How can we get people to see a show a second time?

One of the economic challenges of a long-running musical or play is that because it’s pretty much the same experience, it’s hard to get an audience to come back a second time (which is one of the more subtle reasons why it has to be higher priced).

It’s not like a sporting event, where each and every event is totally unique.  Nope, for traditional plays and musicals, we actually endeavor to make every event exactly the same night after night.

And then we try to run those events eight times a week for years.

So if you take our high prices and duplicated experiences, it’s easy to understand why getting an audience member to come back a second or a third time ain’t easy.

Obviously some shows tap into a repeater market, but I don’t care how wicked your show is or what in the rent it’s called, repeaters will never make up a majority of your audience.

Therefore, as I’ve written about before, you shouldn’t dedicate too much of your media resources behind trying to get an audience to come back.  You’d be better off getting that audience to encourage others to come for a first time.

That said, I got a direct mail piece from The Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas yesterday . . . and they were trying to get me to come back (Hmmmm . . . I wonder why . . . could it be that my blackjack skills are not quite the stuff that make up MIT card-counting club movies?)

In the piece, The Venetian offered me a typical free Sunday – Thursday room (or a lower rate on a weekend), a discount on a meal . . . and, get this . . . a free John Madden video game.

I haven’t had time to play a video game since I signed on to produce Godspell, but for some reason, it got me interested in going back.

Now yes, a return trip to The Venetian will be a totally different experience (one can only hope – now I do know you always split 8s), but it still made me think . . . is there something we could offer to a customer apart for the usual lower priced ticket to get them to come back?

What about a free dinner at the restaurant next door?  Free CD?  What about the movie and/or novel upon which the show is based?  Or what about a free ticket to another show (You’d buy it from the other show – which would reduce your ticket price, but might be worth it).

Note to you that these ideas are all based on the concept that you have access to the names/contact info of your own customers – which we actually don’t have on Broadway (but should).

Again, I wouldn’t put major amounts of time and resources into the 2nd and 3rd time showgoer, because it is a difficult conversaion.

But maybe that’s because we haven’t found the right value-add for that audience?

What would get you back to a show for a second time?


(Got a comment?  I love ’em, so comment below!  Email subscribers, click here, then scroll down, to say what’s on your mind!)



– 13 Days to Godspell!  Read the day-by-day account of producing Godspell on Broadway here.

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  • Jeffrey Friedland says:

    We would love to see shows more than once, and we would travel to NYC more often, but, we live in New Orleans and by necessity plan our trips/vacations months and years in advance. If we had access at “regular” prices to great seats (center orchestra in front of the overhang as in the past), say 6 months or more in advance (you do get the use of our money)we would definitely come to NYC and attend more shows, repeat and new, more often. The premium pricing (with no connections or celebrity of our own) has priced us out of Broadway. Years ago we planned our trips around the great seats we were able to purchase at full price in advance for popular and not so popular shows.

  • Lisa V says:

    I think you could sell people on the concept of being the show’s “reccomender.” How many people leave after a show going “Oh, I need to take my mother to this?” or “Oh, my son Frank would just die to see this etc?” When you are the person who recommends something you often get asked if you’ll go see it again so.. offer people the chance to be the show’s reccomender. Come back + this time bring a friend etc. and we’ll give you $10 off the ticket or we’ll cover the ridiculous ticket convenience fees. Once you’ve done something once you get to become the expert to the un-initiated. You already know where to park,what restaurants are nearby, what people should wear etc. Perhaps there’s some way to capitalize on that…
    I’ve also always thought that shows with similar target audiences should cross-market at each other’s performances. So as you’re on the way out at Mamma Mia someone’s there going “so you liked Mamma Mia? Then you’ll LOVE Wicked.”

  • John says:

    People sometimes go back if it’s something they really want to share with someone else who hasn’t seen it.

  • Scott says:

    Ken, yet again, thank you for your thoughtful blog.
    Yesterday, I ventured across the pond (Hudson River) and traveled to The Papermill Playhouse to see Newsies. The reason I bring this up, is because a part of the ticket purchasing experience is giving your full name, email and home address. I purchased the ticket at the box office, but this would have been the same if I had bought online. In fact, my printed ticket even had my first name on it!
    Yes, it took a little longer for the box office to gather the information, but I suspect that they believe in creating an effective database for future sales, events, etc.
    You wrote that “we actually don’t have on Broadway”… I know that Ticketmaster and Telecharge both have my full contact information. They require this to purchase from their website.
    You have so many great ideas. I challenge you to put some of them in place. You can start a revolution in ticket sales. If you build it, they will come.
    P.S. I don’t forgive you for not choosing any one of my hysterical and brilliant “Nunsense”!

