The last time Miley "Hannah Montana" Cyrus came to Tampa, kids were screaming for the Disney Channel star — and parents were screaming for the heads of ticket brokers, scalpers and secondary sellers who had gobbled up, then jacked up, seats for her sold-out 2007 show.
Such was the Mad Mommy fallout — a $60 ticket offered up for $4,000 online by tech-savvy money-grubbers! — the concert industry had to rethink 21st century ticket buying.
So when 16-year-old Cyrus returns for a Dec. 1 gig at the St. Pete Times Forum, it'll be the brokers, scalpers and online sellers doing the caterwauling.
In a move that's smart in theory and potentially nightmarish in reality, Cyrus will be using a "paperless ticketing system" for the upcoming show. The techno-dream of Ticketmaster, "paperless" is inherently designed to stick it to the brokers, who should find it harder obtaining tickets for resale.
"We think it's going to do a very good job getting tickets into the hands of the fan," says Brian Pike, Ticketmaster's chief technology officer. "But nothing is ever 100 percent foolproof."
When Cyrus tickets go on sale June 13, fans will be able to buy them only online or through an 800 number with a credit card — essentially reserving a seat. No ticket to print out, no visit to Will Call. Instead, on the day of the show, concertgoers will present the credit card used for purchase, plus a government-issued photo ID, to a venue usher, who will scan the card and print out a "seat locator slip." All members of the party must be present at the time of transaction; four tickets are allowed per household.
If Mom wants to go to the show with the kiddos, great — bring earplugs and have fun. However, if Mom simply wants to put the tickets on her credit card and drop the kids off at the show, Mom still has to be present at the turnstiles. And if Grandma in Poughkeepsie wants to buy tickets for her Miley-lovin' grandson in Tampa — well, Grammy better hop on a Greyhound, 'cause she has to be here to show her card.
If that sounds like a hassle, well, it beats no ticket at all. Ticketmaster believes "paperless" will be a tough system to crack. The combination of no physical ticket plus a mandatory appearance by the buyer is intended to put a serious crimp in the plans of someone looking to make big bucks on this show.
Right now, paperless is intended for "specific artists who want to make it easier for fans to get tickets," says Pike. But there's a chance it could become the norm. "I don't know if it will happen that fast. But we're going to watch how consumers adopt it."
Gary Adler, general counsel for the National Association of Ticket Brokers, believes the paperless system is actually bad for fans and is merely a sign of "monopolistic power" on Ticketmaster's part. "We've always advocated a free market," says Adler, "but not only will this hurt brokers, but consumers as well."
First off, he says, it will be "a logistical nightmare. How many 14-year-olds have credit cards?" Plus "you will see tickets being sold in the secondary market whether they're paperless or not. You'll see more underground schemes, making it even more expensive for people to get in."
Paperless ticketing is still in its infancy. In early 2008, Tom Waits, on a small U.S. tour, was the first major artist to go paperless. When AC/DC rumbled into the Times Forum in 2008, the rockers sold their 3,000 best seats this way.
"The AC/DC show went smoothly," says Elmer Straub, the Times Forum's vice president of event booking. "We had Ticketmaster's help, and you have to have the right equipment."
But 3,000 AC/DC fans aren't the same as the 15,000 tweens, teens and parents expected for Cyrus. And even though Ticketmaster will provide the venue with dozens of credit card scanners, "it's going to be a challenge," admits Straub.
Complicating matters is that Dec. 1 is a Tuesday, meaning thousands of concertgoers will be competing with normal downtown Tampa rush-hour traffic. No matter how quick paperless goes, it's still going to take longer than Larry the Usher ripping tickets. In other words: Get there early.
Sean Daly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8467. His Pop Life blog is at blogs.tampabay.com/popmusic.