Remember when people lined up for theater tickets like it was a new iPhone?

I’m jealous.

The photo in this blog is of folks standing in line, waiting desperate to buy the new iPhone 6.

I want a line for Broadway shows too!  And not just when we sell stuff at 50% at the TKTS booth!

Without sounding too much like Fantine, “There was a time when theatergoers stood in line . . . There was a time, then it all went wrong.”

Do you remember those days?

If you were in NY anytime prior to, oh, 1998-99, then you remember how the morning after a show opened (to favorable reviews), there would be a line down the street and sometimes around the block for the right show.

Just like a new iPhone.

WAAHHH!!!  (That’s my only child spoiled brat coming out – because I want a line too!)

But that just doesn’t seem to be the way people buy tickets anymore.  It’s no coincidence that the lines disappeared when online ticketing exploded – why wait in line when you can just go online, right?

And, since shows go on sale online months before box offices open, there’s no way to generate a line for your “release.”

But wait a second . . . the iPhone is sold online too, isn’t it?  But they still have a line.


Ok, we’ll never be Apple, and we’ll never be an iPhone, but there is still a lesson to be learned here.  There is obviously something about the “value” of the very high priced iPhone (more than a theater ticket, mind you) that helps generate this kind of “I’ll wait in line for days” attitude.  And I can’t help but wonder what we can do increase the “value” of our experience to get people ready to queue up for us.

  • Should we put our shows on sale at the box office for one day, before the shows go on sale online (this would require a special dispensation from the union, but since this would be more work than their members would normally receive, I can’t see why this would be an issue)?
  • Could the best locations be reserved for people who show up in person (this idea is also called the “broker buster” – because it would prevent the brokers from using automated programs to buy up tickets faster than the regular consumer can click)?
  • Could the cast be there to greet the ticket buyers?

There’s nothing like the right sized line to get other folks interested in what’s happening in your space (the nightclub industry has line management down to a science – I learned that after waiting in line for a Vegas Club for 30 minutes once, only to find out there was no one inside the club when I got there).

What can you do to get folks willing to wait in line for what you’ve got to offer?


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  • Lauren says:

    People line up for iPhones because they want immediate gratification. They want something tangible in their hands right away and they definitely don’t want to wait a few days for UPS. The way to translate that to advance theater sales is to give them something immediate or extraordinarily special when they show up. The cast being at the box office is definitely an option (hello, Alan Cumming!). Another is handing them the cast album after they purchase (and before it’s for sale anywhere else). Exclusive merch is a third. But what about something truly revolutionary for theater, like truly giving the first folks the best seats? What if your front rows for the first month of performances was filled only with people who purchased on day one of sales? If you’re Hedwig or Hair or any show with an interactive element, open your front row and first few aisles for the first hundred or two. Seating real estate has serious, exclusive value and is something that could truly draw people out without shows putting any additional dollars into creating special merch or paying their actors to be at the box office.

  • Carvanpool says:

    People line up for iPhones to flip them on eBay. Just take a look at the homeless folk hired to wait in line.

    IPhones aren’t theater tickets, they last more than a few hours, typically. They appeal to everyone, unlike Broadway.

    Dream on.

  • Judy Yescalis says:

    The only problem with the ‘line up in person’ idea is that those of us who live and work on the other side of galaxy would be left out in the cold.. even in the summer- when it comes to getting good seats.
    I certainly do agree, however, that anything that would stop the ticket spoilers from buying up the entire front of the theater and mezz would be very welcome indeed!

  • Janis says:

    Forget the lines, disregard the gimmicks, never do another revival, drop movie titles, dump known stars and ignore the marketing to develop a great show.

    Do NEW shows that make their own stars, create their own fame, and never need gimmicks to fill their seats.

  • vania says:

    hard to compare plus we need to get people educated about the arts . In a multicultural city like NY not many have the access or means or even knowledge of the theater scene.
    As a performer I would the idea of having after after shows talks with the cast ( many people from my country come here and they would def love that too), or even to have incentives for first time theater goes

  • Joseph Giglio says:

    Well in the 1998-99 season the average ticket price was $50.38 and the average ticket price 2013-14 season was $103.93 (data from the Broadway League website).

