The secret to stifling scalpers . . . raise prices?

Think Broadway tickets (and concert tickets and sports tickets) are too expensive?

Well, here comes an article from the NY Times which details the new strategy on the concert circuit . . . raise your prices, and keep raising them . . . until you actually price your scalpers out of the market.

Wait, wait, there’s more . . .

Just raising one side of the prices doesn’t work.  In order to be fair to the consumers, and make sure your shows are accessible (and perhaps even more accessible than they are now), you gotta lower the other side as well.

I call this, “See-Saw Pricing.”  One side goes up . . . way up . . . and the other side hits your butt on the ground, and hard.

Or the rich are subsidizing the cost of the not-so-rich.

And the theory is if the prices are already high, how much more could a scalper charge and actually make money?

Apparently Kid Rock is going to work this angle, by adding more of what he calls “Platinum Seating” only so the rest of the tickets in the house can be only $20.

We’re starting to play with this idea on Broadway more and more, although we haven’t hit our butts to the ground on the lower prices just yet – a good lottery or rush is about all you can ask for on the low end.  But a two-tiered system of top and bottom only might eliminate one of the greatest pricing problems we have . . .  the middle.  The middle price (rear of the front mezzanine, or back of the orchestra) is always the hardest spot in the theater to sell.  I call this, ‘The Jan Brady Problem” . . . cuz who wants to be the in the middle?

The Secondary Market will never go away entirely.  But thanks to modern technology we have more and more tools to help even the playing field, and take back some of the money they’ve taken from us over the years.  If we could capture just a few of the millions of dollars of markup that they charge every year, a lot more shows could recoup their investment.

And I call that, ‘awesome’.

Read the article about ticket scalping here.


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  • Jeff says:

    I went to the Boston Strong benefit concert recently on a business trip, and got a great seat day-of show (It originally sold out in 5 minutes due to demand). For the best seats, they did paperless ticketing only. I got in line with other ticket holders and instead of a ticket, I presented my credit card. The usher had a device on his hip, scanned my credit card, a stub printed out, and I was in the venue. No option to transfer tickets, nothing, you just have to show up. So, there are options without raising prices.

  • Broadway shows need to fill 8 shows a week. Special concerts for the rich is not a relevant model to base Broadway ticket prices upon.

    There is no magic formula. no magic bullet.

    Maybe it’s time to focus on putting on shows that appeal to a wide commercial audience and not worry about the leakage that scalpers are.

    After all, the producers have been scalping for years, so what’s the big deal?

  • David Merrick Jr says:

    Exactly, Michael. When the Producers scalp, it’s OK.

    When others do it, it’s a Problem.

  • Sue says:

    Points well made. As for those seats in the “middle”,if they were a little larger with more leg room and not quite such a long distance to the aisle (in some theaters), I for one would be more inclined to buy them. I was the middle child, and I am DONE with that role! I’ll keep buying my premium aisle seat and subsidizing the not-so-rich. And I am full of gratitude that I can do so.
    –a 55 y.o. female theater-goer from NJ i.e. your typical audience member

  • Carl White says:

    … and take back some of the money they’ve taken from us over the years.

    Ken, I do not understand this comment? If only fans had bought your tickets instead of scalpers how would you have made more money? In fact, being that ticket brokers and scalpers often buy more tickets than they sell and get stuck with unsold tickets the correct statement by you should be that they only actually made you more money through the years. In fact, I can not imagine any scenario where you would have made less money because of scalpers. They do not get the tickets for free and unless there are group deals or discount promotions available they pay full retail for their purchases.

    The only person that could have taken money out of your pocket would have been you by not pricing the shows correctly to maximize your profits. So are you blaming them for this? I would surmise that the secondary market could only help you in this regard as it gives you a free lesson in supply and demand, pricing, and what the market will bear for your shows. Did any scalpers ever ask you for payment for these free lessons?

    Funny how “scalpers” always get blamed for everything when all they do is speculate in a free market in a capitalist society taking 100% of the risk for what they invest in. In my humble opinion what they do represents everything that is great about living in and being able to do business in a free and capitalistic society.

    Now, if you prefer a socialist or communist society then you can start to argue they are the bad guys but I will just assume you prefer how we do it here in the USA.

  • Pat says:


    Weren’t you also complaining about tickets being discounted too much lately and too many sold cheaply at the TKTS booth?

    You are only going to make things worse for yourself. If you have a show that is the most in demand on Broadway by far, it may work for the very short term of that show.

