When United Concerts announced last week that Elton John was coming to town, it was old news to me - but still big news.
I found out a few weeks earlier, thanks to the Internet, that the piano-playing legend had scheduled an Aug. 11 stop at the Delta Center. Concerts are big entertainment to me, and an Elton concert is even bigger entertainment.The Jazz play 41 times a year at the Delta Center. A big-name performer, like Elton, only comes to town a few times a decade or once in a lifetime. So I watch the Internet regularly to see when that time will be.
I've learned through experience that a good concert seat doesn't come easy. Scalpers get most of the good seats. So the regular fan has to learn the ticket game, or be willing to pay the scalpers big bucks. And I don't have big bucks. Or at least enough to support my concert habit. So it's the ticket game for me.
Once I saw Elton's name pop up on my computer screen, I began doing my homework, checking with sources and bugging workers at Smith'sTix. With the concert scheduled for Aug. 11, I calculated that July 7 was the day when Smith'sTix would begin handing out wristbands, the funny looking bracelet that co-workers ask you about that secures you a spot in the ticket-buying line.
Wristbands were implemented about eight years ago when Smith'sTix and DataTix joined up to be Utah's main ticket provider. Most tickets are sold at Smith'sTix and the sales are coordinated through DataTix.
Cora Henry, president of DataTix, said the main philosophy behind wristbands is crowd control. Instead of hanging out all night to get a spot in the ticket line, fans can stop at a ticket outlet and get a numbered wristband that reserves them a place in line a few days later.
Wristbands are needed. In October 1975, when Elton first came to Salt Lake, I was one of several hundred fans who slept on a University of Utah lawn for two nights to get tickets. I suffered cracked ribs when the line broke. I also once slept overnight on a Provo sidewalk for Peter Frampton tickets.
Henry says the overnight ticket lines caused big problems. People were arguing, fighting and committing lewd acts.
"We needed to do something to control those social problems," she said.
The lines were also causing problems for the businesses where tickets were sold.
"You have to remember that the main reason Smith's is in business is to sell groceries," Henry said. "We don't want people wading through a crowd to buy a loaf of bread."
On Tuesday I was ready to fight the scalpers, figuring I'd head over to Smith's after work and hang around for a bit. Early that morning I was tipped off that wristbands were going out at 10 a.m., instead of the normal afternoon time. I slipped out of the office and headed up to the Smith's near 900 East.
I got there a few minutes early and no one else was there. No scalpers, not one. Seldom can a regular fan beat a ticket broker in the ticket game, but I had. I would be getting wristband No. 1. I would be buying seats close enough to see through the gap in Elton's teeth. Or so I thought.
As the clerk wrapped the wristband around my arm, my smile of victory quickly disappeared. The promoters had switched to a random draw. They'd draw a number from one to 100 on Saturday morning and that is the wristband holder who would get first pick. Then they'd sell tickets in order from that point.
My wristband No. 1 was no better than wristband No. 99. No wonder there were no scalpers around. DataTix and the promoter had devised a method that took the advantage away from scalpers. But it also took away my advantage. The casual fan had just as much chance at the front row seats as me, the devoted fan.
Henry says DataTix and tour managers decided they had to do something to return the best seats to the average fans.
"Somehow the scalpers always knew when those wristbands went out and they were getting all the good seats. The tour managers wanted the true fans to get those seats," Henry said.
And the scalpers are baffled. One ticket broker was the first to show up at a Smith's in Provo Tuesday to get a wristband, but stepped aside and let a regular fan have the wristband when he learned it was a random draw.
"There's no way around this," he said. "Nothing we can do about it."
But Henry and concert promoters know the scalpers will still find a way to get some good seats, they always do. They'll hit the phone lines heavy or pressure those at the front of the ticket-buying lines. It's just a matter of time until they do the math and figure some way around the random draw dilemma.
Kinda like I did. A 10 percent chance of being one of the first 10 to buy tickets wasn't good enough for me. I got six friends and family members to get wristbands also. We spaced them about 15 numbers apart. When they announced that wristband No. 24 would buy first Saturday morning, we had No. 38. Because of some no-shows, we ended up being the seventh to buy tickets. No front row seats, but good seats.
The random draw is probably the ticket selling method of the future. But I can see the day coming when they'll call out numbers like a bingo game.
Myself, I favor the Garth Brooks solution. Performers just need to schedule more shows - stay in our nice little town just a little bit longer.