(Not So) Favorite Quotes Vol. XXIV: Won’t you be my neighbor?

One of the couples on my floor loves the theater.  They go on a regular basis, have great taste, and are always asking me for recommendations on shows to see.

Oh, and get this . . . they always pay full price.  (insert “whoopee!” here)

Last week, I ran into them in the elevator and they told me they were on their way to see Red.  I started asking them my usual string of mini focus group questions:  how they heard about Red, if they could describe the artwork, and then I landed on my finale of, “Where do you go to get your tickets?”

Their answer was Telecharge . . . but then the husband’s eyes widened and I could tell he wanted to share some sort of secret.  Here’s what he said:

“Yep.  We buy on Telecharge.  And pay full price.  But we never buy in advance.”

My heart sunk . . . and I kind of wanted them to move to another building.

He continued:

“Yeah.  We find we get better seats when we buy last minute. Whenever we try to get something in advance, we always get crap. But if we go online the day before or even the day of, we usually find gold.”

When I heard this, I wanted to move . . . to Tallahassee. There’s something wrong with a ticketing purchase process that reinforces full-price buyers to wait until pulling the trigger.

So what’s the problem?

There are probably a few issues at work here, but I’d bet a couple of full-price tickets to Red that the issue most at work is that theaters and shows are holding too many of their best locations for House Seats, etc.  House Seats (or quality locations held for use by the Producers, Theatre Owners, Actors, Designers, etc.) that are not used get dumped back into the general pool of available seats 2-3 days before each performance, which is why there is sometimes a flood of good seats available closer to the performance.  My neighbor was probably getting the tickets held for the Set Designer, or one of the Principal Actors, etc.

The problem is . . . there are so many people that have House Seats in their contracts, that up to 75 prime orchestra seats can be held . . . for every performance.  I mean, is the Set Designer or Principal Actor really going to use 2 or 4 seats every night???

In survey after survey, our audiences tell us that the #1 thing that they want is a great seat . . . and we’re holding them back.

By serving our own selfish needs, we’re causing our customers to do one of three things:

– Not buy at all (there’s really no better seat than on your own couch).

– Wait until something better opens up, thereby decreasing our ability to build advances.

– Find better locations elsewhere . . . translation:  they are going to brokers.

That last one is the most ironic.  Everyone in our biz has been concerned about the huge amount of business going to third party ticket brokers.

Well . . . news flash:  we’re part of the reason our audiences are seeking them out.

We’ve got to find a way to give our customers as much access to the best seats possible.  And one of those ways is to decrease the number of house seats we all hold.

Then, after we’ve decreased the number of house seats . . . we can start charging for them.  (For more on house seats, click that link)

  • Couldn’t agree more. Why can’t house seats be divvied up on a weekly rather than a daily basis? As in: you have access to 8 tickets per week (rather than 2 tix per perf?) Until recoup? Something. There’s got to be a better algorithm than everyone involved in a show (especially a large cast show) having access to 2 seats per performance until 24 hours before a show. On the other hand — because I know this policy I often end up getting great seats to shows. But I’m only one person. Online ticketing in general is great, however, the advance ticket availability is a maze even I don’t care to attempt sometimes.

  • Alli says:

    Here’s an experience that will make you want to move to… the moon? Often at TKTS patrons tell me they “wanted to get seats to XX show but I went online and they are sold out!” Which is why they are at TKTS, and there to get tickets to a different show… or are surprised when the “sold out” show in question is posted on the board. When I ask them when they went online the answer is usually “a couple weeks ago.” I then try to explain to them that the show is most likely not sold out, that seats were probably held, etc etc. Obviously this demographic does not read Variety grosses/attendance so they have no idea that MOST shows are not even close to 100%.
    One of the biggest issues our industry faces is ticket accessibility. IMHO it should be at the forefront of every theatremaker’s mind.
    Sorry to break the bad news… but at least visas aren’t required for moon moves… yet!

  • I’m visiting NYC in a couple of weeks and have been trying to find good seats to AMERICAN IDIOT online, but haven’t had the greatest luck. I’ve run into this in the past and have gotten great seats by walking up to the box office the day of the performance. It’s frustrating though, because 1) it IS a gamble 2) you do have to pay full price and can’t use discounts (which I’m totally willing to do for certain shows), and 3) it makes me a nervous wreck!

  • adam807 says:

    I used to work in a small box office (not Broadway, and not traditional theater) and we released most of our house seats much earlier than that, so they could be sold. We held a few for last-minute requests and emergencies, but there were never this many being held. How hard is it to give house-seat-holders a longer deadline to use them? 2 weeks? Even more? They can still get the perk but the box office will still have ample time to sell them.

  • Isn’t the problem also connected to premium seats? As an increasing number of the best seats in Broadway houses are subject to “premium pricing”, it becomes more difficult to buy a regular “top-price” ticket in advance for a given performance.
    But if you try to buy within a day or two of the performance, my experience is that unsold premium seats are often sold at regular prices (or less in many cases). This seems like crazy inventory management to me.
    Another issue we have here in London is that West End houses are divided up into allocations to many different ticket agents – to a much greater degree than in NY. Patrons often end up visiting the site of whichever appears highest in Google results. If that agent’s allocation is full for a particular performance, they will generally report the show as “sold out” when it almost certainly isn’t. But it isn’t in the agent’s interest to tell people they can buy from somewhere else… and in most cases I would guess that people buy for another show instead.

  • CB says:

    I love the way you think, Ken.

  • Jeff says:

    You hit the nail on the head again, Ken! I’m probably not nearly as wealthy as your neighbors, but I’m not opposed to paying full price for a show; if it’s one I’m excited about and there isn’t a discount available (or the discount is only for “select orchestra”, read: crap), I’ll at least consider it. There has been more than one time, however, where this was the case and my inability to find anything decent (and lack of desire to go and try to fight with the box office staff) has caused me to just opt out of something I was on the fence about.
    Like I said, I’ll pay full price… but I’m picky when I do!

  • Anonymous says:

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