Will we charge for more legroom too?

If you’ve been reading for a while then you know that I watch the airline industry pretty closely, as they are often prognosticators of things to come in our industry (and in all perishable inventory industries, actually).

They, like the theater, the restaurant industry, etc., are very high risk, face high labor costs, etc. so they have to constantly reinvent their ways to earn revenue.

They were the first with email discounts . . . they were the first with premium seats (first class) . . . they were the first with variable pricing (my new favorite – “only 1 seat left at this price”), etc.

So, when I read this article on CNN the other day, I had to wonder if the theory would eventually spill over to our biz.

You’ve all seen the newfangled “premium economy” or “more legroom” seats on flights, right?  You pay maybe $79 or $99 more and get some more room to stretch your legs, and maybe another perk or two.  It’s for the folks who want a little more comfort, but don’t want first class.

Well, apparently, a couple of airlines are doing so well with this concept that they are adding more legroom seats . . . and get this . . . shrinking the legroom of the rest of the seats!  (The 1% wins again.)

Now, I’ll admit, I’ve opted in for the “more legroom” seats a few times, especially on red-eyes.

Which made me think . . . would people pay for them in the theater?  We already have some successful test cases of people paying more for aisle seats.  But what if we had a couple of rows that were roomier than others?  Would people pay?  Would we sell more premium seats?

It would take an adventurous theater owner to incur the labor costs to remove and readjust the seating to give it a go, knowing that they’d probably lose a row of seats in the back as well.

Would it work?  Not sure.  And just like on airlines, some folks would probably end up getting it for free (which is how I ended up in a “more legroom” seat the first time).

Of course, now I buy one whenever I can, so . . .

 

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Comments
  • Brandon says:

    Perhaps it’s great way to cater to the wealthiest theatre-goers, but it seems to me there’s a huge potential for backlash…at least among savvy theatre fans who may not be able to afford the higher prices. I almost never pay full price for anything–even the shows I really WANT to see, and as I’m becoming more and more familiar with various broadway houses, I’m more reluctant to buy a ticket at any price for a seat that I know will be uncomfortable. For example, after a miserable experience in the balcony of the Hirschfeld, unless the show is something I absolutely HAVE to see, I’m done buying even TDF tickets for shows there. Off the top of my head, I’ve had similar experiences in nosebleeds at the St. James and Studio 54.

    I know it’s a huge expense, but if theatre owners really wanted to attract customers, they would take a page from the movie theatre industry (beyond just selling concessions) and make ALL of their seats comfortable.

    Remember, unlike a Broadway show, an airplane is not the destination. It doesn’t matter how comfortable the flight is, if your day at Disneyland is always miserable, you’ll stop going.

  • Allison says:

    I think the audience will demand it. They did at Long Wharf in New Haven. The seats were MISERABLE. Now they are starting a huge renovation which one of the main changes they are making is more legroom and roomier seats.

    Though it would solve the “long legs need to be on the aisle” issue if there were more legroom in the theatre. And as a person that often attends theatre with someone over 6’3…

  • Tom G says:

    Except for the “hot” tickets in town, like Book of Mormon playing to 102% capacity, most shows don’t sell full houses. Losing a few rows for added legroom wouldn’t be the monetary disaster many think. In fact, comfort can play a big role in choosing a show. In a recent trip to the Nederlander Theatre, I remember both the show and the pain in my knees which makes me think twice about a return visit.

  • Randy Cole says:

    I have to wonder if we should be following an industry who I feel is notorious for frustrating customers by overselling inventory, issuing fee after fee and behaving in a way that seems to put the customer last.

    It’s the analogy we always make, Broadway compared to Airlines … but the airlines are not quite the role model for most profitable business these days.

    @TOM G – last time I sat in the Nederlander was for Newsies in the Mezz Left area and it was terribly uncomfortable and I’m about 5″ 10′.

  • Nathan says:

    While I’m all for premium seating (and the pricing that goes along with that), I am fully against what the airlines are doing and advocate that we do not do the same thing. My big problem is that in order to create these more legroom seats, they are taking leg room away from the cheaper seats. So the cheaper seats get worse and they do not cost any less. Why am I getting charged the same amount for less? If the airlines were to give up a row and a make up that cost with the extra charged on more roomy seats, I would be all for it. But why is the average flyer getting penalized?

    This sort of reminds me of when Universal Studios added the express pass which allowed anyone who bought it to zip to the front of the line- sure, it’s great for the people who can afford to pay for it, but everyone else now has to wait longer.

    Of course, it’s all about the status quo – it’s all about loosing something that we previously had. If a theater is designed with more legroom for the front seats, then that is also a different story

    I think that the premium experiences shouldn’t negatively impact all of those who cannot afford it. For example, what if we upgraded the premium seats to be more comfortable? Or offered in-seat food and beverage service?

