The TKTS Fast Pass seems sweet in the short term. But what about the long?

I love me an amusement park.  At least one day every summer, you can find me at Six Flags eating a funnel cake (although we simply called ’em fried dough back in Mass), and riding the rollers.

I learned a long time ago that the only way to get the most value for my money was to opt-in for the Fast Pass, which cost some extra money, but allowed you to skip the line, and optimize your day.

So imagine my excitement when I read this article in The Times advertising a brand new Fast Pass for our own TKTS booth!  I couldn’t wait to read the deets.

Here’s the scoop:

Anyone who buys a ticket at the TKTS booth gets to skip the line if they come back within seven days to buy another ticket!  That’s right!  Buy a discount ticket on Friday night, then on Saturday afternoon you can come buy another discount ticket without waiting in line!  And shoot, want to see a show six days later and only pay half price?  Come back and skip the line again.

This sounds amazing . . . for the consumer.

But for the Producer?

Standing in that long line at the TKTS booth is one of the few obstacles that people have in their way to getting those drastic last minute deals on tickets.  And we just removed it.  And ok, I guess I can somewhat buy the argument that perhaps we can get some people to see more shows while in town, but they’ll be purchasing half price tickets.

And the fact of the matter is, shows can’t exist . . shows can’t pay back . . . on half price tickets.  I can’t recall ever seeing a recoupment schedule that has a show returning its investors money at 50% off.

It’s challenging enough dealing with the proliferation of discounts all over the web . . . as if it wasn’t easy enough for folks to find them . . . now we’re going to make it easier?  As if a giant red structure that says TKTS smack dab in the middle of Broadway wasn’t enough.  You do know that tons of tourists think that’s just where you buy tickets for shows . . . and end up getting a deal.  It’s a ticketing oasis . . . and we just said, “Hey – come back anytime you want . . . why pay full price, when you can skip a line and pay half?”

Now, insiders tell me that one of the reasons for the Fast Pass was to educate folks that there are full price tickets now sold at the booth.  Not sure I see the connection, but if that’s the goal then why not . . .

  • List all the shows available at the booth, and on Broadway, and tell the consumer what the price is when they get to the window.
  • Eliminate the percentage off entirely, and just list the price available for that show that day.  Show A = $50.  Show B = $120.  There’s no longer full price or discount price, there is just the price.
  • Stop calling it a Discount Booth and just call it a Ticket Booth.

I realize this isn’t the most consumer friendly post, but just remember, this is The Producer’s Perspective. 🙂  And hey, I’m not saying eliminate The Booth, or get rid of discounting.  We need it.  But we need less discounting, not more.  And just making it easier for people to pay less, isn’t going to keep any of the thousands of people employed by Broadway shows working longer.

Remember, at Six Flags, if you want to skip the line, you pay for it.


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  • David Merrick Jr. says:

    Personally, I think you’re being a bit short-sighted.

    I’ve got to think that one of the main reasons for the new Fast Pass is to increase repeat business, something you don’t even address here.

    Because NO ONE really wants to wait in that long line, especially in not-ideal weather (like, uh, today!). It sucks.

    By taking that objection away, you encourage repeaters, and that sells more tickets, gets more people into theaters, word of mouth, etc.

    I know many people who either aren’t inclined to or simply can’t afford Broadway’s ever-rising prices. This gives them another reason to see a Broadway show.

    By the way, about those obscenely high Premium Prices…how about KINKY BOOTS making their Rear Orchestra seats (Row P) into Premiums last week?

    Now THAT’S the kind of thing that can drive potential ticket buyers away.

  • Ken Davenport Ken Davenport says:

    Surprised to see this comment from someone with your user name. 🙂

  • David Merrick Jr. says:

    Dad and I aren’t speaking.

  • alex says:

    I don’t know… even the half price tickets aren’t really half price. The producers mark up the tix to 150% of what they used to, then they charge half price at TKTS, so really it’s like 20% off (I know my math is fuzzy) for the consumer, esp after all the fees and add-ons. TKTS is not quite the bargain it used to be – I used to see shows once a week for $50. Now I spend more than $80 so I don’t go as often anymore. The line is not really an issue.
    No one pays full price anymore — I think the TKTS and Broadwaybox final prices are about the same. I’m sure producers price that in.

