Your ‘Hamilton’ tickets might need to be paperless, Blumenthal says, to avoid scams

Your ‘Hamilton’ tickets might need to be paperless, Blumenthal says, to avoid scams

CHARLOTTE, NC (Théoden Janes/The Charlotte Observer) - When tickets for the national tour of "Hamilton" finally go on sale in Charlotte, you'll probably be able to find plenty of them online – for hundreds, even a thousand, dollars above face value. But Blumenthal Performing Arts is warning theater-goers early:

Don't buy them.

For one, they could be fake. And even if they're real, they might be rendered worthless.

That's because, as part of its ongoing efforts to thwart scalpers, Blumenthal has been stepping up enforcement of its policy prohibiting anyone from reselling a ticket for more than $10 above face value.

One of the biggest problems faced by Blumenthal – and every owner of a venue that hosts popular concerts and other live events – is brokers who use computer programs called bots to gobble up large quantities of tickets, then offer them for inflated prices.

Technically, these practices are illegal; in 2016, former president Barack Obama signed into law the Better Online Ticket Sales Act, which made it illegal to bypass a ticket seller's security measures against bots. However, as with stealing music (back when that was a thing) or pirating movies, it's a crime that can be difficult to enforce and prosecute because the ones pulling the strings can be tough to track down.

So tickets to the most buzzworthy shows still often sell out within minutes, with the lion's share of them going to bot-using resellers who quickly put them on sites like Stubhub. For example, at the time of this writing, Stubhub had a pair of orchestra seats to "The Daily Show" host Trevor Noah's sold-out show at Belk Theater on Feb. 24 for nearly $350 a pop; face value on those tickets is $75 each.

This violates Blumenthal's resale policy, which has been in place for more than half a dozen years, and is 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. Blumenthal reserves the right to void tickets that violate this policy.

And of late, Blumenthal president Tom Gabbard says, his staff has taken extraordinary steps to exercise this right.

"We actually scrub our database every day looking for transactions that look suspicious," he says, and "we've actually begun to buy tickets from some of these sites, so that we can find out the exact location (of the seat) and then void the ticket."

Once the ticket has been voided, Blumenthal's staff contacts its credit card company, reports that it has purchased something that has no value, and gets the credit card company to issue a refund.

(In some cases, they're not going quite that far. If staffers can easily determine the seat location of a marked-up ticket, and can easily determine a sale has gone through, they simply void the ticket.)

"It's a lot of effort ... but we're serious-minded about wanting to preserve those affordable tickets, and that's why we'll go to that extra effort to do that," Gabbard says.

So if you go through a broker, and you pay a lot more than face value, he says, you could show up on the night of the performance and find your ticket isn't usable.

"Hamilton" creates a unique challenge for Blumenthal. It's the the hottest Broadway show of the last decade, and it's now making the rounds on a national tour that is generating an insane level of interest.

In an effort to stamp out scalping, Gabbard says Blumenthal is considering for "Hamilton" the implementation of paperless ticketing. That would require anyone who buys a seat to present the credit card used for the purchase, plus a matching government-issued I.D., before taking their seat on the night of the performance.

This would follow a growing trend in dealing with the hottest of hot tickets in an industry tainted by years of profiteering by ticket brokers.

When the London production of "Hamilton" goes on sale next week, for instance, physical tickets will not be issued in favor of a paperless system. Taylor Swift's 2018 tour dates also are largely set up so that seats are tied to the purchaser's credit card and I.D.

Such policies make it nearly impossible for resellers to do what they normally do. But there are certainly drawbacks for consumers, as well. How would someone buy a ticket for a loved one as a gift? What if something comes up and you can't attend?

To be clear, an official decision has not yet been made about paperless ticketing for the Charlotte run of "Hamilton." Blumenthal's Gabbard simply says "we are investigating that."

They're also considering waiting until the second half of the summer to put "Hamilton" tickets on sale. Belk Theater will host 32 performances of the show between Oct. 10 and Nov. 4.

"When the tickets go on sale a relatively short period before," Gabbard says, "that can help tamp down the broker activity, because there's just not enough time for people to buy and sell." (Tickets to "Hamilton" in Denver – Feb. 27-April 1 – will not go on sale until Jan. 22, he said, and he and his staff will closely monitor how that goes.)

In the meantime, Blumenthal has launched a campaign to help theater- and concert-goers buy tickets wisely. This month, the organization posted a PSA-style video on its website that sums up its recommendations, along with an FAQ that covers its policies and practices in exhaustive detail.

Here's the video:

And here are highlights from the FAQ:

Q. What are the safe and official places to get tickets to Blumenthal events?

A. The only official web sites to order tickets to events at Blumenthal are www.blumenthalarts.org and www.carolinatix.org. For its events at Ovens Auditorium, www.ticketmaster.com. If you purchase on other web sites, you should worry about being ripped off with higher prices and fraudulent tickets. Blumenthal does not cooperate or partner with any ticket reseller or web site.

Q. Why does using an official ticketing site matter?

A. Ticket brokers are trying to get you to pay more for your tickets for their profit. They use images of Blumenthal venues, its shows and use names to look official. They are not. Look carefully at the fine print and you'll see that most don't actually have tickets in hand. They are advertising to find prospects who are willing to pay inflated prices if they are somehow able to procure them. By using Blumenthal's official ticketing sites, you will find the best seats at the face value price.

Q. Why can I purchase tickets for a show like "Hamilton" on resale sites when it's not on sale yet at www.blumenthalarts.org?

A. You can't. The tickets don't exist. Anyone selling events not yet on public sale don't have tickets and may never have them. They are looking for prospects to sell to if they somehow are able to get hold of tickets. You will pay upfront but have no guarantee your order will be filled. The tickets may be voided if they are priced at more than $10 plus taxes/fees above the original price. Be wary if you see no exact seat location listed on resale sites. That is a clue that the reseller does not have actual tickets in their possession and may never fulfill your order.

Q. What if I can't make an event and want to resell my tickets for a Blumenthal show?

A. Season ticketholders are able to switch to another performance of the same show, and may be able to swap to an entirely different show. Blumenthal's resale policy allows you to resell your seat(s) for no more than $10 above the face value plus the taxes and fees. It also encourages you to call 704-372-1000 or email tickets@ncbpac.org prior to reselling your seats. Staff will attempt to work with you to move you to another performance or event and eliminate the hassle of reselling.

"Fundamentally, we're all concerned about affordability," Gabbard says. "If the brokers go online and buy these things ... and then are reselling them for five and six times what they paid for them, then all of a sudden our affordability just evaporates.

"What I use as a rule of thumb in looking at pricing is this: Can a teacher afford our tickets? That's where this whole thing has gotten really disconcerting, because now that these tickets for everything are popping up online, they're at these astronomical prices that a teacher or middle-class person could never afford. And none of that extra money comes back to us or the artist. It's all going to these profiteers."