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All dressed up and nowhere to go: The date night that Ticketmaster messed up

By Allison Brennan, CNN
updated 11:56 AM EST, Wed January 9, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Ticketmaster was supposed to distribute tickets to the Inaugural balls and parade
  • They mistakenly released the tickets early, and they were sold out when most of the public went looking for them
  • Thousands were shut out, upset at the snafu
  • The Presidential Inaugural Committee said no more tickets are available

Washington (CNN) -- Sharon Ilstrup was looking forward to a very special date night with her husband, Blake -- a chance to attend one of the Inaugural balls with the president and the first lady.

But a mistake by Ticketmaster -- the online sales agent tasked with managing the ticketing process -- led to the early release of all of the tickets to the Inaugural balls and the Inaugural parade, derailing the plans for Ilstrup and thousands of other couples.

"[We] just very excited about the possibility of going to the official Inaugural ball," said Ilstrup, 48, whose family of four is traveling across the country from Seattle to Washington for President Barack Obama's second Inauguration. "We were planning to rent a tux and gown."

It started on Sunday when Ilstrup received an e-mail from Juliana Smoot, the co-chair of the 2013 Presidential Inaugural Committee. The e-mail said that tickets with a unique link would be sent out the next day with access information to purchase the $60-a-piece tickets Inaugural ball tickets on a first-come, first-serve basis. The login allowed people to purchase tickets to the parade as well.

"I was all ready," Ilstrup said, "I was going to stay home [the next day]. ... I would just get on the computer and jump on it."

So when she saw another e-mail come in later that day explaining that tickets were available, she didn't think much of it.

But Ilstrup checked the e-mail later and realized that it contained a password and link to purchase the Inaugural ball tickets.

"I tried the Ticketmaster link on Sunday and got an error message. When I finally got in, it showed that both the parade and ball were sold out. Then it showed just the ball. Then just the parade."

"It was as if the [Presidential Inaugural Committee] was online scrambling to fix the issue. I tried again later and was blocked. My code and password no longer worked," she explained.

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A third e-mail, this time from Ticketmaster, sent out later Sunday night explained the mix-up:

"Public tickets to these events were originally scheduled to go on sale tomorrow morning -- you received the e-mail tonight in error, and Ticketmaster takes responsibility for this mistake," the message said.

Ilstrup wasn't the only person upset by the glitch.

The Presidential Inaugural Committee Facebook page was lit up by people upset, angry and confused. Some even thought it was a conspiracy to get tickets to a select group of attendees.

"Agree that [Ticketmaster] and [Presidential Inaugural Committee] certainly knew. It seems likely that such a sophomoric 'mistake' was planned by someone and those tickets will be seen on the black market soon," Kathleen Falconer-Finnegan wrote on the Presidential Inaugural Committee's Facebook page. "I think that the PIC and TM should cancel all tickets sold before the scheduled time and start over. This is the only honest thing to do and certainly possible given the event is more than 2 weeks away..."

"Kimberly W" from Atlanta started a petition on the White House website to, "Add another public Inaugural Ball or have the erroneous Ticketmaster Ball ticket sales voided." The petition has received seven signatures -- just 24,993 short of the threshold needed for the White House to address the issue.

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A Presidential Inaugural Committee spokesperson revealed later that the e-mail containing the access information was supposed to be a test, but was instead sent as the live e-mail.

"On Sunday evening, Ticketmaster experienced a technical error that inadvertently caused an e-mail to go out ahead of schedule to people who had signed up for Inaugural ticketing information with an invitation to purchase public tickets for The Inaugural Ball and the Inaugural Parade," the spokesperson said. "The Ticketmaster website was overwhelmed, slowing the purchasing process. Ticketmaster has taken responsibility for this mistake."

But the e-mail explaining the mix-up is was little solace to Ilstrup who thinks that the tickets should be null and void and the process begun again, anew.

"You show up at the start time ready to go and its fair game," Ilstrup said. "Its not a fair game when some people were able to show up to the race start a day early and win."

A PIC spokeswoman said that the Presidential Inaugural Committee would honor the sold-out tickets to the Inaugural parade and the ball. The website explains now that due to an overwhelming demand, no more tickets are available.

And while the Ilstrups, who are Obama supporters, are disappointed that they won't get their night on the town, their visit, which is meant to be an educational experience for their children -- Alec, 14 and Anna, 11 -- won't be a complete loss. The family previously secured tickets to the Inauguration through their local Member of Congress.

Still, shut out of the balls means that a special date night is now all but out of reach.

"The good news is, you can now go on eBay and purchase tickets to the ball for $6,500," Ilstrup joked.

Indeed, individual tickets and bundled tickets to the official Inaugural ball have been going for thousands of dollars on both eBay and Craigslist.

But PIC spokeswoman Addie Whisenant told CNN that "Tickets to official Inaugural events may not be sold, resold or offered for resale in any manner unless expressly authorized by the Presidential Inaugural Committee (PIC). Tickets may be revoked at any time for any reason in the sole discretion of the PIC."

She added that the inauguration committee is reaching out to ticket brokers and online distributors to seek the "nullification of those tickets" sold through unauthorized outlets.

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