  • Liberty says:

    I think you’re missing the point of how tkts and tdf are used. There isnt a designated amount of “discount” tickets that go in ‘j’ status on telecharge. The treasurer that is putting these seats on sale at the booth (in close to real time) is monitoring all sales to get as much money out of a performance as possible. Then there’s the street team that marketing is paying to promote at the booth and steer patrons to 30%-50% off tickets. So this isn’t some hit to producers they are dollars coming in and often a way to move excessive company seat holds and more often just poor programming (just cause it worked for Rent doesn’t mean it will work for every show) leaving huge holes all over the house. I love the idea of a pass that allows ease to the customer because there isn’t a seat available that the producers don’t want to sell. Rarely do we sell as many of those seats as the marketing is trying to sell. Short sighted? No. The booth is doing what producers are begging them to do which is sell more seats faster. If producers lose money from “half price” tickets it has nothing to do with how TDF/TKTS does its business. That’s just ridiculous. My experience with producers/broadway and TDF/TKTS is consistently inconsistent. Complaining when they are selling too many and complaining when they don’t sell enough. Not to mention how poorly the Broadway theatre management community treats these customers. There is almost a hatred of the patrons that choose to accept the discount. Ushers treat them badly. Box office treats them badly and now the Producers want to make it more difficult for these people to buy the seats that won’t sell without them??? For real, Ken? Don’t put them on sale if you don’t wanna sell them.. Just tell the treasurer. I am confident that he/she will be happy to not have to watch those statuses all day along with the other mistakes in programming and ticket marketing that plagues shows that don’t move 100%+ of the inventory.

  • Billy Christopher says:

    Is there data on people who buy tickets through TKTS and how frequently those people will pay full price? I know some people just can’t, but just how many is that? Will those numbers we might have a better picture of how this MAY affect full price sales.

  • Jeff says:

    I know you’re obsessed (I think that’s a safe word to use, no? heh) with Broadwaybox and discounts for theater tickets, but the producers (or staff of the shows) are the ones who release those tickets to TDF, TKTS, Broadwaybox, etc. So, by the time I’m getting a discounted seat, isn’t it because demand for that show is smaller than the house size?

    I’d love to buy discount seats for Lion King, Book of Mormon, Motown, Pippin, Vasha Sonia etc., but at present they don’t exist. And they are sold out shows.

    I recently bought full price seats to Matilda and Pippin, a BroadwayBox seat ($99) to see Jane Lynch in Annie, and I’m probably seeing Murder Ballad through a papering service next week.

    I know this is The Producer’s Perspective, but from The Audience Perspective, aren’t I just buying (except for papering) the seats the theaters couldn’t sell? The seats I get cheaper were full-price once, then as time went by, 30% off on BroadwayBox, then after even more time, 50% off at TKTS, etc. If I get a dog at the pound no one wants, it’s a rescue, but if I pay less to watch a show from a seat no one wanted, it’s a travesty?

    If I don’t control whether a show has discount seats, and I would not see all the shows I do if I paid full price for everything, I can never figure out your plan in this regard.

    You often mention the audience loves to use discount ticket sites and wants to pay as little as possible to see things, and this is true in all aspects of life. But we have no power to demand Book of Mormon discounts, or that Lion King tickets shouldn’t cost $170.

    It’s a supply and demand market, and sometimes you have the supply and sometimes you have the demand.

    The system is democracy in action, no?

  • Jared says:

    I don’t quite see what the problem is, Ken. The whole point of the TKTS booth is to sell unsold seats the day of the show. Surely the show making some money off those seats is better than getting nothing.

    I understand that as a producer you would rather people by full price tickets, but I think you are under the mistaken assumption that everyone who buys discount tickets would have bought a full priced one if given no other options. That simply isn’t true. Broadway is an expensive evening, and I bet at least half of the people using the TKTS booth would skip the show altogether without the discount. Not because they don’t want to see the show, but because they simply cannot afford it.

