cyrus Official Fan Club controlled a little less than 30 percent of the tickets, which the fan site sold to members before the general ticket sale began. (But membership was no guarantee; the Andersons paid $30 to join the fan club and still got shut out.)

Presale tickets were also set aside for Tampa Bay Lightning season-ticket holders, tour sponsors and the media.

"One of the best ways to make sure you get the tickets you want," says Henry, "is to have a ticket plan with us." Henry says that "every single season-ticket holder" who wanted Hannah Montana tickets got them.

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Long after Miley Cyrus leaves the Forum stage Nov. 19, the brouhaha will continue.

"I think something will come of this," says Billboard's Waddell. "The primary (ticket) industry is sick of this. Eventually there will be some regulation. I think you'll see something where everybody who buys a ticket will have to use it." Somewhat like airline tickets.

Adler, of the ticket brokers association, thinks a better solution might be to sell tickets solely in person, from a box office. As in those days of the all-night ticket lines."Right now, anyone who has a ticket and a computer and a cell phone becomes a broker," he says.

As for Jennifer and Chrissy Anderson, their tale has an ending as happy as anything you'll see on an episode of Hannah Montana. The determined mom pleaded her case on the Web site Craigslist.com, and was able to buy four upper-deck seats for $230 total, hardly more than the face value.

There will be so much screaming, they won't be able to hear a thing, the mom figures. "But that's okay. At least Chrissy can look at her."

Sean Daly can be reached at sdaly@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8467. His Pop Life blog is at blogs.tampabay.com/popmusic.