  • AJ says:

    Well in fact we actually do have some customer information. It’s just a matter of ethics on how it’s used. For example all telecharge transactions are made by cc and there’s a reason we in box office ask for the zip even though it’s not needed to process the transaction. A name and zip is enough to get a pretty accurate list of who is buying.
    To the point of value added: There has been a decline in the luxury experience of the theatre. Some houses have lousy Box Office customer service, as you pointed out in an earlier blog. Most ushers and house managers have gotten too comfy in the union protection to provide a quality pre-show experience. When you take that and then factor in that the price spread on a reg price ticket at say $85 might be given to a papering service to sell for $5 then it’s hard to justify repeat customers at regular price. The service isn’t there. It’s like the airline industry. They made the most profit when standards were kept high. When standards dropped so did the excitement of the traveling part of travel. Customer satisfaction goes a long way. Bring back better pre show ambience.

  • Douglas Hicton says:

    Here’s a novel idea: how about just writing better shows and not charging an arm and a leg to see them? I think that would work pretty well.

  • janiska says:

    Yesterday I made a purchase at a boutique clothing store. They gave me a $5 off in return for my email address.
    Another store where I provided my email address periodically forwards bar-coded coupons, one for me and one for a friend. The coupons can be redeemed from the image on my Iphone or by printing them out.
    No matter how elaborate the advertising, I rarely go to a show on Broadway or elsewhere unless someone I trust suggests it (not a critic btw). Most people I know do the same. So a refer a friend discount might be very effective and if offered via email, very inexpensive.

  • For me, it’s cast changes. Or I love the show. A Chorus Line got me three times. (I left New York in 1985, so I haven’t seen a show multiple times since Pirates.) I think it would be fun to mix up your Godspell cast after six months and have everybody change roles. I would see that as a second time.
    Wait, I saw Wicked twice, though partly because it was the only show in town when my daughter needed to write a paper.
    Special Bring a Friend Nights where you get to meet the cast afterwards, with first priority to folks who’ve already seen the show?
    I definitely believe in giving away a freebie to get people to give you their email address.
    Free dinner for two at a nearby restaurant sounds good.
    Or the house seats for regular price– (which you can get by the way, if you go to the box office at ten am the morning of the performance if they haven’t sold yet)

  • A talk back would get me back a second time. I would feel confident that I would have something valuable to contribute, especially having seen it twice. Priscilla has been bugging me with emails and discounts to see it again. That won’t work on me.

  • Bryan David says:

    Dear Mr. Davenport, et al:
    Repeat customers? I thought since I’ve written the Book & Lyrics to Twelve (12) Musicals the concept is you see:
    “Whitechapel” ©
    The Life & Times of:
    ‘Jack The Ripper’
    A Musical Love Story! ™
    You get a coupon buy one get one 1/2 price to:
    “Wilde About Me!” ©
    The Life, Loves & Lawsuits of: Oscar Wilde! ™
    There you get a coupon to buy one get one 1/2 price ticket to:
    “The Island of Lost & Found” © (The Black Hole) ™
    There you get a coupon get one 1/2 price ticket to:
    “The Dorr Family” © (Closed & Locked)
    and so on until you’ve seen all Twelve (12) I’ll add:
    “Odd Man In” © as the Baker’s dozen for free!
    What do you say, are you up for producing A DOZEN shows in the next 12 months or so?

  • Janet says:

    I LOVE to see shows more than once because, while they are essentially the same time after time, it’s live theater and anything can happen. That and the fact that it’s not a movie or DVD that can be replayed and if a show is good, and I leave feeling great, I want that feeling again – kind of like an addiction lol. It gets really expensive, obviously, but there are very few shows I have NOT seen more than once for that reason and I feel extremely fortunate to say so.

