Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2008

Teen says ‘Hannah Montana’ ticket system unfair

Youth leads small protest outside arena, says brokers get advantage

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Photo courtesy of Maribel Torres-Pinero
Holding a sign that reads, ‘‘I’m too poor to be a Hannah fan,” Layhill resident Julie Pinero, 15, led a small demonstration outside the Miley Cyrus⁄Hannah Montana concert Monday night at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C., to protest limited access to face-value tickets.
While thousands of other teens were inside the Verizon Center for Monday night’s Hannah Montana concert, Julie Pinero was outside the Washington, D.C., venue making some noise of her own.

The 15-year-old Layhill resident, a fan of the popular teen singer and actor Miley Cyrus, known on her Disney television show as Hannah Montana, led a peaceful demonstration with about a dozen other teens outside the arena.

Pinero wants to draw attention to what she and many other fans are calling an unfair ticket sale system that limits consumer access to tickets through TicketMaster.com and results in high ticket prices that make it next to impossible for teenage fans to see their favorite performers in concert.

‘‘I want to see people get involved,” said Pinero, a sophomore at National Cathedral School, a private day school for girls located in the District. ‘‘This is the first step and hopefully it will get bigger and make a difference in the law.”

Pinero’s protest follows a wave of similar complaints and lawsuits associated with ticket sales for other Hannah Montana concerts across the country since the three-month, 69-date Hannah Montana⁄Miley Cyrus ‘‘Best of Both Worlds” tour began in mid October.

Pinero objects to software technology that she says has allowed ticket agents and brokers to circumvent the online ticket-buying process by electronically cutting in front of fans who log onto TicketMaster.com to purchase tickets as soon as they go on sale.

And she says TicketExchange, an online service offered by TicketMaster intended to allow people to resell their unused tickets for a fee, is also used by scalpers who take advantage of consumers who were unable to buy the tickets at face value on the regular TicketMaster Web site.

‘‘I really want legislators to get involved and realize it’s a problem and do something about it,” she said Friday.

Pinero began formulating plans for the protest after trying to buy tickets to the concert in September. She had logged onto TicketMaster just before tickets went on sale and planned to buy four, the maximum number allowed on TicketMaster. The top face-value price was $63.

‘‘But in the first minute, they were gone,” she said.

She then started researching what has unfolded across the nation as a ticket controversy. She learned about a parent’s class-action lawsuit in New Jersey against a fan club that allegedly provides better ticket access and the Missouri attorney general who sued three ticket brokers in October.

She also read that a federal judge in Los Angeles, acting on a preliminary injunction requested by TicketMaster.com, ordered a Pennsylvania company to ‘‘stop creating, trafficking in or facilitating the use of computer programs” that allow ticket agents and brokers unfair advantage in purchasing tickets ahead of regular consumers.

A spokeswoman for TicketMaster in California declined comment regarding the protest and the lawsuit.

Through these computer programs, Pinero said agents and brokers buy all the tickets and the concerts sell out within minutes. Brokers then resell the tickets for hundreds, sometimes thousands, of dollars — well beyond the financial means of young fans and their parents.

Tickets available through online sellers Friday ranged from $199 for one and $635 for two tickets to the Washington, D.C., concert, and $315 to $1,177 for Tuesday night’s show in Baltimore.

‘‘Parents are willing to pay higher prices for their kids to go,” Pinero said Friday. She began talking about the issue with her parents and at school.

‘‘She asked what she could do and we said, ‘You can write letters and get in touch with legislators to see if they’ll sponsor a bill, or protest,” said her mother, Maribel Torres Pinero. ‘‘Me and my husband never protested but it really interested her.”

Julie Pinero approached David Sahr, a civics and government teacher at National Cathedral School. ‘‘I think she was nervous about what to do, but she also realized that if she didn’t do anything, nothing would be said and nothing would be done,” Sahr said.

With Sahr’s help, Julie Pinero applied for a permit to protest and through Facebook.com and flyers at school, she organized students and fans to join her Monday night. She put the word out to local media.

‘‘It went really well,” Pinero said Tuesday morning. ‘‘We had a lot of parents who said, ‘Yeah, we’re with you. We spent a lot of money.’ ... But I didn’t have as much support as I expected. I expected people to be enraged.”

While the Montgomery County Office of Consumer Protection and the D.C. Office of Consumer Protection in the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs say they’re aware of the issues Pinero is raising, they have not heard from anyone.

‘‘While we haven’t received any complaints, we believe it is unfair if some business or entity or person is buying [tickets] up and denying a consumer access,” said Ralph Vines, an administrator with Montgomery’s Office of Consumer Protection. ‘‘Laws are usually a few steps behind technology. This is something legislators might look at for futureproblems.”