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The great Broadway discount economy….

There are currently 29 shows playing on Broadway; and by my reckoning, you can currently find online discount offers to at least 25 of them. (The only ones not doing ticket offers are The Lion King, Billy Elliot, Jersey Boys and A Little Night Music). And that’s not all: you can also buy advance tickets at a discount for a whole raft of shows yet to open, like A View from the Bridge (starring Scarlett Johansson in her Broadway debut and Liev Schreiber, that begins performances next Monday), Million Dollar Quartet,Sondheim on Sondheim, The Miracle Worker and Collected Stories.

Of course, you still have to pay the service charges online, but at least you’re doing it from the comfort of your laptop (or iPhone). For those hardier souls willing to brave the cold, crowds, endless queues and abrasive staffing, there’s still the tkts booth at Times Square, but it’s no longer the bargain it once was: discounts that were once offered at half price across the board now vary from show to show, with some offering reductions of between 20% and 40% instead.

But far from reducing prices, there’s a persuasive argument that the discount economy has instead pushed them up overall: producers now have to budget to sell a greater or smaller part of their ticket inventories at a discount, and in so doing have gradually pushed the base up to accommodate a greater return when that income is duly halved.

And there’s also a (not-so-hidden) catch for the customer, too, seeking to purchase discounted tickets: the offers are billed as being valid on “selected” seats and “subject to availability”; which means that they’re invariably for the side or rear seats only. The “good” seats are held back for those willing to pay full price (or more: a proportion of seats nowadays are billed as “premium” seats, sold at a higher price than the usual scale). But a sign of the new flexible pricing models that are now in operation on Broadway is literally provided nowadays by the fact that, instead of fixed printed notices advising the scale of prices available, Broadway box offices have now introduced electronic signs instead, where adjustments can presumably be made on the spot.

None of this usually matters to theatre critics, of course, who are accommodated in the best seats for free; but I sometimes revert to being a regular customer when I’m here, either because I’m too early in the run to get press seats (so, for instance, I have already bought them, at a discount, for A View from the Bridge next week), or I’m going back to something I have really enjoyed yet again.

I’ve previously written here of the difficulties I have sometimes experienced at Broadway box offices when I’ve tried to do so - back in October I tried to buy tickets for Finian’s Rainbow, then in previews at the St James, with a discount coupon, only to be told it was “sold out” and then found the tickets at the half price booth instead. And last night I tried to buy tickets to see Next to Normal at the Booth Theatre for the fourth time next week, again using a coupon, which despite the clearly-printed terms of the offer, the box office refused to honour. It was, they said, subject to their discretion.

I was going to buy three tickets at the stated offer price of $70; instead, I walked away empty-handed. That means the show is now $210 poorer; yet this is a production that last week recorded an overall attendance of just 73.7%. Admittedly the week between Christmas and New Year is always a busy week on Broadway (and most Broadway shows hike their pricing scales accordingly), but it seems absurd to turn away willing customers, and to anger them by putting out offers that you then refuse to honour.

5 Comments

The arrogance and attitude of Broadway box offices continues to astonish me. Sadly producers rarely have the experience of going to the box office to purchase tickets they only go to them to pick them up. If they were to actually walk up to a box office window and attempt to purchase a ticket with or without a discount offer in hand I think changes would come about but until then? Forget it. The general public will be treated like crap and get crap seats . And come January that treasurer at Next to Normal will be thinking wistfully of the days when he turned away discount offers...

Bryan Kirk,

The box offices follow the directives of the producers regarding whether to honor discount codes or not. The box office personnel don't do it based on a "whim".

Your anger should be directed at the producers who tell the box office what to do.

Box office personnel have a pretty good indication of what remaining tickets can be sold at full price. There is a higher than likely chance that tickets on a Saturday night will go for premium prices to latecomers and tourists who did not plan ahead.

Although the argument about discounts raising the 'rack rate' for tickets may have some truth, lets look at whats happened to Broadway over the last 50 years.

In 1959, Fiorello opened at the Broadhurst Theatre. It cost $160,000 to produce, and the top ticket price was $9.90. Only discounting back then were 'twofers' - two for one discount coupons.

In 2009 dollars. the top ticket would be $71. The show would cost $1.16 million to produce.

But wait a minute - if this WERE to happen, the top ticket would be $125 and the cost to produce Fiorello, with its cast of 42, would be approximately $11 million.

So the ticket price has gone up about 75% in 50 years, and the cost of producing the show has gone up 1000%. Therein lies the dilemma if Broadway.

Costs have risen excruciatingly. Ticket prices havent. To have kept pace, the top ticket would now be $750.

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I thank Mark for such challenging and insightful analysis. May I add a bit more? First, would scaled ticket pricing serve the audience and the productions?

Second, would scaled tickets provide more flexibility for ticket buyers who prefer not to stand at the booth but buy with dignity at the box office perhaps in advance of sub-freezing days or sub-tropical humid days?

Last, should the TKTS booth be recognized for the role it actually serves...a central Box Office for Broadway? As such, should it sell (and advertise it sells) full priced tickets as part of its services? Should the tickets be noted as selling not at discount, but as follows, say, from $25-$150? Would that help the image of Broadway which now often looks as if it is having one big fire sale happening in the middle of the theatre district?

(I am a theatre producer, both for Broadway and in the West End)

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