Rodeo Defends Ticketing System, Says Sales Are Up

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Tuesday afternoon, Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo officials defended their new ticketing system against the criticisms of many fans who attempted to buy seats this past Saturday morning and instead were angered by long wait times and maddening error messages, among other complaints, and soon enough vented their frustrations on social media. Rodeo President and CEO Joel Cowley said the system, AXS, worked the way it was supposed to -- aside from some problems with the mobile app he said were quickly fixed -- but admitted the organization could have taken more steps to ensure fans' ticket-buying experience was smoother.

"Even though we had the information [available], I'm not sure we did the best job of getting it across," he said.

Designed to offer tickets to the rodeo's 20 individual performances simultaneously, AXS is based around a "virtual waiting room" that required buyers to register for an account and then placed them into a buying area once tickets became available. When that happened, people who logged on before 10 a.m. were placed into the buying area at random, and according to the order in which they logged on after that. Fans were allowed to buy up to ten tickets per customer.

According to Cowley, some fans might have counted the hour the virtual waiting room was open from 9 to 10 a.m. as part of their wait, even though tickets did not go on sale until 10; some reported finding seats as early as 10:20. And a message explaining that only single seats were available on the lower levels of NRG Stadium, while visible onscreen during buyers' time in the waiting room, might have been too easily misunderstood or ignored, he said.

The process was complicated further because those wanting to buy tickets for multiple performances effectively had to repeat the process after finding their first seats. Still, Cowley said everyone who logged on between 9 and 10 had been placed into the store by 11 a.m. and the waiting area was cleared by 12:12 p.m. At that point, more than 60,000 tickets had been sold, he added, a slight increase over the total on last year's onsale date.

AXS processed between 600 and 700 sales per minute during that time, Cowley said.

Nevertheless, social media was clogged with complaints of error messages and exasperated emojis, alongside hilariously absurd cracks like "RODEOHOUSTON ticket sales...powered by OBAMACARE." Almost buried were more positive experiences, like "We got our tickets sister had no problems...just a little Patience was needed."

Cowley acknowledged mobile devices had difficulty accessing the AXS site, leading to many of the error messages, but thanks to rodeo staffers keeping in close contact with buyers via social media, those issues were resolved within about an hour.

"We're happy the system worked, but we definitely need to do more to educate our customers," he noted.

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Another common criticism was fans who complained that only single seats were available in the lower levels, preventing them from sitting with friends or loved ones. The majority of the seats made available on Saturday were in NRG Stadium's upper two levels, 500 and 600. Some seats in the lower levels were indeed available, but the majority of those seats are reserved for season-ticket holders and were thus long gone.

According to the rodeo's figures, this year more than 42,000 season-ticket seats have been sold since early September, the fourth consecutive year sales have reached such a level. Although the rodeo does not sell tickets to brokers like StubHub or TicketCity -- and in fact will strip committee members and volunteers of their privileges if they are caught scalping, which the rodeo defines as selling seats to a third party at more than face value -- Cowley said uncovering enough evidence about such transactions to prosecute scalpers does happen, but can be very difficult. Still, AXS was able to isolate more than 2,000 ticket-hoarding mechanized "bots" utilized by unscrupulous brokers this year, neutralizing them before tickets ever went on sale, he added.

"We're confident that we got more tickets into the hands of true customers than ever before," Cowley said.

As of Monday night, Cowley said that Luke Bryan and Ariana Grande are now at standing-room only, with Bryan nearing capacity. This year's other top-selling entertainers so far, he added, are Pitbull, Blake Shelton, Brad Paisley and Alan Jackson, who will be making his 22nd rodeo visit.

Still, for the hundreds of people who filled Twitter and Facebook with hashtags like #epicfail and comments such as "WORST IDEA EVER," Cowley said thousands more were able to get their seats with little difficulty (and little social-media commentary), and that some 228,000 seats remain available for 18 of the rodeo's 20 performances.

"There is no waiting room now," he added.

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