  • David Reiffel says:

    I have to agree with those who have questioned the wisdom of such an idea. I avoid flying, and take the train when I can, because, in the interest of ever increasing profits, the airline industry has turned the experience into something miserable. They are not to be emulated. Do we want to start treating our customers with the contempt that the airlines do? Broadway will not be a happy place when that happens.

  • Michael DiGaetano says:

    I might pay a little more for a wider seat. My experience next to a 250lb teen age girl drooling over Daniel Radcliffe in Equus while her thighs were drooling over into my $100 sixth row orchaestra seat are still memorable

  • David Topchik says:

    As you said, the 1% enjoy the additional leg room on planes at the expense of the 99% less fortunate. The theater, however, should be more democratic, not more elitist. Premium seats already have displaced many regular orchestra seat buyers to benefit expense account buyers. If you take it to the extreme, maybe we should have separate theaters for those who can afford additional leg room, and put the rest of us in cramped spaces… maybe even charge more for air conditioning and have the cheap theater with fans only… and maybe the premium premium theater would be live, and the cheap theater a video feed. Or just the movie. But then the movie houses can sell premium seats with more legroom…

  • Carl says:

    I’d pay more to be able to text my friends during the show, sing along, and eat popcorn (when not singing).

    Note to theaters — the height of the average human being is increasing with each generation.

  • Paul Argentini says:

    Come on, Ken! Capitalism says the winner is whoever can do it better, faster, and easier wins the Cupie Doll. Don’t get an engineer to fashion form-fitting seats arranged efficiently and dynamically, offer a pre-dinner show at five o’clock, and another at eight and get the gotta-see’s in to see it! Twice as much for you. The three o’clock sex crowd is ready for you at five, go out for dinner, and have plenty of time for more sex when they get back to the hotel after dinner, especially if you offer free condoms and martini’s after the first act curtain. The spontaneous result is the birth rate goes up and more kids are named Ken. Isn’t that the purpose? To leave the audience gasping? Quick! Quick! The Rescue Meds!
    Paul

  • Douglas Hicton says:

    The egalitarian in me finds this idea–charging a premium for something that all theatre-goers should be enjoying in the first place–somewhat immoral. But ho-hum, I suppose Broadway producers might as well copy the airlines, since their products are priced about the same.

  • Lester says:

    What about us short people? I buy my ticket and then some 6’5″ guy sits down in front of me. I have to lean left and right throughout the show cued off of his movements. Is there a premium no tall guy in front of me seat? In some theaters the front row works for that but in others you can’t see much from there. And if choreography interests one — you get to see feet but not pictures and patterns. Front row Mezz can sometimes be a better choice.

    I don’t like all the upscale catering. Some comic whose name I forget suggested that first class passengers should be able to go into coach and do whatever they wanted to the coach passengers.

    The airline model is hideous and makes me resentful of each extra I have to pay for. Next we will have to pay extra for ANY seat. You can stand or sit on the floor for your ticket.

    Of course, in the theatre we already do sell standing room. Hmmmmm…..

  • Donald says:

    Seating in movie theaters has changed dramatically in the last 30 years, so I don’t know if live theater should be immune. And often, those changes started in middle America and moved to the cities. 30 years ago, there was no “stadium seating” and no cup holders (we held our gallon of soda between our knees, as nature intended). Secondly, Broadway theater is a tourist-driven experience. How do a significant number of tourists get introduced to shows? On cruise ships! Look at the comfort of those theaters, some of them have cocktail tables. I think that there are probably tourists whose take-away from the NYC theater-going experience is that New Yorkers like to be uncomfortable at the theater because it helps us pay attention.

  • Phyllis Buchalter says:

    LEG ROOM to some theatre goers is extremely important. My husband is one of them. We actually choose to go to more comfortable theatres (newer theatres and redesigned theatres)and see practically anything that is playing there and avoid uncomfortable theatres (ancient relics and especially Studio 54 in the mezzanine), choosing not to see productions if we cannot obtain or afford orchestra seating (some theatres like The Neil Simon are even bad in the orchestra). These ill constructed theatres should take the lead from The Freedman which was redesigned with stadium seating and kept the charm of the old Biltmore.

  • Martin says:

    Well – the Metropolitan Opera already does this – charging a huge premium for aisle seats (as well as the companion non aisle seat next to it)

  • Rob says:

    As someone that goes to the theater a lot it sounds good.I always make sure I get aisle seats and have my legs in the aisles. Why are those seat so damn small to begin with ? Were they constructed for people with no legs ? Would I pay more ? maybe , but not more then the $25 bucks the airlines charge.

  • A Contrarian says:

    I’d like to know what the increase in Average Seat Cost would be if, say, the Shubert were reconfigured with the density of seats at the Selwyn. I find the Beaumont and Newhouse rather uncomfortable, too, even though they’re much newer than the old Broadway houses.

  • Sue says:

    If you are thinking of modeling after the airlines, then just go for it — First Class seats, with our own First Class only bathrooms! I would pay to have express entry into a restroom at intermission!

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Ken Davenport
Ken Davenport

Tony Award-Winning Broadway Producer

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