CINCINNATI — Apparently, some things meant to be free can come with a price.
Within minutes of their availability online Monday morning, tickets to the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra's free LumenoCity concerts, Aug. 1-3, could be found on eBay, listed for as much as $100 apiece.
The quick grab of tickets and their appearance for sale online prompted an avalanche of comments on the orchestra's Facebook page from people who were shut out Monday. It also led Cincinnati Vice-Mayor David Mann to introduce a motion at Wednesday's city council meeting asking the city to investigate how tickets were distributed.
"Maybe there needs to be a better way to distribute the tickets," Mann told WCPO. "In all cases we don't want people selling something that's free that has to do with an event on public property."
Mann said he was able to reserve tickets early because he is an CSO subscriber.
Mann's motion read as follows:
We move that the Administration investigate the offering of free Lumenocity tickets to the public on June 9th, 2014, and report back to Council, including on any problems that occurred, illegal buying or selling of “free” tickets, and provide recommendations on how best to ensure all members of the public – including all neighborhoods and income ranges – have an opportunity to avail themselves of any opportunities to get tickets to this extraordinary performance in the future.
Mann said he was glad to hear the city and LumenoCity organizers might simulcast the event on the Fountain Square video board.
LumenoCity pairs the symphony in Washington Park against the backdrop of a computerized light show on the facade of Music Hall. At its premiere over two nights in summer 2013, the light-and-sound extravaganza drew about 35,000—more than triple what organizers had anticipated.
In bringing back LumenoCity this summer, vice president of communications Chris Pinelo said orchestra officials wanted to control the number of people who could enter the park to better ensure sightlines and safety. Organizers expanded LumenoCity to three nights, offering 12,500 tickets for each.
Distribution for those tickets began 8 a.m. Monday through lumenocity2014.com, in partnership with Ticketmaster, which waived all fees for these tickets, and also through a number of Cincinnati and Hamilton County libraries. The orchestra also partnered with service organizations and charities to distribute tickets to underprivileged families and those without Internet access.
Orchestra subscribers and those who had purchased tickets to concerts during the 2013-14 season had opportunities in advance of Monday to reserve tickets to LumenoCity. The orchestra wouldn't release specific breakdowns on Monday of the number of tickets distributed online, the number that went to libraries and nonprofit groups for redistribution or the number committed in advance to orchestra subscribers and others who had supported or purchased tickets to the symphony last season.
People could reserve up to four tickets, and all available for reservation Monday morning were gone within 12 minutes, Pinelo said. No physical tickets actually become available to those who secured them online until the end of this month, when a link through email will allow printing from home. That didn't stop some who managed to reserve some offer theirs up for sale within minutes.
Scam tickets from scalpers are already showing up online at sites such as eBay and Craigslist for the 2014 LumenoCity show at Washington Park. WCPO
"I really thought it was a shame," Pinelo said of the eBay listings.
"In the spirit of LumenoCity, this fantastic community event, I would expect that if (people) bought four and only need two, that (they) not put them on eBay but give them to a friend or invite a neighbor—invite someone to experience this with you," he said.
The orchestra has worked with eBay to remove LumenoCity listings and with Ticketmaster to ensure tickets don't wind up on their official secondary markets, Pinelo said. Still, at mid-afternoon Monday, sellers on eBay were seeing action on their listings. One listing had attracted nearly 40 bids by 3 p.m. for a pair of tickets. In the listing, expiring at 9 p.m. Monday, the seller claimed tickets were "in hand." While tickets reserved online won't be available to print for at least another week, the libraries and service organizations distributed actual tickets.
There's little the orchestra can do to stop people "who know how to game the system," Pinelo said.
"Do I think some tickets for LumenoCity will be sold by individuals? Yeah, I do. We ultimately can’t control what these entitites do," he said. "We have a popular event, an extraordinary event that was at capacity in 12 minutes. I can’t name another orchestra doing this. It's pretty unique and pretty awesome, but sometimes there are side effects."
Beginning at 8:30 p.m. each evening of LumenoCity, John Morris Russell will conduct the orchestra as the Cincinnati Pops. A short intermission leads into the LumenoCity light show, with music director Louis Langrée guiding the orchestra through a program featuring Copland’s "Fanfare for the Common Man," John Adams' "Short Ride in a Fast Machine," the fourth movement from Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony, Elgar’s “Nimrod” from Enigma Variations and Borodin’s “Polovtsian Dances” from Prince Igor. Dancers from the Cincinnati Ballet are also sharing the spotlight.
Those with or without tickets can take part earlier each day of LumenoCity in the new, non-ticketed LumenoCity Village, at the south end of the park. It opens to the public at 4 p.m. Aug. 1 and at 11 a.m. on Aug. 2 and 3. The village will feature pre-concert performances in Washington Park’s bandstand, arts and crafts and expanded food and beverage options.