Riot Fest Using Ticketfly Hack Settlement Money For Special Fan Offer: 'I'm Trying to Turn This Into a Positive'

Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images
Atmosphere during Riot Fest at the National Western Complex on Aug. 28, 2015 in Denver, Colo. 

Organizer Michael Petryshyn says fans affected by the cyber attack get access to cheap tickets for 2019 and free one-day companion pass for this year.

Riot Fest in Chicago has reached an undisclosed settlement with Ticketfly over the damage cause by a May 30 hacking attack that took place in the middle of the company's initial ticket sale. The two sides have reached a financial settlement to compensate Riot Fest for the losses suffered during the attack and now organizer Michael Petryshyn says he plans to use the funds from the settlement to hook up fans with cheap tickets for 2019 and companion passes for this year's festival, headlined by Blink 182, Beck, Elvis Costello, Blondie and more.

The 14-year-old music festival went on sale in the middle of the cyber attack, where an unknown hacker broke into Ticketfly and sent users seeking to buy tickets for the festival to a defaced page declaring "You're security down, I'm not sorry." Riot Fest sales were moved to Eventbrite, Ticketfly's parent company, but dozens of bands had already tweeted directions to fans telling them to buy tickets on Ticketfly. After a couple busy days in damage control and Riot Fest lawyer Tim Epstein putting pressure on Ticketfly to pay for the damage the hack caused, the two sides reached a settlement.       

Petryshyn says he's going to use the money from the settlement to create a special discount for fans who already bought tickets. Fans who have already purchased GA tickets for $160 tickets plus nearly $30 in fees and taxes this year will receive an option to buy a $99.98 three-day GA pass for the festival in 2019, Sept 13-15. They will also receive a free single-day GA ticket companion pass for the day of their choosing for this year’s event. Riot Fest will also be offering a limited number GA three-day passes for this year's Riot Fest 2018 for $99.98.      

Billboard caught up with Petryshyn to learn about his reaction to the "cyber incident" that brought down Ticketfly, just as the 40,000-person event was beginning to sell tickets to longtime fans, and what he's doing to make things right for music fans caught in the attack.     

So the interesting thing with Riot Fest is you are one of few festivals to go on sale at night, at 8 pm CST. How did that tradition affect the outcome of the hack attack?      

We announce the lineup at the night and tickets go on sale at the exact same time. We started doing it back in the day out of necessity. We didn't have huge marketing budgets and thought it would be one way we could trend. It's kind of evolved from there, but it's our thing. So yeah, we went up at at 8 pm and shortly thereafter Ticketfly went down. I've seen everything go wrong but this was crazy. We had to switch to a new ticketing platform at five in the morning and then we had to contact all these bands from the festival and get to stop pointing fans to a bunk link.

How did you decide to make the switch to Eventbrite?

That's (Ticketfly's) parent company and obviously it was a quick fix. We didn't know the platform at all or even how to set up a show on Eventbrite. So they kinda like helped us along. I think by eight or nine the next morning, we were completely up on the new platform. But it was hard getting the bands to switch links to the new site. We were just trying to track down anything that said Ticketfly and change it.

Overall, how was the response from Ticketfly?

They were absolutely awesome to work with through this. They knew that we're a soft ticket event. It's a lot harder than a club show and it's a completely different kind of promotion. It's single-handedly the most important day of our year and they really owned up to it and tried to rectify the situation. I told them this is not really about me, it's about our fans. That's the only thing I cared about. The fans, in my opinion, were breached for no reason.

So you feel like the fans of Riot Fest were the ones who were most hurt by the cyber attack?

Yes. Look, I can win this fight with Ticketfly and get a settlement and pocket the money. But what's that going to do? That's not who we are and it's the antithesis of Riot Fest. And people are really loyal to us more than some festivals and there's a certain ethos that follows us. It's the most intimate 40,000 to 50,000 people festival out there. I'm here to make sure everyone is cool.

What did people say when you told them you planned to use the settlement to discount tickets?

So, people asked me if I was sure I wanted to do this but next year is the 15th anniversary and this was kind of like the most utilitarian way of doing it. Fans will get an email offer with a private link and they have the rest of the year to redeem it.

Are you happy with the settlement amount? 

I can't say the exact amount but basically it's just money. We can take that money and basically give people a cheaper ticket or a free ticket. To me, it just makes sense to do something like that. I could have been quiet and not said anything and it would have still been an awesome event with 40,000 people showing up. And besides, our fans were hurt because their data was stolen. So we're taking that money and taking a utilitarian approach of distributing it between what we can do with this year and next year. We still want to be that festival anybody can afford. We're not a VIP festival and it's not about the money. If it was really about the money, I would have sold Riot Fest years ago.

What was it like going through this experience?

This was a shitty situation. It really was. I've been doing this for 15 years now and it consumed my twenties and my thirties and I'm turning 40 this week and you know, I'm trying to turn this into a positive somehow. And look, my lawyer was my second phone call after we found out what it exactly was and he put things into perspective. This is not about me or Riot Fest, it's about the fans. They are Riot Fest. I can't explain that enough. And people who've gone to the festival understand that.

When did you first discover something was wrong? 

I have a superstition. I don't check ticket sales for the first 24 hours. I like to enjoy my coffee and let the craziness happen, and it drives my partner Corrie Christopher Martin (who also works at Paradigm) crazy. So I didn't check for a while and then eventually I found out something was wrong. The website was down. I thought 'this is a weird time to be doing maintenance.' And then we got an email that their had been a security breach.

Why do you think the hacker targeted Ticketfly?

I haven't really thought about it, but I think he or she did it for a reason and it could be that they found a way to get in and wanted to get paid. I think that happens all the time. But it's not like I think Riot Fest was intentionally targeted.

Since this happened, have you changed all your passwords for your home devices?

Yeah, absolutely.

Now that Eventbrite is going public, are going you to buy some stock in the company.

I'm not really a stock market guy, but they've been great to work with.

Yeah but don't you think Andrew Dreskin and Julia Hartz are trying to run away from it? Doesn't it show a lack of leadership that they won't even publicly address something that hurt so many of their clients and compromised the data of 27 million fans?

For the most part, I think they've done a decent job. I'm just ready to move on and keep making new announcements about tickets and our last round of bands. Like I've said, I've never been in a situation like this before, but you got to roll with the punches.

Festivals 2018


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