Another note about the Alamo Drafthouse

posted in: Movies, Star Wars | 0

So you might have noticed, tickets for the new Star Wars movie went on sale yesterday.  You might have also seen some mentions of how none of the companies — from theaters through to dedicated ticket selling firms like Fandango — were at all ready for the event due to the massive level of sales.  Go figure; Star Wars fans ready to buy tickets to the first new Star Wars movie in over a decade.  The movie that’s being tipped to be the — or at least one of the — biggest in history in terms of fiscal return.

During the website outages and page loading errors last night, jokes abounded.  Frustrated fans in discussion groups were leveling their discomfort and disdain at the ticket sites, wondering why they weren’t ready and why they hadn’t prepared.  And, fan fever completely aside, in this age of cloud computing, it’s a very fair complaint.  After all, places like Fandango tack an extra two bucks onto tickets as a ‘service fee’.  Okay, fine; provide service then.  That fee shouldn’t just be pure graft; it should actually pay for service.

Which brings us to the Alamo Drafthouse.  The up and coming chain was hammered as hard as everyone else by last night’s launch of The Force Awakens ticket sales.  They fared as poorly as the rest of the industry in dealing with the crush.  But what’s different is how they reacted.  First, when they realized they couldn’t handle the volume, the company immediately shifted sales over to Fandango so as to prevent fans from losing any more of an opportunity to get seats to the premieres than they already had.

That’s moderately extraordinary.  It’s a move that very probably cost them money, because Fandago didn’t place those tickets in Drafthouses for free.  How many companies do you know that would have bitten such a bullet ‘just’ to please customers?  These days?  When investors sue just because a firm won’t fire ten thousand people to improve stock returns an extra couple of pennies?

But what’s even more amazing is the statement by Drafthouse CEO Tim League today.  He point blank apologized for failing to be ready to meet demand.  His statement read like a real person’s, not a corporate PR flack’s.  There’s perhaps a small amount of ass covering in the explanation of what they’d done to try and be ready, but fan reaction has been favorable to the honesty League is showing.  They’re taking it as just that — honesty — rather than the usual slimy doublespeak companies offer.

“Last night we had the single biggest simultaneous surge for movie tickets our industry has ever seen.The great news is that Star Wars fandom is as strong as ever. Unfortunately, that surge exposed weaknesses in our ticketing infrastructure, and that of Fandango, Regal, AMC and Cinemark, not to mention other exhibitors across the globe who also crashed.


But that is not a good enough excuse. The Alamo Drafthouse has been preparing for this hugely important day for the past nine months, and we thought we were ready. We spun up 40 simultaneous servers and were monitoring the load to instantaneously add more if needed. We hosted our static pages in a state-of-the-art cloud environment that could also instantaneously expand with demand. The massive onslaught of simultaneous users, however, exposed an unforeseen flaw in the ticketing infrastructure itself that we were unable to fix on the fly.


We tried to be ready for this hugely important day, and we missed the mark. In the moment, we tried to react as quickly as possible. We transitioned our sales to Fandango as soon as they were up and running again themselves. We apologize for making what was supposed to be a joyous day a big hassle for Star Wars fans. We commit to doing better in the future, but in the meantime Star Wars fans can purchase THE FORCE AWAKENS tickets to all of our theaters on Fandango or in person at any Alamo Drafthouse location. You will still be able to buy the limited edition Magazine and Mondo pint glass through Fandango or at the box office while supplies last.


Again, we apologize for last night’s frustration, and we hope to see you all at the Drafthouse for THE FORCE AWAKENS in December. We have many more Star Wars surprises and promotions to unveil between now and then! Our goal remains: watching The Force Awakens at the Alamo Drafthouse will be the best possible fan experience.”


And, so far, none of the other chains have bothered to step up with even explanations, much less apologies.

A little humanity goes a long way guys.  Quite far in fact.  Especially when you’re trampling on something someone loves.  Star Wars is special to a whole lot of people.

I really wish Drafthouse would open a theater in Atlanta.