    If you don’t have the most in demand show, you have to price your tickets correctly on day 1, and keep it simple. There are a lot of buyers that look and see producers “asking” $275 for premium seats for these mediocre shows. Many of the people see that, and say I am not paying that price, and am also not paying $170 to see in Row P, and will never go to your show.

    You are not trying to get some rich people to subsidize people sitting in the last row. You are trying to rape every last dollar from everybody, don’t BS us!

    and don’t stuff the group sales buyers with all seats on the extreme sides, we are not going to buy any of your shows EVER again when you play those games

    You and your producer friends should keep up the games. Looking forward to seeing how your dynamic pricing idea works a couple of years from now. Start out high and then lower as it gets closer until they are half off day of. The public is smarter than you think, just be prepared to sell 80% of your tickets on day of show at a massive discount.
    PS- If the weather is bad that day, people aren’t going out, and you will not even sell those seats at any price.
    For every smash like Mormon, there are 20+ dogs.
    As they say on Wall Street, Bulls and Bears make $, and pigs get slaughtered. Don’t be a pig!
    Keep it up and and Broadway is going to be littered with a lot of rotting pigs looking for investors!

  • Arnold Kuperstein says:

    When are producers going to be interested in theatre goers who see the majority of productions that are presented on Broadway each season – smashes, critical successes as well as some outright flops? As of the Saturday matinee on July 6th, I had seen every show currently playing on Broadway. I am so sick of not being able to buy a seat location in advance because the tickets are being sold for premium prices. I was able to buy a ticket for your production of MACBETH the night before the performance for a premium seat location that was now being sold for a discounted price from PLAYBILL. You producers are just greedy and until you recognize theatre goers who support the theatre industry and start treating us as valued customers the only alternative is to stop buying theatre tickets and let your less than smash hit productions crash and burn at the box office and close. People who only see one show a year can afford to buy a premium tickets but when you are seeing over twenty shows a year the cost becomes prohibitive. With the advent of the computer you have no excuse for not knowing who your most valued customers are. I for one am tired of being treated as dirt by producers like you who are only concerned with the scalpers.

  • Tom Atkins says:

    This idea isn’t a new one. The Royal Opera House in London have been pricing similarly for years with top price for opera in the regions of £250 ($377) but with seats often available at price points of £50 ($75) and occasionally even £15 ($22) or £5 ($7.50). Okay, they aren’t going to be great seats all the time but I guess for opera music fans it doesn’t matter so much. Some of their stats from financial year 2011/12:

    “40% of our audience are under 45.
    40% of our tickets are £40 and under.
    30% of our tickets are £30 and under.”

    The Royal Opera House is also heavily subsidised to be more accessible, but this pricing structure is an important part of maximising their “earned” income for the year.

  • SJThespian says:


    I think you’ve hit the nail on the head with part of your post — “the middle” seats are the core of the problem. We go see at least two shows almost every time we are in NYC, but I’m never going to pay $300+ for those premium seats. I’m also not going to pay the full price for “the middle”, it’s just not worth the money for a mediocre seat. That is what typically drives me off to TKTS. Sure I’m going to end up at the back of the Mez or out on the outside of the orchestra, but I’m very likely sitting next to someone who paid twice what I did for an almost identical seat.

    When we saw Kinky Boots while it was still in previews, part of the reason was because we were able to buy a discounted seat directly from the box office. They had opened up the next-to-the-last row in the orch because the whole production staff wasn’t going to be there for that performance. I think we paid $75 each for those seats, which to my mind was perfectly reasonable. Admittedly, if I had known how much I was going to enjoy the show we might have been willing to pay a bit more.

    Given a choice, I will always buy from the box office before I will go to TKTS and I avoid most of the ticket brokers like the plague. That makes me the somewhat atypical theatre goer however. I just can’t justify paying ticketmaster/telecharge/on-line-box-office-of-the week’s exorbitant fees on what I see as an already overpriced ticket for many shows.

    I say the above as someone who is intimately familiar with the cost of putting on a show, I’ve been involved in various non-professional theatres for most of the past 25 years. Even a community theatre takes a huge monetary risk putting on a show, but raising prices to the point where you alienate the audience is probably not the correct solution to the problem.

    To the original point of your blog post, I don’t think scalpers are going to go away no matter what the prices are. However, as a producer, why do you care? The scalpers aren’t taking audience away from you, they are only reselling tickets that are already sold.

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