Auditor raises questions about Blaisdell’s box office procedures for hottest shows

The Blaisdell Arena remains shut down despite Oahu's economy reopening.
The Blaisdell Arena remains shut down despite Oahu's economy reopening.(Hawaii News Now/file)
Updated: Nov. 6, 2020 at 3:35 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - An audit of the Blaisdell Arena’s standard box office procedures concludes the city generally does a poor job of making sure local residents have access to ticket sales for concerts and other high-interest events at the facility.

The findings, published Friday by the city auditor, found numerous issues with the Blaisdell’s ticket sale policies ― or lack thereof ― set in place by the city Department of Enterprise Services.

Contrary to popular perception, according to the audit, ticket-buying bots and bulk online sales did not appear to “have a significant impact on local ticket sales and availability.”

Instead, the arena’s ticket policies, as well as the lack of state or local guidelines to address ticket sale availability, are primarily to blame, the audit concludes.

That combination, according to the audit, has crippled the ability for residents to attend events at the taxpayer-funded city complex.

“(Department of Enterprise Services) management practices fail to utilize the resources that it has to promote local accessibility for high profile performances,” a portion of the audit reads. “We found that the city does not utilize its ability to advertise and promote sales to local residents.”

In its response to the audit, the city said it concurs with the report’s overall findings but believes its ticket sales operations is performing successfully “with the vast majority of Hawaii’s residents being provided the opportunity to purchase tickets to the most popular shows.”

However, the city auditor found that on average half of the available seats for major concerts held at the Blaisdell between 2015 and 2019 were spoken for before tickets ever went on sale to the public.

For the 2017 concert held by Mariah Carey, presale tickets and insider holds ― tickets set aside for artists, promoters and sponsors, for example ― accounted for 93% of the total seating availability, leaving just 7% of seats available for general public sale, the auditor concluded.

However, promoter Rick Bartalini disputes the finding.

Bartalini, who was behind the Mariah Carey show, said the 93% are the tickets held for locals by limiting sales to zip codes.

“It’s called geo-limiting and so what we do, people that have a Hawaii zip code type in their credit card or shown ID at the box office to buy their tickets in advance,” he said.

The city’s contract with Ticketmaster limits promotional sales to no more than 8% of total availability, and the city also has a policy that’s intended to limit complimentary ticket holds to 5% of total availability.

Auditors note that there aren’t any restrictions on the number of tickets that can be sold during presale promotions, but the combination of those promotions and other holds has clearly prevented accessibility to certain shows.

The audit also highlighted several issues that, when remedied, could make it easier for local residents to access tickets:

  • The arena “does not effectively track or monitor ticket sales and promotions."
  • The city “does not utilize its ability to advertise and promote sales to local residents. City charter authorizes DES to enter into copromotional agreements with promoters, but has not exercised this option.”
  • The Department of Enterprise Services “does not effectively enforce geo limiting or other controls designed to prioritize local ticket access.” Geo limiting is a process that limits sales to certain geographical areas.

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