Going to a Concert Disabled: Part 1, Fighting for Tickets

The purple ocean of glowing light sticks at SoFi Stadium, with lights spelling out BTS and ARMY.

This is Part 1 of this series of the horrors I experienced while dealing with ableist systems built around concert-going.

Content Warning: if you are experiencing any lingering trauma response to this whole ticket buying experience, especially as a disabled concert-goer, proceed with caution.

My credentials, before this becomes a question: I am a 30-something year old (closer to 40 than 30) queer white woman who identifies as disabled and ARMY. More importantly, I am a professor at University of California Santa Cruz and I have a PhD in human-computer interaction where I spend my time researching online communities and navigating ableist socio-technical systems, with a particular expertise in disability and accessibility. I am a disability advocate and activist.

When the BTS concert tickets for their 4-day Permission to Dance show in LA went on sale on Ticketmaster, I knew it was going to be bad. My friends online had mentally prepared me for ticket scarcity. After all, this was after a canceled world tour and an exponential growth of the fandom.

We were all prepared for a war in terms of queueing for tickets and fighting for any kind of seat in that stadium. We were notified of the waves of ticket sales throughout the week. Ticket holders of the world tour would get first dibs at seats. Then ARMY who were members of Weverse. Then Ticketmaster’s “verified fans” would get a shot. Finally, it would open up to general sales.

Of course, tickets never made it to general sales.

We were prepared. I was fully at peace about the fact that I probably wouldn’t get tickets. I would have a shot on the Weverse day or maybe the verified fan day (turns out, I was waitlisted for the latter).

Ticketmaster was not prepared. (This will be a recurring theme in these blog posts.) Ticketmaster knew we were coming. It’s not like we’re hard to spot on social media or that we hadn’t been extremely loud about our hype for this concert. And yet… Ticketmaster failed on every level.

I spent four hours in waiting queues and frantically trying to secure something, anything during my presale day. There were so many bugs and errors — kicking randomly kicked from the queue, things timing out immediately, not processing my credit card and losing seats, over and over. It was a mess. Ticket buyers had to move very quickly because there was no time to think. No contemplating seat arrangements. No pondering prices or angles or levels. Just hit “best available” and go.

Through collaborating with a friend, we did manage to get some tickets for Day 2. Later, we were actually able to find open seats lower down in the stadium. This was only because I spent another 2 hours trying to fight the bugs and errors that evening.

If only I had known this was only the beginning of my disappointment and protracted battle with the Ticketmaster system.

For those who don’t know, I run the Disabled Army Advocacy & Support Network on Twitter, where I thought I was running an account to help connect disabled ARMY and to educate folks on disability rights issues. Little did I know how Ticketmaster was going to add a whole new layer to my work.

It became apparent fairly quickly that Ticketmaster had somehow messed up disability seating for the concert. They didn’t make it super obvious how to get accessible seating and the entire ticket buying process was almost entirely inaccessible anyway.

While ticket sales were still going on, I was looking up ADA laws (American’s with Disabilities Act, which prescribes how different venues and businesses are required to provide accommodations and access to disabled individuals) in order to understand if and how the ticket sales were (not) compliant.

By October 7, while ticket sales were still taking place through the presales, I was getting my first reports of concert-goers accidentally buying ADA tickets. I was trying to discern who had just accidentally pushed through buying a ticket without thinking and what was actually Ticketmaster’s fault at this point. I was getting conflicting information for those trying to purchase seats. Scalpers were already putting overpriced ADA tickets up for sale at this point, even though third-party ticket sales and transfers were not open yet.

When October 8th rolled around, it was becoming abundantly clear to me that Ticketmaster’s terrible user interface was causing a lot of people to buy ADA tickets accidentally. I was getting tweets of people needing to trade or resell because they were not disabled. I was getting multiple DMs from worried buyers that they had gotten tickets they wouldn’t be allowed to use.

Simultaneously, I was getting messages from disabled ARMY who weren’t able to get tickets because they needed one of the scant ADA seats. Many had tried to get tickets only to get errors or for them to run out almost immediately. Others could not even purchase because the website and app where ticket buying takes places is inaccessible. Still others didn’t even bother trying, knowing trying to attend a concert with a disability was going to be a nightmare from start to finish (they weren’t wrong).

At some point, I came to realize many more people didn’t even realize they had bought ADA seating. Tickets were simply marked with a “WC” near the seat number. “WC” here, apparently, means wheelchair. The deep irony of the fact that more than wheelchair users need accessible seats is not lost on me. I started making tweets to clarify that people should check their tickets to make sure they hadn’t accidentally purchased a WC ticket without knowing it. I was still getting messages all the way up until the concert of people realizing late they had bought an ADA ticket.

By the end of the week, October 9th (when general sales would have opened if there had been any tickets left), I was broken inside. I was fielding message after message by upset people. ARMY are the kindest people you can meet. I was getting messages from people horrified they had accidentally taken away a seat from a disabled ARMY. I posted the tweet below, emotionally wrecked, physically exhausted.

I had people telling me I shouldn’t believe people bought the tickets accidentally, that I was spreading false rumors. Legitimately, I’m sure people were worried about being scammed. But this was a lot of people. Then a video surfaced of someone who was just recording their ticket buying experience. You can see where the Ticketmaster website swaps out the seats they had put in their cart for a WC seat.

I help facilitate sales and trades between disabled and non-disabled ARMY all the way up until the concert. I received private messages from approximately 200 different individuals. I was tagged and retweeted countless other posts about ticket sales.

I also spent a great deal of extra time educating non-disabled people about what the ADA is, why there needs to be accessible seating, and let them down gently that they really should make their tickets available to those that really need them. I was the bearer of really bad news over and over.

I can’t even begin to calculate the hours I spent doing this labor. This was on top of my regular full time job. I am not posting this because I am looking for praise or even acknowledgment of my labor. I was happy to do it. Well, not exactly happy, but I don’t mind doing this work.

I want their to be a record of what happened here. I don’t want people’s pain and heartbreak to be swept under the rug.

At the time this was all happening, I begged news sites and reporters to take notice. But disability isn’t sexy. It doesn’t sell clicks. However, to get no news at all over the entire ticket sales debacle was even more disheartening. Now today, to see it being reported for a different artist and a different concert, I feel a bit broken. We are disabled and we are fans of Korean musicians. Not only is the system already rigged against us, but no one cares. We can speak rationally and succinctly on social media all we like, but we will continue to be dismissed. (That’s what oppression looks like, folks.)

The onus for this horrendous experience for everyone is squarely on Ticketmaster. They hold the monopoly in the United States for ticket sales at concerts such as this one. I’m sure if BTS knew of these challenges we’ve had, they would be heartbroken. And honestly, that just makes my anger over this whole thing that much worse.

Sorry this article doesn’t have a nice conclusion to it. The issues with Ticketmaster are ongoing and not likely to be solved anytime soon. I continue to collect evidence of wrong-doing, as well as do more longer term research on these systems as an academic. It’s hard and I’m tired. Once I get this blog series written, I plan on taking a nice long holiday, as much as I can anyway.

Read Part 2 here:

If you’re looking for happier articles, might I suggest my concert review or some of my other fun write-ups?

This article was brought to you by Girl Of My Dreams by JuiceWrld with SUGA of BTS.

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