Tough lessons learned at Oprah’s Lifeclass in Toronto

Let me preface this by saying I’m not a rabid Oprah fan.

That said, when my mom first got lucky in the NYC ticket lottery, I was completely onboard to visit NYC and see Oprah’s Lifeclass (for free!) at Radio City  Music Hall. Unfortunately, she ended up fracturing her foot and we were unable to make the trip to NYC for the weekend. Luckily, or so we thought, tickets had just gone onsale for Oprah’s Lifeclass in Toronto! Although the Emerald and Executive tickets had sold out (~$300-$500), we were happy to pay ~$200/each for “General” tickets. In what would become hugely ironic, my mom said, “There are only two small sections in front of us – I’m sure the seats will still be great!”.

Here’s how my Oprah experience played out:

Top 3 things wrong with Oprah’s Lifeclass in Toronto:

  1. Lack of crowd control, logistics and organizationWhere were the volunteers and security telling us what was going on? Where was the designated line-up? Better yet, why was there such a large line-up at all? It amazes me that, with all the other acts that come to Toronto, it was only Oprah who couldn’t find a way to get everyone into the venue on time and without huge lineups. Line-cutting was also rampant and there were reports of fights breaking out in the indoor holding areas.
    Next time: If the lineup is inevitable, find a way to control the crowd
  2. Venue choiceMTCC is not set up for shows like Oprah. Only those at the very front, paying about $500 and those at the very back paying $50 got their money’s worth. They got what they paid for (proximity and, I’d assume, the experience of being in the same room as Oprah). For the rest of us, we may as well have been watching at home, since we had to rely solely on the large screens to see anything at all.
    Next time: try someplace like the ACC or even the Rogers Centre. Even if you’re far away, being able to see the stage somehow makes that suck less.
  3. Lack of ticket price graduation
    To hear that tickets ranged from $500-$50, one would assume a larger difference between the seats for someone who paid $200 and someone who paid $50. This wasn’t the case.
    Next time: have more ticket levels. Although my seats were terrible, I probably would have felt less terrible about them if I’d paid less. Instead, I knew that the person incredibly close to the front paid the same as me, way at the back.

Overall, my experience was really tainted by both the line-up process and my eventual location in the venue. I wish that the Oprah team had thought about the experience of the show rather than the potential for revenue when planning it. Although other venues in Toronto might have resulted in lower ticket sales due to less seating, I’m sure that fans would have had an overall better experience.

PS. If you’re going to encourage people to use the “Free Wifi” to tweet and Facebook about the show, it might be a good idea to make sure it actually works. Back in the “cheap seats”, we had extremely spotty access to data coverage and the Lifeclass wifi didn’t work at all.

UPDATE: Oprah’s team got in touch. Find out what happened here.

  • I’m sad you had an unpleasant O experience 🙁

    • Anonymous

      Your awesome one almost makes up for it. I really wish they’d given more thought to those of us who missed out on the great tickets (or those who can’t afford $500 to bask in O’s greatness). 

  • Aroundangus

    I was there for the morning show and also sat very close to the back with my $200 Gen admission tickets. I totally agree- the Rogers Centre would have been better. My insult to injury moment was to discover that the people sitting IN FRONT if me had festival seats. Piss me off. What I can’t figure out is why Oprah seemed shocked that we paid for tickets. In doing research ….it looks like St. Louis and NY got free ones. Why?

    • Anonymous

      Oh wow, I can’t even imagine that happening! I’d heard that was a large issue during the morning show – seems like they got that resolved for the afternoon, though. Sucks that Toronto was very much a guinea pig in the Oprah experiment.

      I think in NY at least, it was just the Lifeclass and not the extended show with presentations from each of the speakers beforehand.

  • Mberg

    And that’s why I didn’t go.  I love Oprah for all she’s done but this event had #fail all over it.  

    • Anonymous

      You should feel lucky that you had the foresight to avoid it! Unless you lined up at 9:30 for the afternoon show or managed to get Emerald or Executive seating, the experience was lacklustre at best. Too bad, really, since some of the speakers (Tony Robbins!) were amazing.