    And in all fairness, if you have a strong product that has been properly advertised and promoted, you really shouldn’t have tickets to give to the TKTS booth. You don’t see “Wicked,” “The Lion King,” or “The Book of Mormon” putting tickets up for sale at TKTS. And I bet your own “Kinky Boots” hasn’t had to release any discounted day of tickets since winning that Tony 🙂

  • I’m glad to see we are in agreement about how TKTS markets it’s discount tickets. Here,, I break down the problem about how price percentages mislead the public and work against straight plays to the benefit of costlier shows and against the interests of consumers.

    Also, wailing and railing against discount tickets ignores the yang that discounts are with respect to the yin of premium prices and dynamic pricing. The existence of discounts is what allows the ridiculous pricing structure of Broadway to exist as it does now.

    Broadway producers have allowed TKTS to go from a useful tool for the distribution of last minute unsold tickets to become as big a Broadway player as any producer on the main stem at all.

    And guess what? The interests of TKTS do not align with the producers of the shows whose tickets they sell, and thrive upon. Millions of dollars in fees for selling tickets to shows you say can not pay back investors at these price points? Sounds very much like a grotesque case of the tail wagging the dog, doesn’t it?

    The horse has long since left the barn and no single producer can reign in the mighty force that TKTS/TDF has become, but that might be a good task for the Broadway League, wouldn’t you think? That would take enlightened leadership and cooperation and a concerted program of bringing sanity to the pricing structure of Broadway.

    I’m not very hopeful that this is in the cards in any way at all, and I fear that the future of Broadway will suffer for it.

  • Ilene Argento says:

    I actually share your concern, Ken. Although TKTS and other discounted help to fill seats (which is a GOOD thing), your point about finding a biz plan that will return cital to investors based on deeply discounted tix is well taken (from personal experience). I’m not a big fan of TKTS, as I don’t live in NYC so, when I go, I want to make sure I get good seats to the show I want to see, so I’m a full pricer and just get a TKTS tick if I have energy for a last minute matinee on the day I fly in, then will grab a seat to a show that’s not on the top of my list or that I’ve seen before and want to see again. All that said, it’s the vicious circle that concerns me …. If you don’t discount tix, you sometimes can’t fill the house, but if you DO discount, you can’t afford to keep the show running. Perhaps a good plan for the Producer is to only release the discounted seats for the harder to fill performances (Tues-Thirs nights), or at the end of a run when things are slowing down. To deeply discount from the get go creates a potential audience of waiters …. Waiting to see the show until another coupon comes out! If TKTS will start promoting last minute full price or slight
    Y discounted in addition to big discounts on other shows, that might help everyone. As for the
    Ine pass …. One of the fun things about TKTS is standing in line schmoozing about theatre and promoting your favorite shows to the undecideds in the line!

  • Aaron Loo says:

    Maybe having a frequent theater fan club that would give some benefits of discounts or other goodies. Like a fan appreciation night where they get to meet the stars of the show.

    This would be great for producers to build their fan base and show their appreciation to the fans. If a fan loves the show and has been to the show more than once they would get a discount. Maybe a discount for the second ticket that they buy for a friend. And these active theater buff would be in demand by other shows that would love to have someone who loves the theater with a passion.

    Give the diehard theater goer some love and they will get their friends and families to see the show that they love. It has worked for resurrected TV shows.

    Great topic of discussion but no easy solutions.

  • Dear Ken,
    I am struggling with a Kickstarter project for my play “223 Brush Street.” Could you recommend a theatrical producer, maybe from the Detroit area if possible, who would be a partner or a mentor to me in getting this project right and then take the play all the way to a stage? Thank you. Michele Taylor

  • Jeffrey Simno says:

    Ken, as usual you make several terrific points. But, wait, there’s more!

