Tonight You Won't See Miss Saigon
Since the dawn of the internet, the online ticketing industry has embraced the new technology to embrace ticket purchases for events around the globe – be it theatre, music, comedy or cinema, figures show that most people choose to book online. In fact, in many instances venues now advise their customers to book online, with some getting rid of telephone lines completely – assuming that everyone has access to the internet as well as a strong secure connection.
Gone (almost) are the days of camping outside venues in order to be first in line to see a popular event, and with it gone is the collective spirit of fans coming together and counting the long lines as part of the ‘experience’. Of course there are many instances where this happens – the West End has now thoroughly embraced the American idea of Day Seating, Rush tickets and lotteries, and it’s fantastic to see these methods providing an accessible (and more often than not affordable) way to see sold out premium events.
With the accessibility, ease and comfort of online ticket purchasing, high profile events are now easier to arrange and manage, giving people from all around the world an equal chance in fighting to grab a limited number of tickets, logging onto websites hours in advance with fingers hovered firmly over the ‘refresh’ button.
Whilst this is by no means new for lovers of pop music, festivals such as Glastonbury handle this method successfully each year, it is something that theatres are finding much more common. Already this year, demand for high profile events such as The Young Vic’s production of ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ saw online queues in their thousands when the final batch of tickets was released, with eager fans strapped to their computers anxiously battling through the server to get a place in the automated line. This was repeated (with greater impact) just a few weeks ago as The Barbican released tickets online for the upcoming production of Hamlet starring Benedict Cumberbatch, which became one of the fastest selling theatrical events of all time. Reports of people logging on at 10 am to be placed 30,000 in the virtual line went viral on social media, all adding to the buzz about the production, feeding into the demand and only increasing the weight on the already sagging servers.
In both cases however the ticket providers were helpful and technically competent enough to handle the increase in demand. The same can’t be said of Delfont Mackintosh, who this week gave a lesson in how not to handle a special event as their website thoroughly failed to handle the demand for tickets to the Miss Saigon 25th Anniversary performance on 22nd September.
The main pull to audiences was the advertised 1989 ticket prices, which ranged from £13.50 to £22.50. Fans of the show were eager to snap up a bargain, especially since the 2014 production currently retails at £99.75 for top price ‘premium’ tickets, to £22.25 for a ‘very restricted view’. According to the inflation calculator which suggests that the top price ticket of 1989 is now worth around £52.60, it was clear to everyone that this was in fact an enormous bargain, on top of being a celebratory ‘gala’ performance.
After fans signed up for ‘priority booking’ which would allow them to book online from 10am rather than the usual 12 noon, it was clear at 10.01am that there was a problem. People refreshing the page frantically saw that nothing was changing – it took until 10.30am for tickets to actually go on sale and for the elusive ‘book tickets’ button to appear. Whilst many celebrated getting to this stage, it was all in vein as the ticket system, and whole Delfont Mackintosh website crashed.
To say fans were angry is a gross understatement. As people quickly began to realise their American Dream was no more real than that of the greasy Engineer, tempers frayed and comments started appearing on the show’s official Facebook page:
“My hour long wait on my phone bill has made the call more expensive than the ticket!”
“WHAT A COMPLETE & UTTER WASTE OF TIME, got my seats & proceeded & then guess what appears SERVER UNAVAILABLE!!!!!!!! & now the WHOLE WEBSITE IS DOWN!!!!!!! RIDICULOUS”
In scenes reminiscent of Secret Cinema’s recent PR disaster, the Miss Saigon team took a long time to respond to the frustrated fans comments, simply saying that tickets were now sold out after incredible demand. Once again, fans were unhappy:
“If the performance was sold out in minutes, why has it taken 3 hours to get this post up and leaving people chasing non-existent tickets online and by phone?”
Delfont Mackintosh were quick to turn the negative into a positive releasing a statement that “Over 18,000 people tried to buy tickets when booking opened at 10.00am. This is an unprecedented amount of people wanting to book tickets for a single performance in a theatre that has a seating capacity of just over 1700.”
The lack of information as well as the obvious technical flaws in the system were embarrassing for the production, especially since other companies have shown already this year exactly how to deal with increased demand successfully. It would be interesting to know just how many of those 1700 tickets were actually on sale, and how many were reserved for celebrities and other insiders, rather than the fans to which the show ultimately owes its success to.
Special events in theatre are fantastic for audiences and the industry as a whole. There will always be more demand than supply in these cases, and people will always be disappointed. What rubs salt in the wounds for many however is when the internet fails, and excitement quickly turns to anger and frustration, which in turn can turn a special event rancid quicker than you can sneeze.
As for those who didn’t get tickets? May I recommend a wonderful musical also set in the Vietnam War – Dogfight at the Southwark Playhouse. Prices for this are around £20 at 2014 prices. And you won’t need to press ‘refresh’ once.