  • Kerri Birtch

    I was standing about 3ft behind you when you took that first pic – we felt the same way. While admittedly, we did have Executive tix (which I only got because of a promo from Toronto Tourism) it still felt incredibly disorganized. On top of that, they selected about 50 random people from the General section and moved them into the Emerald seating – which clearly upset a looot of people in the Executive. The venue was a terrible choice (level seating for 8,500?!?) and no assigned seating was brutal. Considering our sports teams host thousands of people almost DAILY, and have no lines like that, it shouldn’t have been so difficult to handle. I also heard that parking was an insane mess because the earlier show hadn’t been let out yet. Like you, I’m not an ‘avid’ fan…and the whole night was just ‘okay’ – but I was wondering if I shouldn’t have scalped my tix for a pretty penny then just enjoyed a night out on the town.

    • Anonymous

      I totally saw you on the Twitter feed they had up and tried to tweet you hello…but to no avail since my wifi & data weren’t working.

      Like you, I was mostly just shocked at the total and utter disorganization. I noticed they were pulling a few people from General seating, but wasn’t sure where they were going. About 5 women in front of me got moved.

      Parking was insane – we tried to use the MTCC south lots but they were still full. Instead, we paid $30 for parking at Longo’s. 

      When my mom & I saw how big the lines were, we seriously considered scalping our tickets. We would have been better off doing that then heading home to watch on TV with a big bowl of cereal (and a new pair of shoes ;))

  • Laffs fan

    Habs suck

  • MellovesOprah

    I paid $526 for 2 general admission seats and we were seated about 30 rows from the very back of the room for the morning event.  I couldn’t even see the stage without standing up on my chair (which I only did for a minute or I’d piss off the people even more as I would block their view of the jumbo screen).  The whole thing left a bitter taste in my mouth.  I came from Ottawa for the show, booked airfare, hotel…  What a total waste of money.

    • Anonymous

      That’s terrible! So sorry to hear it.

      I guess even at 30 rows from the back the view was terrible – I think the only people who could actually see the stage were the ones in the filmed “studio” area. 

      Even with all the complaints, I haven’t seen a single word of apology from the Oprah team.

  • CindyP

    They totally dropped the ball on this event, Expected more from the O. This has left me feeling not so encourage to tune into her network anymore. Didnt really get to hear the speakers very well from my seats at the back so it was 200 dollars down the drain. Overall very unhappy…

    • stephaniefusco

      Cindy – I agree completely! I think we all would have gotten more out of the event if we’d scalped our tickets and headed to a nearby bar to watch!


    Oprah comes to Toronto for the first time….  and MTCC was the venue chosen?  Yes, I was there… and YES, I was incredibly disappointed.  $200 and one row ahead of the $50 seats?  Stuck in the basement watching TV. 

    I had the same issues – lack of organization, no communicatoin from MTCC security, no assigned seating. 

    I have written to Oprah (not sure what that will do).  Couldn’t find the e-mail address for Corus Entertainment.  Corus, if you’re reading, the lack of preparation and the lack of $$$ fairness was SHAMEFUL.  

    • stephaniefusco

      Good on you for sending Oprah a letter! I’ve been tweeting at the network to zero response – kind of disheartening since they’re more than happy to respond to everyone in the first 50 rows who had a fabulous time. 

  • @leafsweetie

    I had Executive Seating and was not in the least impressed with my seats.  There were 5 rows in front of me that were “reserved” and those people did not show up til the live taping.  There’s no reason why a paid, ticketed event (and not a cheaply ticketed one, at that) should be a “fend for yourself, elbows up, chase your seat after lining up for hours”-event. 

    We waited outside from 12pm (and at that point the lineup was under the tunnel on Lower Simcoe near Front).  Once we got to near the front of the building, people who were being dropped off at the front tried to cut in line.  We got police involved and they did their best.  They tried to plead that they had been in line as well – we’ve all be standing together (strangers) for 4 hours, we recognize everyone in front of and behind us.  In addition to that, they cut the speakers’ speaking time short.  They started late and gave us less of what we paid for (the speakers’ thoughts and Oprah).  I hear that in the morning, Ms Winfrey came out into the crowd to say hello.  We didn’t get that in the afternoon.  I also had network issues. Couldn’t use their wifi and the networks were so jammed that I couldn’t even use 3G.  My battery died from trying so hard to get online. 

