A survey tells me Spiderman and Sellers in Times Square may be targeted.

Broadway elmoThere is a simple rule in the research industry:

Never ask for feedback, unless you’re prepared to do something with the results.

As you all know, I’m a huge fan of surveys and focus groups and even dial testing.  And I believe that all Producers and Creators should seek out feedback from friends, family, and most importantly, ticket buyers as they develop their product and marketing.

Just last week I got a fascinating survey emailed straight to my inbox from the Times Square Alliance. (The Alliance was founded in 1992 to “improve and promote Times Square – cultivating the creativity, energy and edge that have made the area an icon of entertainment, culture and urban life for over a century,” and as you’d expect, many of its board members are big Broadway muckety-mucks.)

As I read the survey and thought of that simple rule of research I talked about at the beginning of this blog, I realized that the Alliance is up to something.  

The survey started with general questions about who I was, what I did, and when I was last in Times Square.

And then it asked some pointed questions about how I felt about two things:

– The costumed characters in Times Square (Spiderman, Spongebob, and whatever else has dressed up lately).


– Street sellers of tickets to Broadway shows, stand-up comedy, etc.

In addition to wanting to know what I thought about both of the above, the Alliance also wanted to know if I had a “negative experience” with both sets of people.


Insert dramatic chords here.

Times Square has become the Wild West of street sellers.  Everything from a show to a super hero to a Scientologist is out in that box hawking their wares.  And, as I reported in my survey, I’m not  a fan of what’s going on (except for the ones selling tickets to my shows, of course).

And it sounds like the Alliance isn’t either and wants to do something.  It’s funny, twenty years ago they got the prostitutes and crack heads out of Times Square.  Now they want to kick out Elmo.

But what can they do?  Can they stop the costumed characters from walking through public space and offering free photos for tips?  Can they stop the Chicago girls from handing out flyers?  Certainly there is a difference, right?

What do you think should be done to curb the selling in the square?  Anything?  And what about when YOU have a show that you want to offer to all the consumers walking through the box?

Let me know what you think below.  And maybe the Alliance will take note and add the results to their survey.


(Got a comment? I love ‘em, so comment below! Email Subscribers, click here then scroll down to say what’s on your mind!)
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      • Ilene Argento says:

        I really am bothered by the underwear guy (kind of tasteless and inappropriate with all the kids around). The characters don’t particularly bother ME, but I think they’re a bit, well, stupid. They have them here in Hollywood, and frequently block the sidewalks, and … well, yes, I guess I DO dislike the characters!

        As for ticket barkers, I really dislike the comedy show barkers, but don’t mind the Broadway show promoters so much (slight bias, of course!). Perhaps the solution is to allow the Broadway “advisors” to set up only near TKTS, as “associates” of TKTS.

        I must say, though, I have NEVER bought a theatre ticket based on a street barker. The hotel videos sell, the billboards sell, the video board in Times Square that shows the video spots for shows is cool, the casts breaking out into song (Godspell’s flash mob was cool!), but, once I’m THERE, I pretty know what I’m there FOR!

        Here’s a thought (I know, I’m dreaming) …. have the Alliance set up a ‘stage’ by the stairs to nowhere in Times Square where there can be daily ‘talks’ about what’s playing on and off Broadway! If the ‘talks’ are prior to the opening each day of TKTS, then they could allow sign-ups for different shows to send reps out to tell about their show! (Yes, I know, this could get WAY out of hand!)

  • Bert says:

    I don’t mind seeing the gals for Chicago handing out brochures, or any other Broadway show trying to drum up business and get the word out to tourists. I really DO mind being asked countless times if I enjoy comedy and I seriously DO NOT enjoy seeing numerous Mickeys and costumed characters. I always feel like they have some kind of arsenal hidden inside. Not only are they violating trademarks and copyrights, they could be dangerous!

  • Times Square wouldn’t be Times Square without some huckstering. I have heard that some of the costume characters are simply freelance creeps. Personally, I preferred the hookers and the drug dealers. You knew where they were coming from.

  • Joe Ferriero says:

    I don’t mind those handing out flyers for shows. Chances are if I’m in Times Square it’s because I’m on my way to one … but the comedy club people are a bit to aggressive for my taste, as well as these singers/rappers who are offering their CD’s for free (although when they sign them they expect $$ for them). I think this is a great place to hand out free info, but don’t get pushy.

  • Alan B. says:

    Kick out the low class creeps that play the characters! Keep the GIRLS!

  • What if they erect a perm-a-stage where the “girls” and such could, I dunno, dance to soundtracks or something and hand out flyers, separating and differentiating promotions from opportunists?