    If TKTS wants to encourage repeat purchases, then a 7-Day Fast Pass isn’t the optimal answer. Another solution could be to allow TKTS-goers the ability to purchase same-week tickets at the booth if they purchase a same-day ticket after waiting in line. In this way, TKTS audiences wouldn’t have to go to the trouble of saving their TKTS ticket-stub and also wouldn’t have to return to TKTS only to wait in a shorter line of privilege. Instead, audiences could get all their week-of purchases handled in one visit!

    And with less TKTS-goers needlessly returning for a purchase they could have made the previous day, the TKTS line would be shorter and more efficient for everyone (not just 7-Day Pass holders)! Happier audiences, less line-waiting, more tickets sold, and happier producers.

    Happier producers? Yes! Producers, for their part, could simply charge a still-discounted but slightly higher price for these same-week purchases because, well, week-of tickets are actually more valuable than day-of tickets! And audiences love week-of tickets more because they allow for better life-planning (which encourages more theatre-going!).

    The problem with the producers selling (and pricing) their tickets for the booth is a legitimate concern. Shows truly can’t recoup by selling tickets at 50% off. But this problem is not the booth’s nor the audience’s fault, this problem is simply a reflection of the reality that most Broadway shows aren’t worth their higher box-office prices.

    Unfortunately, producers can’t price their shows according to market demand because NY has crony laws on the books which allow labor costs to remain artificially high at the expense of: the audience (higher ticket prices), producers/investors (higher capital/weekly expenses), shows that could-have-been-but-never-will-be (less jobs, less writers, less variety and energy on Broadway), and highly desirable skilled workers who could offer as-good-as (or better!) services at more affordable rates.

    As it stands now, NY laws largely are designed to protect the status quo worker and hurt (if not outright eliminate) the enterprising visionary worker who can provide a better service or same-quality service at a more affordable price. And if other workers do not exist or cannot provide such services, then the crony laws are wholly unnecessary and the status quo worker has nothing to fear by allowing free competition into the Broadway market.

    In truth, forced union membership is both immoral and counter-productive while freedom for workers to join a union (or not) is essential to a healthy Broadway. But because NY laws force workers to subscribe to union rules and rates, Broadway talent gets artificially eliminated and enterprising solutions to crippling problems and pricing are less likely to be discovered. In the spirit of our recent US Independence Day: coercion is never the answer, freedom is!

    One final thought for producers:

    TKTS may have the real estate and the visibility, but producers have the product. So in the end, TKTS is dependent on producers, not the other way around. The TKTS line is long because theatre-goers cannot get TKTS prices at the show’s box office or at The Broadway League’s ticket desk in the Times Square Visitor Center. Imagine if same-day discounts were applied to all locations (online, box office, Broadway League ticket center, etc.) how quickly the line at TKTS would begin to shorten.

    Who would wait in blazing NY heat or frigid NY winds for a TKTS ticket if similar priced tickets were available at theatre box offices, other nearby locations, or from one’s own smart phone without the TKTS line and wait? And ever-green tourists would quickly learn of these alternative options via word-of-mouth, in-room hotel advertising, flyer-marketers walking the Duffy Square area, online, or any of the other creative ways people communicate.

    Sadly, producers foolishly don’t take advantage of their strengths. They’d seemingly rather lose the ticket-sale altogether or force discount-seekers to wait in discouragingly long lines rather than offer same-day discounts at theatre box offices et al. And TKTS is stronger, more powerful, and less-willing to adhere to producer demands because of this bizarre self-injuring behavior.

    But imagine how fast TKTS would adjust to producer concerns and suggestions if TKTS even suspected that producers could/would direct audiences in such a way that reduced the number of ticket surchages TKTS could collect. In the end, the bottom line is what matters–even to non-profits.

    • Union busters need not apply. The salaries of union labor on Broadway is a red herring, the middle class jobs they provide are good for the industry and the city. Many producers of today, 99 percenters and other wannabees, are too often stuck on the philosophy of “all for me” that has brought this country to the brink of economic ruin.

      • Oops, of course I meant to say the “one percenters”.

