Presidential inaugural ball tickets sold out before they were supposed to be available

Thousands of people eager to get their hands on one of the most sought-after tickets in Washington — a chance to attend an official inaugural ball with President Obama and the first lady — instead discovered that all of the tickets had been sold before they were supposed to be available because of a foul-up at Ticketmaster.

People who had signed up to attend the Inaugural Ball at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center received e-mails Sunday afternoon from Ticketmaster saying that a limited number of tickets would go on sale Monday at $60 each, along with $25 bleacher seats along the parade route. The e-mail told recipients that they would receive another e-mail sometime Monday with an exclusive online link to buy two evening ball tickets on a first-come, first-served basis.

But instead, e-mails went out a few hours later with the online link to buy the tickets, and a digital frenzy ensued among the lucky ones who saw it, with demand so far ahead of supply that the online box office’s Web site slowed. However many there were — and neither the Presidential Inaugural Committee nor Ticketmaster would say how many public tickets were offered for sale — they were soon gone.

Ticketmaster sent out an e-mail after midnight taking responsibility for the mistake. But for some would-be ballgoers, the damage had already been done, right about the time when many were in front of their TVs and watching the Washington Redskins lose.

Hundreds of other frustrated buyers vented in angry posts to the Presidential Inaugural Committee's Facebook page.

“Someone did a disservice to all Democrats today. How difficult is it to follow your own procedures[?]” a person wrote. “Why would you send an email out saying tickets will go on sale the next day and then release them 4 hours later[?] It’s an inside job and it stinks.”

One person said she had planned to take the day off Monday to work her computer. Others suspected that the fix was in for a well-connected few. Some said that, to be fair, Ticketmaster and the Presidential Inaugural Committee should void the ticket sales and start over.

A Ticketmaster spokeswoman said Monday that although the e-mail advising people that the tickets were available went out sooner than intended, all of the tickets were handled in the usual first-come, first-served way.

“We understand the disappointment people feel if they were unable to obtain tickets, but like all other popular events, demand was much greater than supply,” Jacqueline Peterson, senior vice president, said in a written statement.

The Presidential Inaugural Committee, which oversees the events before and after the swearing-in ceremony, expressed regret over the glitch but said nothing could be done. No more tickets would be issued to what some hopeful revelers had described as a once-in-a-lifetime chance to party with the president.

“There are still ways for people to be involved, such as the [National] Day of Service,” Cameron French, deputy press secretary for the Presidential Inaugural Committee, said, referring to an event scheduled for Jan. 19.

Obama will take the oath of office beginning his second term in a private ceremony on Jan. 20, followed by a public swearing-in on Jan. 21.

The Inaugural Ball is one of two official balls this year, compared with 10 last time, and the only one with a limited number of tickets for the general public. It will be held with the Commander-in-Chief’s Ball, which honors military personnel and their families, in the convention center after the public oath-taking ceremony and parade. Four years ago, the first family kicked off the festivities by attending the Neighborhood Inaugural Ball, whose $25 tickets also sold out in a blitz.

June M. Jeffries, who turns 59 this week, said the ticket mixup began for her at 3:29 p.m. Sunday when she received an e-mail under the signature of Julianna Smoot, co-chair of the 2013 Presidential Inaugural Committee. Addressed “Dear Friend,” the e-mail was a heads-up that tickets would go on sale on Monday.

Then at 7:25 Sunday evening, the e-mail from Ticketmaster, with the unique online link to buy tickets and a password, arrived in her mailbox. But Jeffries didn’t see it. She was in her rec room with her husband watching the Redskins battling the Seahawks.

“I wasn’t looking at computers and e-mails because I didn’t have to,” Jeffries said. Later, after walking her dog and glancing at her laptop, she saw that the tickets had gone on sale. She tried for hours to get them, then went to bed.

At 12:13 a.m. Monday, an “update” from Ticketmaster Customer Service landed in Jeffries’s inbox, fessing up to its mistake.

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