It took a little longer than expected thanks to an unexpected technical glitch, but non-VIP tickets to “Hamilton’s” fall run in Charlotte finally sold out at 3:37 p.m., hours after they went on sale at 8 a.m. Wednesday morning.
“Hamilton” has been touring the country now for 16 months, and everywhere it goes, it’s preceded by a meticulously detailed plan for selling tickets and a very quick sellout. Charlotte — which will host 32 performances at uptown’s Belk Theater between Wednesday, Oct. 10, and Sunday, Nov. 4 — followed both trends.
But tens of thousands of people who logged on early Wednesday morning were left frustrated due to a technical glitch that delayed the beginning of web sales for more than two hours. Those online sales were to start at 8 a.m.; the first ticket was not sold online until around 10:20 a.m. (With this in mind, online tickets sold out in about 5 hours and 15 minutes.)
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In a 9:30 a.m. update, the Blumenthal apologized for the delay and blamed it on a “technical issue ... related to bot prevention software that detected more than 8,000 bots trying to influence the official on sale around 6 a.m. We stopped online sales to ensure bot protection. We’re working to find a fix and will continue to send along updates as they are made available. Thank you for your continued patience.”
Once online sales started, they went swiftly.
By 2 p.m. Wednesday, people who were originally as far back as 20,000th in the virtual line had made their way to the front of it, but by that point, most performances were showing as sold out on the website. By 3 p.m., there were only 10 tickets left besides pairs of $434.50 “VIP premium” seats. (Some of those were still available as of 3:50 p.m.)
The Blumenthal said in all more than 110,000 people entered the online queue on Wednesday.
Blumenthal President and CEO Tom Gabbard told the Observer last month that he did not anticipate website glitches and indicated that there would be fail-safe measures to prevent the system from getting overloaded.
The original plan for online sales was this:
People were encouraged to log on to tix.carolinatix.org/hamilton to enter the “virtual waiting room” beginning at 5 a.m. Wednesday. But it was not intended as first-come, first-served. Whether you logged on at 5 a.m. or 7:55 a.m. was supposed to make no difference — everyone in the virtual waiting room was to be placed in a line in a random order when tickets officially went on sale at 8.
Once people realized both the size of the virtual wait list and that the online line wasn’t moving, the outrage on social media began. A sampling:
On the Blumenthal’s Facebook page, one person wrote: “This is a horrible experience. I’m traveling with my family. Sitting on my iPad in a hotel room in Denver while everyone sleeps. Up in the middle of the night and I’m at 38k in line. Disappointed in the Blumenthal for wasting my time.”
Another added: “I’m so disappointed in you guys! This is a complete mess.” Back on Twitter, somebody posted, “You get up at 2:59am to buy the new iPhone and you’re an idiot and a sucker. You sit at your computer, 53,000th in line (not joking) for #HamiltonCLT tickets and you appreciate art.”
Another: “It’s looking bad when it’s over an hour after they went on sale and four hours in the waiting room where it’s not happening,” while another person told the Blumenthal on Facebook, “What a big ol’ mess! Seriously, y’all? You knew this was going to be big.”
At the box office
Meanwhile, people who showed up to the box office went into a separate wait pool, and groups of 60 were randomly selected and brought into the Belk lobby to make their purchases beginning at 8 a.m. (The Blumenthal said in-person box-office sales came from a separate block of tickets, so those people weren’t dipping into the tickets set aside for online sales.)
The box office at Belk Theater in uptown sold out of its allotment in less than two hours.
Here’s how that worked:
At 5:30 a.m., the Blumenthal began distributing numbered wristbands to hopeful ticket-buyers that entered them into a random drawing to determine placement in the actual ticket-buying line. Beginning at 7:30, the Blumenthal drew random ranges of numbers (in groups of 60), then everyone with wristbands within that range were lined up and began being let into the Belk lobby at 8.
In total, six groups of 60 people were called before the box office’s allotment was sold out, leaving hundreds of people still waiting on the sidewalk. The Blumenthal estimated that they gave out about 1,200 wristbands.
(Both online and in person, customers were limited to a maximum of four tickets per person.)
When a Blumenthal representative announced at 9:46 a.m. that the last group had been called, he encouraged those who were also in the virtual line — meaning they had also gone online and gotten onto that wait list — that their place in that line was secure, and they could begin checking there.
Though the Blumenthal wouldn’t say how many total single tickets are available, our best guess is somewhere in the neighborhood of 40,000. (That’s based on 32 shows times 1,800 seats at Belk, minus Broadway Lights subscribers who got IOUs for “Hamilton” tickets as part of their package deal.)
Meanwhile, online ticket brokers appeared to have plenty of “Hamilton” inventory.
Tickets were being advertised for as much as $575 each on Stubhub Wednesday morning. But buying tickets that are more than $10 over face value (setting aside taxes and fees) — and the top face-value price for “Hamilton” is $434.50 — opens buyers to the risk their tickets will be voided.
The Blumenthal plans to comb through the list of Wednesday buyers and cancel purchases made by people who may have circumvented the four-ticket-per-person limit or — more importantly, said Gabbard — by scalpers or brokers. Not until that’s been done will paper tickets be given out, said Gabbard: probably in “a couple of weeks.”
So if you missed out Wednesday and see someone on eBay or Craigslist selling “Hamilton” tickets, say on Thursday, with a promise to put them in your hands as fast as you can pay, don’t fall for it. They’re fake.
Here’s another tip: If you score tickets and are hoping to make a quick buck off of them, by all means, feel free to make one. Or even 10. But don’t try to sell them for more than $10 over face value. That would violate Blumenthal’s resale policy, which has been in place for more than half a dozen years. It’s pretty simple:
By buying tickets, purchasers enter into an agreement that they cannot resell a seat for more than $10 above the face value, plus the taxes and fees.
The absolute most you should pay, then, is $444.50 plus whatever the taxes and fees are, since a select number of “premium” seats — located in the prime orchestra section — will be sold for each performance at a face value of $434.50 each. That’s still a relative bargain: In New York, for context, the top price for a “premium” ticket to “Hamilton” can be upwards of $1,000.
Blumenthal reserves the right to void tickets that violate its resale policy, and routinely has exercised that right.
Since you won’t find out the tickets have been voided until you show up for the performance and have them scanned, this makes paying for marked-up tickets — whether through private individuals or online brokers — an awfully big risk.
One more thing, of course: Wednesday’s developments don’t mean you’re definitely going to miss out on “Hamilton.” You’ll just have to be persistent. And/or lucky.
First: It’s not a particularly elegant strategy, but just bookmark www.blumenthalarts.org/events/detail/hamilton and monitor it periodically through August and September. As the show cancels purchases made by suspicious buyers, those tickets will be released back into the fold.
On top of that, as has happened in every city on the tour, there will be a free lottery held before each performance, putting 40 $10 tickets up for grabs. Though specific details aren’t yet available, Gabbard said the Blumenthal plans to follow the model used by other cities: Enter two days before the show date, via a special app, one entry per person, and if your name is drawn, you can buy as many as two tickets for $10 each.
“So at the very least, there are the 40 seats at every performance that are on the lottery — that’s a significant number of seats,” Gabbard said last week. “And keep checking (the website). Really, up until the last couple of hours, there will be some seats that become available. ... I just want to encourage people to not give up hope.”
Staff writer Adam Bell contributed to this story