Friday, September 14, 2012

Paperless Ticket Blues

I am attending a concert tomorrow at Pittsburgh’s CONSOL Energy Center. In order to get into the building, I will have to present the credit card with which I purchased the ticket, along with a state-issued ID. To be perfectly honest, I bought the ticket a while ago, and have no idea whether the “paperless ticket” is standard for either the venue, the ticketing agency (Ticketmaster) for this specific venue, or the artist (Eric Church, who is known to want to crack down on scalping).

Sure, a “paperless ticket” that pops you into the building instantly (with no possibility for re-entry) gets rid of scalpers — but at what cost? In Economics 101, we learn that certain actions have an “opportunity cost,” or the actual cost, when one factors in esoteric values involved in making the purchase. In other words, “collateral damage to your rights as a consumer.”

I will state right now, in the interests of disclosure, that I am of that generation which treasured the ticket stub as a valuable memento of a concert experience. That small thick stub imprinted with the band’s name and date provided authoritative proof that you had been there, done that. Some folks slip the stub into the band’s CD (or if they’re older, the record sleeve); others stick them to their bedroom door in a kind of awesome mosaic dedicated to losing one’s hearing. The “print-your-own” tickets were an affront to the entire aesthetic, but at least you arrived at the turnstile armed with proof of payment and the welcome confidence you’d be admitted.

A paperless ticket? Not so much.

In fact, now that I’ve read the instructions / rules / warnings I was just sent in an email about how to proceed, I am downright nervous. I am now so unsure I will get in that I was moved to print a copy of my emailed receipt (which sort of negates the “paperless” part). Here’s why: I no longer have the card I used to purchase the ticket.

I cannot be alone. This has got me thinking about the cornucopia of horror that potentially awaits the crowd hustling to get into the arena tomorrow night, most of whom will be drunk (you’re refused entry if “visibly intoxicated”) due to tailgating for several hours in the parking lot.

For one thing, your entire party must be present along with the cardholder for anyone to gain entry. What if JimBob couldn’t make it? What if he’s passed out drunk in his truck in the parking garage? What if he forgot to bring his wallet? What if his dog ate the card? What if he lent it to his teenage daughter to buy school supplies (*cough*) for college? What if his wife MaryLou is caught in traffic or can’t find a parking space and the rest of the party is waiting in an angry and resentful mob by the gate?

What if you got married and you’re a woman and your surname changed and it’s on your brand new driver’s license, but not yet on your credit card?

What if you bought the ticket on a gift card and now that it’s all used up and you’ve tossed it, it no longer exists? Gift cards don’t have names on. What if you want to see a show but do not have a credit card? What if you’d prefer to pay in cash? What if you’re a teenager?

What if your Mom bought you the ticket for a birthday gift, but you don’t want to bring your Mom, kicking and screaming, to an Eric Church Show? In this case, the CONSOL Energy Center advises, have your Mom give you her credit card for the night so you can get in. How this works with the state-issued ID thing, they fail to address. Good luck reading about this today in the email they just sent you, and having her send you her card from Colorado in time for the show. What if Mom doesn’t want to give up her credit card for the night because she needs it?

What if the person who bought the ticket is now sadly deceased? Or out of the country? What if the ticket was bought by your ex-boyfriend and now he takes someone else because you can’t show up with your ticket?

If you can’t bring the actual card, the CONSOL Energy Center asks you to write all of the card’s details down so it can be given to the ticket schmuck and he or she can check it out to see if it’s legit. Don’t even say the word “security” to me. Shhtp. Don’t even.

What if the ticket schmucks are so incredibly overwhelmed with issues that the lines go back all the way to downtown and you miss half the show? Will they offer to refund your paperless ticket and wipe away your tears?

You are not allowed to bring a camera or gun into the CONSOL Energy Center. This is probably a good thing. After all, you don't want angry folks who can't get in shooting up the place. But if I don’t have a camera, how am I going to take a picture of Justin Moore’s crotch from the great seat I have up front?

Assuming, that is, I can even get in.

UPDATE: Sept 16, 2012

Well, the whole “paperless ticket” approach was a debacle. A disaster. A don’t-you-ever-do-it-again. Here’s what went down:

The email customers were sent said that we could use any of the venue’s three entrances. That is not so. After lining up to get in at the Verizon Gate (yes, gates are sponsored now too), hapless paperless folks were told by harried staff that they could not be processed there, so had to turn back and weave our way through a giant throng of incoming concert-goers to try another entrance. This meant having to cut in to the line of hustling concert-goers at another gate. (I know, I know, bad behavior — but hey, we’d already spent an hour in line at a different gate.) Once in the door, everyone had to file past a guy with a barcode scanner who scanned tickets and let people in. What? I hear you say — people had tickets? Yes, I thought that was odd too. It seems a third of the 13,000 had traditional tickets, a third had print-your-own tickets and a third had sod-all. Who knows. Conspiracy theories ran wild: it seemed only those who’d paid top dollar for floor seats had to go through this particular hell.

Well, the scanner guy had a credit card swiper, and try as he might, my card kept coming up “invalid.” So he sent me to another guy across the way to see if his swiper worked. It didn’t. So he sent me to the Guest Services desk.

The Guest Services desk by this time was completely swamped by people just like me: all of us had the same problem. I know, because I asked, and everyone there was holding a credit card and driver’s license in their angry hands. By the time I reached the window, the show was about to start. The ticketless were a seething, confused and pissed off mob. Luckily, they printed me a ticket. Here it is. Some weren’t so fortunate, and whole groups were turned away. I cannot say what happened to them, but it seems they were the victims of the “entire party present before anyone gets inside” rule.

Sure enough, after cutting in line yet again (I know! sorry, sorry), I made it through the scanner and in. The lights had gone down and Kip Moore had taken the stage.

Dear Eric Church and anyone wanting to sell “paperless tickets” ever again:

If you truly love your fans like you say you do, DON’T.

Here is a review of the show at The Inky Jukebox

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