U2 frontman Bono referred to BC Place as a "concrete temple," as the Irish rock band launched a world tour in Vancouver Friday night. But many fans weren't feeling all that reverent about the venue as they found themselves packed into long lineups to get inside – many missing most or all of the opening act, Mumford & Sons.
"You always expect some type of line. But this was not a line. This was a mob of people," says Brian Strome, who paid $300 for two tickets to see the show but missed almost the entire opening act. "[There was] a big slew of people that actually did not budge or move for close to 30 minutes of not even shuffling towards the door; just standing in one spot. It was pretty abysmal."
The ensuing chaos fuelled a stream of anger on social media and a promise from the government-owned BC Place stadium to stop using a credit card-based ticketing system until those problems are fixed.
Doors opened at 5:30 pm, but it was not enough time to clear about 45,000 fans through the gates, which included only a single gate for all general admission holders – virtually the entire floor.
The show was sold out, but when Mumford & Sons took to the stage at 7:30 p.m., the venue seemed half-empty. Everyone did make it inside by the time U2 started – but in the end, people were entering without having their credit cards checked to verify their tickets.
"The last group was let in so they didn't miss the start of the show," explains Laura Ballance, a spokesperson for BC Place.
In an e-mail, Ms. Ballance says there was "a cascade of issues" which resulted in a slower than anticipated credit-card verification process.
A new ticketing system, meant to combat scalpers, requires the credit card that purchased the ticket be presented and scanned at entry (as opposed to presenting a physical or e-ticket) and that all members of the party be present.
"This was the largest deployment of this technology ever," says Ms. Ballance. "We have successfully hosted recent large concerts such as AC/DC."
In addition, she says, "We had a large percentage of the guests arrive within a similar window, and the large volume started the issue and it took longer than anticipated to clear the backlog."
Outside, people were stuck, frustrated – and some, according to tweets, were in tears.
"As the mob started getting angrier, people started pushing forward; it gets a little scary," Mr. Strome says.
Vancouver Police, who were on-site for crowd control, sent out a tweet urging patience, but say the crowd behaved. "The public, although obviously frustrated, remained peaceful," wrote media relations officer Jason Doucette in an e-mail to The Globe and Mail. He said he was unaware of additional officers being called in to assist.
When the delays occurred on the night of the show, BC Place sent out apologetic tweets and promised that U2 would not start performing until everyone was inside. "It's going to be a great night!"
But what about Mumford & Sons, people wanted to know, some demanding refunds.
Ms. Ballance says anyone wishing to inquire should contact BC Place Guest Services.
"We are sincerely sorry for the inconvenience to guests at the event on Friday night," she wrote. "We don't have any upcoming events planned using this technology and will not use it until we are confident [in] the ability to deploy it successfully."
Mr. Strome says he witnessed numerous conversations between ticket holders and BC Place staff who had to check credit cards and explain the system, each interaction taking time. "There was confusion," he says. "I understand that it was to help with ticket scalpers, but there's got to be a better way."
He says staff did the best they could in a terrible situation. "You guys are doing your job," he told them. "They gave you knives for a gun fight."
BC Place is a division of the B.C. Pavilion Corporation (PavCo), a provincial crown corporation. It advertises itself as a concert venue that can "set the stage with amazing accommodations and ensure an amazing experience for both hosts and their guests."
In Seattle, where U2 played its next show on Sunday night, there were also delays getting into the venue.
Music journalist Charles R. Cross, who reviewed the show for The Seattle Times, explains that there is a no-purse policy at the venue – which football fans would be well acquainted with, but not necessarily concertgoers. He says the venue was about two-thirds full during Mumford & Sons; full by the time U2 hit the stage.
Requests for an interview with concert promoter Live Nation, which owns Ticketmaster, did not receive a response by deadline on Monday.