    HOWEVER the attendance for 98-99 was 11.67 million and 2013-14 was 12.21 million.
    Playing weeks comparison is 1,441 Vs 1,496 for last year (same source)

    So with playing weeks up and attendance up it does not matter if you have lines today vs then.
    You are selling more tickets without the lines.

    Ken you are such a numbers man I am surprised that you brought this up LOL

    Please do not become one of those good old times people

  • Amy says:

    I happen to buy about half of my Broadway tickets in person, and get a thrill from being in line in the mornings, amongst rushers and such. (on my annual trip to NYC, I plan half of my shows – the big, new ones of the season – in advance and buy online, but I wait until I’m in the city and feeling the buzz of smaller things to decide what else to see.) I know that I would LOVE to meet cast members when I’m buying tickets, and like another commenter said, exclusive merch would also get me excited. But, I’m not a local, and the locals are more who you need to have steady long lines, so I don’t know what would be most helpful…

  • Jared says:

    People wait in line of iPhones because as soon as they purchase them, they can use them. That’s why they’re willing to wait in line for days. That is something theatre simply cannot duplicate. Even if I want to see a show that night, I still have to wait until curtain even if I’ve woken up early and waited in line. You can give out merchandise, you can have the cast present, but you will never be able to replicate the kind of lines you would see before online ticketing.

  • Bobby says:

    I think Broadway needs to listen to the theatre goers from other states as well as NY. I am from the South and I direct theatre professionally. But I have asked the question to theatre goers on what they think Broadway should be doing to get more people to travel to NYC and attend Broadway performances. Some of the answers might surprise you.

    But just a few are:
    1. Tired of seeing Movie Stars/Movie Titles on Broadway. Where are the new shows, the unknown stars? One person said it seems Broadway has lost some of it creative juices by not producing new shows. Seems everyone wants to be lazy and just make a movie into a play. So why waste the money, as expensive as the Broadway tickets and hotels are in NY. One person mention when you have to pay $249 to $399 for a good ticket for a popular show and nearly the same for hotel stay a night. They just cannot afford to go. Some said that sense tickets are so high now that they have to wait for a traveling show to come through even just to see a Disney play that their child is wanting to see.
    2. They want to see New Developed productions from scratch. They want to see an unknown person walk on that stage on opening night and overnight become the next Sarah Brightman, Patti LuPone, etc.
    3. Where have all our Playwrights gone?
    4. It seems Broadway has become just like everything else. Out to make money by charging such high prices. There use to be a time you could go see 5 shows on your visit to NYC and now you are doing good to see one
    5. Quit letting these ticket places buy up the good seats and selling them at higher prices. One person said where are the days gone when you could pay $100 and get front row seats to the popular shows?

    These are the type answers we hear. NYC and Broadway need to listen to the people that really fill up the seats at the Broadway Shows and the hotels. But two things I have heard the most. Tickets are way to high and they would rather wait and pay $100 and see the traveling show and get good seats instead of letting ticket places take over all the prime seats. Broadway needs to listen to the people because if the prices continue to go when salaries are not…there will be a lot of half price seats and shorter runs.

  • Hey Ken! you’ve been inspiring for me this morning. I am a mexican witter/producer in Mexico. I’ve just read your post about the lines to get tickets, and I thank God that I don’t have to make lines anymore, specially because I go to New York every year on Holly Week and I hate the NYC weather those days, I felt really unconfortable when I had to make a line to get into the Newsies show. BUT, I had the chance to meet Rocky production backstage and meet Andy Karl in person, because I have a friend that knew a guy on the company… it was one of my most amazing experiences on Broadway, and thinking about making lines I would definitively wont spent a day in NYC making a line to get a ticket (I haven’t seen Book of Mormon because I have to make an extra effort to get good tickets) BUT i would defintively spend an hour or two of my very small time in my favorite place in the world if I can get the chance to make a back stage experience, if actors and cast or crew tell be about the show, something like the Disney’s Hollywood Studios, an hour or two before the show, so I can see that everyhting that’s back stage has it’s own “magic”… Just a comment Ken, thank You very much.

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Ken Davenport
Ken Davenport

Tony Award-Winning Broadway Producer

I'm on a mission to help 5000 shows get produced by 2025.

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