Tuesday, March 27, 2012

How to Increase Full Price Ticket Sales: A Suggestion

Are discount tickets actually driving the cost of full priced seats up????  News at 11.
As far as I know, no one (except perhaps the super-rich) is happy with current Broadway ticket prices.  Most people, especially the struggling artists who would probably be Broadway’s biggest supporters if they weren’t living paycheck to paycheck, think that show tickets cost too much.  Unless you manage to nab one of the extremely limited lottery or rush tickets to particular performance, you’re looking at spending at least $70 and more likely $100+ to see a Broadway show.  And the producers who are financing said shows keep raising those prices, not necessarily because they are evil money grubbing monsters, but because the running costs of theatre continue to escalate.
Now, getting said costs under control should be the producers’ first order of business, but that is a subject for another blog entry.  I would argue that one of the main reasons ticket prices have skyrocketed over the past decade is the abundance of discount ticket websites and venues.  With so many places selling tickets at 30%-50% off, producers have to plan on not getting full price on the majority of their ticket sales.  Let’s say, for example, that a certain show needs to sell the majority of its seats for $75 each in order to be reasonably successful, but audiences are so used to getting a discount that they won’t buy them at full price.  So producers mark the face value of the ticket up to $135, knowing that it will likely be sold at a discount the brings the price back down to the $75 they originally wanted for it.
Now, there’s a certain segment of the population that will only buy things at a discount.  They aren’t concerned with the actual price of an item as much as how much they saved off the original price.  These people, as proved by shows like Extreme Couponing on TLC, are not normal and cannot be reasoned with, and would probably happily buy a $150 ticket if they were told it was worth $300.  But a good number of people, myself included, aren’t so much concerned with how much we’re saving as the final dollar amount. 
The reason these people aren’t buying full priced tickets (and any producer will tell you they’d much rather sell full priced tickets than discounted ones) is simple: the current top tier ticket price of $135 a seat is simply too much for a lot of people to afford in this still shaky economy.  Now, you could argue that for these people there are the mid- (around $90) and lower-level ($67-is) ticket prices.  Unfortunately, for most shows there are only two rows of seats available for the lowest ticket price, and they are in the back of the house and sell out quickly.  The privilege of being able to sit slightly closer – because face it, three rows from the back is by no means “close” to the stage in most Broadway houses – and not have to buy months in advance is apparently worth an extra $25.
And this is the problem.  $90 is a lot of money to spend on two and a half hours of entertainment.  And even those of us who would gladly pay to see live theatre don’t necessarily have the luxury of spending that much money regularly.  $90 is costly enough to make most people stop and think, and when we realize that we’re sitting basically in the back of the house for a show we may not even enjoy, we tend to decide against spending it. 
So what’s the solution?  I propose changing the pricing scale so that the majority of the mezzanine/balcony retails for the low-level ticket price of $60.  Obviously, the front few rows are prime seating and can remain at their current prices (because some people can and will spend that much on a show without a second thought, and there’s no reason producers shouldn’t take that customer’s money).  Because for me, and I would imagine for a lot of people, the convenience of being able to buy in advance, rather than waiting in rush lines all day or hoping you win the lottery, is worth that much money.  Especially when you consider that most lottery and rush tickets are between $30 and $40 anyway.  I would gladly pay an extra $20 to have a better seat and know that I will actually get in to see the show I want to see.
I suspect that if Broadway shows instituted this practice, they would see a major increase in full price ticket sales, and also advance ticket sales.  That would give producers the ability to more effectively budget a production and to plan further out, rather than slashing a bunch of tickets at the last minute and hoping they sell.  It would make live theatre a more attractive option for small groups of people, who can’t afford $100 a person and can’t count on getting three or four tickets if they do go the lottery/rush ticket route.  And it would make the theatre going experience more pleasant, which would increase the amount of repeat business.
Now, not being a Broadway producer, there may be other factors that are keeping this plan from working.  But I think from a logic standpoint, it makes a lot of sense.  Yes, people will gladly pay $150 to see The Book of Mormon, but that show is the exception that proves the rule.  In most cases, you’d be better off lower the ticket price to a more palatable level, and then (surprise!) your show just might run long enough to turn a profit.

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