  • christine kromer says:

    I too got that survey last week and thought something is a brewing. I find the characters a little overwhelming and frankly a little too aggressive. I was in Times Square with my nieces about two weeks ago on our way to see If/Then ( and we are there at least twice a month to see bdwy shows so we are not newbies), at one point we were surrounded by these guys shoving cd’s in our faces and my nieces got scared. We now avoid Times Square and go down to 8th Ave and walk to our show. If you want to sell something that is your right but not at the expense of scaring people. Something needs to be done but not at the expense of the Chicago girls or any other bdwy show

  • George says:

    The Rappers pushing a CD in your face and hurtling insults “What – You think I’m gonna Mug You!” and the SLEAZY creeps to dressed in costumes and grope kids while shaking down parents for money…

    Are going to KILL the Tourist Mecca that is Times Square today… and they had better do something about it before some terrorist picks up on the fact that they can end the Game by playing the “race” or “character” card…

    Got no problem with people handing out – free – flyers to promote their shows or products…

    I think we can even live with Hate Groups that spew their politics – they’re pretty much ignored.

    But when $$$ is being solicited…

    That’s where the line must be drawn pretty quickly because it seems to be getting worse every other month that I get up there.


  • Paula says:

    I’m in Times Square often, and I do not like to see the costumed “characters” (double meaning)
    pressure people with children to take a photo and
    then pressure them for a tip. I think it has
    gotten out of hand.

  • Greg Wright says:

    I got the same survey. I don’t mind the sellers so much and not even the characters. To a point. When there are six Elmos on one corner, we have a problem. When there are so many double decker bus tour companies that the sellers are blocking every corner surrounding Times Square, we have a problem. I am generally against regulation in this regard, but it has just gotten out of hand. I do think the unique acts and Beoadway shows should get a pass.

  • Times Square is prime turf for tourists. They have substantially cleaned up this area, yet we now are left with some marginal people trying to eek out a living, can’t be fun nor profitable handing out flyers. Does this really bother people? Of course no has the right to touch anyone and frighten people, esp. children, but how much flavor of our big apple do we really want to lose?(btw, the same costumed characters are all over Hollywood Blvd. trying to make a buck) NYC is now so sanitized, yet how homogenized does it really have to be? Do we want it to become merely a place to conduct business… why take away all its color, uniqueness and flavor? I am at the theatre every week, the hoards of tourists who have no idea where they are going bother me more then the costumed characters!

  • Tom Hartman says:

    Create licenses. People doing street performances or businesses such as a production get licensed and are allowed, anyone else gets hauled to jail or ticketed, creating more city income.

  • Kevin says:

    I am in Time Square regularly and it actually doesn’t bother me much. Maybe I have become desensitized. Personally, instead of costume characters and ticket sellers, I’d love to see more “creative” stuff going on in Time Square (like subway performers who are often great.) But, on the flip side, I would hate to see it policed so much that it becomes a sterile environment where only chains and approved/sanitized vendors can operate. Even the food trucks are all now chains. Boring… New York needs a little more artsy edge. If you are going to get rid of the costumes get rid of Starbucks too.

  • Debbie Saville says:

    As a tourist, I do have to admit, I get bothered by the constant approach of those wanting me to do a carriage ride, or a bus tour, or characters wanting to take a picture with me for tips. I don’t want to be approached, I don’t want people walking into my personal space. What would be cool is for them to have stations where I can walk up to them if I am interested in what they are advertising or selling. As I plan a trip for this September, we are already putting together what we are going to do during our visit and I know I won’t be swayed by that style of selling.

  • Heather says:

    The people handing out show ads are fine, as that IS what Broadway is about…I would be absolutely fine if the costumed characters were banned from Times Square…they are unnecessary. I’d also say get rid of the people preaching in the city…I absolutely hate being harassed…keep your beliefs to yourself!

  • Daryl Sledge says:

    If the characters (costumed)were less obtrusive, I would not mind. They seem to invade your space and personal interest, by approaching. And…if they were there for entertaining purposes alone, I would not mind. However, they are there for tips and money for a photo.
    As a Commercial Theatre Producer, And of course, anything regulating to Broadway is perfectly fine
    with me.

  • William says:

    It is a sticky wicket. I don’t want Times Square completely morphed into Disney’s Main Street where I’m going from Frontierland to Tomorrowland. Frankly, I miss the old Times Square. But public safety and aggressive hucksters are legit issues. Theater flyers should get a free ride (that’s Broadway’s turf), but everyone else should be licensed with significant limitations.

  • Jaz Dorsey says:

    I wish Nashville had a Times Square where the world could come and find out whats going on on the theatre front. New York is blessed in this and I guess it’s inevitable that there are some annoyances that go along with it. Getting my picture taken with characters is not my thing but who knows but that these photos don’t provide wonderful memories for families that come to NYC for the adventure.

  • Jared says:

    Those costume characters have got to go. They are awful and harass people constantly (both for pictures and making cat calls). They also give the city a bad name for all of the tourists who go through there. If for some reason the Alliance wants to keep some of the costumed characters around, I suggest making them get some sort of license so that we can control who is representing our city to the thousands of tourists who pass through there every day.

  • JSP says:

    I think the hawking and handing out, the characters, and preachers are all part of the Times Square experience. But it should be limited to a certain number per block – perhaps licensing them? – and they should have guidelines, i.e. no tips, no touching, for example. It would be hard to enforce, no doubt, but it might discourage some of the creeps.

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