    • stephaniefusco

      Oh, wow. I wasn’t aware that even those with Executive/Emerald seating were told to line up, too.

      What irked me the most was that we lined up only to get the same seats we would have if we’d shown up at 5:30/6. 

      I remember her saying during the afternoon show that she would be coming back – we left early so I was curious if she ended up visiting. I guess not! 

      I’m so sorry to hear that you had such a terrible experience, especially after paying so much money. 

  • I really wanted to go, but now, I’m kind of thankful I didn’t. Plus, it seems excessive to charge so much money for general admission (even for Oprah) when the divisions between $500/200/50 seats wasn’t that distinctive. Never having been to MTCC, but seeing the crowds, it just seems like it was a bad idea to hold the event there. All I can think is that having never been to Canada, let alone Toronto, the people at OWN didn’t really know what they were bargaining for when the event was booked there. Possibly they thought it would have been a good place to have an “intimate” venue, rather than choose an arena like the ACC. I don’t know if OWN will respond, hopefully Corus does, but either way, I hope both organizations will learn from this experience, and not just ignore the criticisms and get lost in the afterglow of OinTO.

    • stephaniefusco

      To be honest, unless you were in the first couple rows you could probably get the same experience watching it at home.

      I’d totally be on board with thinking that OWN just didn’t know what they were doing here in Toronto, but as a PR gal myself I know that these sorts of things generally necessitate a site visit or two. Plus, they had a Canadian PR team (Corus) working on it. 

      Unfortunately, since it’s Oprah we’re talking about here, I doubt we’ll see any response from Corus or OWN. 16,000 people having a bad experience in Toronto is just a tiny drop of bad press compared to the positive coverage she gets.

  • Jacyntaalana

    I sat in the front row of the festival tickets. I was one of the first 300 people in line in the morning and there was a huge argument between people in line and security because they mixed everyone up at one point and those waiting in line in the morning got so upset. security gave us early comers pink wristbands and were promised us some of the best seats. HOWEVER only half actually got right up to the front, the rest of us stuck in the back. so some of the people that didn’t line up until 1 got to sit up at the front because they mixed in with us and the other half for shafted for some reason. it was so disorganized and crazy. fights broke out and it was just an overall bad experience in the lineup

  • Shannon Hilton

    I had a bad experience too. And spent thousands to get there, since we came from Calgary. I do think that fault lies with the organizers (Power of Women inc – whom I can’t even find a website for!) and not with Oprah, OWN, etc.
    Poorly organized, poorly planned, and too little communication & security outside.
    My take:

    • stephaniefusco

      Great post, Shannon!

      I had a phone call from Oprah’s team at Harpo yesterday and they explained that Power of Women were the organizers and that certain things the Oprah team at Harpo asked for weren’t done. 

      I’ll be doing a follow-up with more about that conversation later today.

  • Mrspuff

    Agreed with most of the things that were said.  I was one of the staff working at the event and I could not believe how unstructured the venue was for such an event and became chaotic at many times with the seats not being numbered and set for the ticket.  This event should have been held at ACC or another venue with assigned individual seating and the prices should have been much lower for the general admission.  Sorry that you guys had to pay so much for them for where you had to sit.  I agree that it was a money grab for the organizers of the event, Power of Women Inc who were the host for the venue. Harpo did not have anything to do with the venue and lack of organization.

  • guest

    FYI…the oprah group had nothing to do with the planning of the event…it was ‘the power of women’.  A lot of complaining going on…maybe people need to pay more attention to Lifeclasses….

    • stephaniefusco

      Thanks for your comments, Lola.

      Regardless of whether Harpo & Oprah had anything to do with the planning of the event, it remains that the takeaways from the event will reflect on the Oprah brand and how people feel about Oprah.

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  • Ylandry

    So glad to find this site! I too was at the first show in Toronto and was so disappointed. Always thought Oprah was a class act, that she was different from other “stars”and had true compassion for her fans. I spent a lot of money to get to Toronto. $260 for a ticket to watch a big screen tv, airfare from Nova Scotia to Toronto……Very disappointing.

    • ylandry

      Totally agree with above Top Three Things Wrong with Oprah’s Lifeclass in Toronto!

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