  • Destiny says:

    Hi Ken, Great casts in a great show bring me back for repeat visits. Rock of Ages had a fantastic lead in Constantine Maroulis, who already had a small following, and parlayed his acting chops and wonderful pipes into a Tony nomination and a league of repeat showgoers, some of whom followed the national tour when he took it across the nation and back. I saw it maybe 12 times over three years, it was fun to see how the script evolved, too. The show had an ad lib quality to it, one never knew what was going to happen, so it was exciting and fresh every time. The revival of Lend Me a Tenor, with Tony Shalhoub and Anthony LaPaglia had that same quality, and if I had been able to stay in NYC longer on that trip, I would have seen that one again as well. Discounts on good center orchestra seats, on meals “next door”, and the ability to interactively select the exact ticket I want would all make me favorably inclined to see the same show again. I enjoy your blog, and actually do pay attention to what you say! Thanks!

  • Don Jordan says:

    what about using the resources we have…that is repeat customers get a meet and greet with a cast member or q backstage tour after the show…costs would be nominal, but you would be giving them something they didn’t get the first time and something “specila” you know how audiences like to peek behind the curtain…

  • Robert Grant says:

    I return to see shows I love when I want to SHARE the experience with someone who hasn’t seen the show. Maybe there is some pricing model whereby a repeat purchaser gets incremental (yet significant) discounts for one ticket each time they buy a second at full price. In my world, I would end up splitting the cost with my show companion. The shows would benefit from not only the word of mouth, but repeat viewers physically bringing new patrons to the show.

  • Clair Sedore says:

    I do not agree on seeing a show more than once, if it is a great show like Wicked (I have seen about 6 times), Billy Elliot (3 times), The Lion King (cannot count, at least 10-12 times), classics like West Side story many times. If I love a show I could probably see it weekly.
    Can hardly wait to see The Book of Mormon again–once was definitely NOT enough. Then there are the shows that once is too many! And I am very sorry to say that Godspell was one of them, I saw it when it played here (1972) in Toronto with a great cast (Victor Garber, Gilda Radner, Eugene Levy, Andrea Martin, Martin Short etc, but have no desire to see it again, nor Jesus Christ Superstar for that matter, or Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Perhaps it is just the religious musicals, never thought about that!

  • May D says:

    I can think of two things that would make me see a show again. Loving it, like FOLLIES or GYPSY …
    Which obviously I have done. Tell me, does buying tickets for sons/daughters and friends count as going back?.
    And, some friends and I, who went to see a preview of RELATIVELY SPEAKING and are tempted to go back to see how
    they might have changed it (especially Ethan Coen’s pathetic contribution).
    We are retired and on fixed incomes but theater is our passion and you don’t want to know what we forego for good theater.
    Love your column, read it religiously, share it with friends. This is the first time I felt I had something to say. Keep that column coming. It is terrific.
    May D

  • I saw “Arcadia” twice because I loved the play the first time I saw it, but I knew it was so clever and well constructed that I had missed a lot. So I bought the script, read it, and saw the show a second time.
    I would have seen “Jerusalem” twice, just to sit on the other side of the house and see Mark Rylance”s work again.
    For a really good show that I absolutely love, I’ll go see it again.

  • I ran a show for a short 3 month period Off Broadway then took it to the San Francisco Bay Area and ran it for 2 1/2 years. 3 Factors weighed in – First – as mentioned above – quality. People repeat because they love a show – put your time and effort into making the show great and they will come multiple times. 2nd – It was a series of autobiographical short stories woven together to form a complete play – so I would switch stories out, add one here, different one there – keeping it fresh to some extent. (Maybe you could shift the music implemented in a scene? I did.) 3rd – And perhaps the biggest chess move — I rewarded several people who came 4 or 5 times with never paying again! They would always bring 4 to 5 paying customers with them each time. Now you have 5 more paying customers yakking about your show – leading to them sharing it with at least 4 or 5 more peeps if they loved it (back to quality – make the show solid and very entertaining) thus exponentially building your audience because you invested in a few people who adored your show – who will drag friends and family no matter what. I swear by this business model – particularly for the solo show format.

  • There are a few factors that get me to make a repeat visit to a show. If I’m obsessed with the show, I’ll go back a few times. I’ll also return if a favorite performer is leaving or someone exciting joins the cast. I bring large groups of friends and family members to a show I’ve already seen at least twice a season, so quality certainly plays a large role in my largest purchase.
    Lisa V, I agree with your suggestion. I would certainly respond well to an email recommending HURT VILLAGE after I see THE MOUNTAINTOP. Unfortunately, very few companies are willing to recommend productions that they have no financial stake in.

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