      • Jeffrey Simno says:

        I respect your opinion. But no one is proposing union busting. Allowing union workers to compete with other skilled workers who wish to retain their union independence is not a bad thing. It brings in fresh talent, spurs creativity and innovation, and often simultaneously results in both cost-savings and higher wages for all (including union workers). Moreover, if it can help reduce pricing so that middle and lower class theatre-goers can actually attend a show and attend more often, then that means more middle-class jobs on Broadway and beyond when this larger Broadway audience returns to their respective hometowns with a desire to see more of what they could for the first time afford to see on Broadway.

  • David Merrick Jr. says:


    Regarding your “final thought”, are you not aware that, with the exception of sold-out shows, virtually every show has discount codes i.e. or, which enables buyers to go the box office and get same-day discounts?

    I would’ve added some exclamation points, but you’ve used them all…

    • Jeffrey Simno says:

      1) Your addendum made me literally laugh aloud, so bravo and thanks for that.

      2) Of course I realize there are other day-of discount services besides TKTS. However, the majority of Broadway tickets are sold to tourists, many of whom are from foreign countries. Can anyone realistically expect this larger tourist market to be able to navigate and locate niche services like BroadwayBox or other day-of discounts while they’re on vacation without a printer, in a city they have never visited, on a jam-packed sightseeing schedule?

      Don’t forget, many American and foreign tourists have never been to a live stage performance in their lives nor do they have any real understanding of what exactly “Broadway” is. Instead, they’re often just buying tickets to a show someone in their lives said to see, but even those details can be vague and confusing when they try to recall them.

      Tourists are green and sadly ignorant about Broadway, so we can’t expect them to have the knowledge of a theatre buff. Heck, sometimes tourists line up at TKTS simply because they think that’s the ONLY place to purchase in person (or, more humorously, because they think it’s a line to be able to climb the red stairs of Duffy Square).

  • Lonnie Cooper says:

    A great argument for better pricing policies. If you have to sell on the tkts booth regularly, your show isn’t worth the price you put on it. So price them lower if you have to or don’t produce the show. There is a sheep mentality to pricing on broadway that doesn’t exist anywhere else “if I price my show lower than X Big musical, the audience will think its worth less”. Well, it is worth less. Mormon is more valuable than (sorry) Alan Cumming in Macbeth. Not just because the demand is higher, but because it is demonstrably more expensive to produce. In any other business pricing is determined by cost of production and what the market will bear. Even in the rest of the entertainment biz this is true – a Jay Z/Beyonce ducat is worth far more than Joe blow at the Metropolitan room – But not on broadway. That’s why the star system has taken hold in Bway plays – to jack up the price. (The labor unions are also at fault for thinking that they are doing the same level of work for a $20m musical as a $2m play, but that’s another argument).

  • Michael says:

    Hi Ken,

    This post confuses me seeing as how it would seem you have a discount ticketing service of your own, that being Your Broadway Genius. Is this apparently new ideology in regards to discount ticketing the reason that the street team of your very own baby carries only 2 shows at this point? Just throwing that out there.

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  • Leslie Sackman says:

    My family is affronted by the new Fast Pass line. I’ve been a patron of the TKTS booth since it opened in 1973. It’s always been a fair trade. The longer you are willing to wait, the better your chances for the show of your choice and the best seats. Simple, with no way to cheat the system. The new Fast Pass line creates a privileged class, eliminates the fairness and allows some people to scam the system.
    My family and I were first in line this past Saturday, arriving at 1PM on a hot day, in order to be the first at the window when it opened. 3PM came and our 1st choice show was listed. We were sure we were in! Imagine our displeasure, when dozens of people who had just arrived, were admitted before us. It seemed like a slap in the face; somehow we had been duped. By 3:15, when we were finally allowed through, our first choice show was gone.
    To make matters worse, we were later told that many of the people in the Fast Pass line had NOT attended a show during the 7 day period. They just stood outside a theater one night during the previous week, and asked people coming out for their stubs. Or, they used stubs given to them by friends.

    • JZ says:

      It is my understanding that you can’t just walk up and cut the line and use fast pass with any old tickets stubs. You have to have a receipt showing that your tickets stubs were purchased at the TKTS booth within the past 7 days.

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