Podcast Episode 90 Transcript – Chris Stasiuk
Ken: Hello, everybody. Ken Davenport here. This is The Producer’s Perspective Podcast. Today we’re going to talk to someone who spends most of her time behind a glass wall. She’s on the frontline of the Broadway marketing machine. I’m so excited to talk to her because she actually talks to customers. She’s the head box office treasurer at Jujamcyn St. James Theatre. A Producer’s Perspective welcome to Chris Stasiuk.
Chris: Thank you, Ken. Thanks for having me.
Ken: So, Chris, let’s start with how you got into the ticket selling game. Where did this begin for you?
Chris: How much time do we have?
Ken: We have plenty of time; I want to hear all the stuff.
Chris: Being very short and sweet, 16 years old I started working at the Capitol Theatre in Passaic, New Jersey. I was selling hot dogs, I was a hawker, going up and down the lanes, going ‘Hot dogs! Popcorn!’ From there, I managed the hawking stand and then I went into the box office from there. Interestingly enough, that was where the Grateful Dead’s east coast offices were because it was the east coast promoter, Monarch/Metropolitan Entertainment were the Grateful Dead’s east coast promoter so I became the voice of the Dead Hotline for a little while, worked all the major sales – U2, The Who, all of it, it was so fascinating. I saw Ticket Tron become Ticketmaster, it was just a really cool way to grow up, and I worked at the Capitol and other concerts through college and had decided I was going to become a marketing person, I had a marketing degree, and said “I’m not going to be part of this world anymore, I’m going to find a job, I need experience to get a marketing job and my experience is in entertainment,” and so they hired me at Metropolitan and I was the assistant manager to the assistant to the box office manager, maybe like a dollar a week, I don’t even remember how little it was, but I worked there for almost ten years, fascinating backstage stuff. I actually worked as the guest list girl over here at 54th Street when it was the Ritz and when it was Clubland I was the girl at the door who checked you in.
Ken: Wow, you had a lot of power.
Chris: So that was part of my old school training, ripping tickets, and I was at Woodstock ’94, I was involved in Amnesty International, I was involved in some of the big, big, big concerts and then a good friend of mine told me about a job opening at Radio City and that was ’96 and I moved over there, which was very corporate – it was jeans and cowboy boots up until then and now I had to wear a suit – and I was the first assistant treasurer at Radio City for seventeen years, so that was my foray into the unions, into more of a theatrical type of industry because the Radio City Christmas Spectacular is an event all unto itself but it still at least had concerts, which was fun, and that was, yeah, seventeen years. After that… let’s see, after that, let me think. A little bit of Broadway, I ran a children’s museum for a little while so that was another type of ticketing, also pretty cool, and from there back to Broadway and then I wound up being the head of ticketing for the New York Grad Ball so I found myself at a professional sports club which was, again, education up the wazoo – I had to learn about season tickets and subscriptions and just a different clientele and a different patron and a whole different way of looking at ticketing and then Jujamcyn came knocking on my door.
Ken: So we’re going to get back to Jujamcyn, of course, but what I love about you is you’ve had such a diverse background in selling all sorts of things, from Red Bulls to concerts to hot dogs, so is there one thing that all of these different forms of entertainment have in common in terms of selling them? Is there one thing that’s the same principle no matter what it is or are they all different and require their own different strategy?
Chris: I think there’s two answers to that – number one, it’s always supply and demand, so depending on how hot your event is you’re going to sell to that. If you have very little tickets you can sell them for whatever you want, you are in control of this dynasty – look at Hamilton right now or look at something like a Billy Joel concert back at the beginning where there is a very limited supply out there and you are the gatekeeper so you sell that differently, you control the inventory for that and you control the dynamic price, but when you have something that needs a little more care and a little more pushing that’s where promotions come into play, discounts come into play and getting creative and thinking outside the box and going to those Gold Stars and Living Socials. I think you have to approach each event separately – not just each performance, each event has to be completely separate – and the clientele also is going to be very different for each one of those. There are really interesting demographics if you look at it – like Ticketmaster has this one tool called live analytics which will, for a fee, tell you who your buyers are and not only will they tell you that they’re going to buy your tickets but they will tell you this same customer drives a Mercedes, is going to see Billy Joel, will likely go and see an opera and take their kids to this museum, because these trends are now so out there that you can customize your marketing plans accordingly. So I can probably sell anything to anybody if I just have a face to face conversation with them and I size them up and that’s what a good treasurer does and the internet provides us with all the cookies and the searches and things like that so we know what they’re looking at as well, what they bought on Amazon. I don’t know if that answers your question.
Ken: No, it does. Sports, music, theatre – which one is the most challenging to sell?
Chris: To me, sports was.
Chris: Fickle fans. If you’re not performing correctly, they tend to leave. If you lose a couple of games, they’re gone. Soccer especially – we had a very international clientele that, if you were playing against an Ecuadorian player, let’s say, most of those fans aren’t going to come. They’re more into the premier league and things that are coming out of Spain and Portugal and Europe and they don’t necessarily care so much about the MLS so that was very interesting, coming from Radio City where I had an hour line to buy a ticket to, on any given day at the Red Bulls, I might have ten people walking up. So that was fascinating – how do we get out there? How do we market that? And we had departments and departments for that and researched to try to figure that out. If you have the top players playing for you then that’s going to be simple for you, but if you’re watching your payroll – which not a lot of New York sports teams do – you have a challenge because if you start losing they walk away.
Ken: It’s never dawned on me before but it’s so simple – their big star players are just like us putting stars in shows.
Ken: You have a star player – you have an A-Rod, you have a big star in a Broadway musical, people will come right away. It doesn’t mean they’ll stay, though.
Chris: No, it doesn’t mean they’ll stay, and a lot of times people buy their season tickets and how they make back what they’re paying for season tickets is they’re going to sell the game where you’re playing against the better pitcher or the other team who won the World Series the year before you’re going to sell those off, the money that you make is going to pay for the rest of your series.
Ken: Interesting. So tell me, what’s a day in the life of a Broadway treasurer? You just drove in through traffic from New Jersey to get here today – thank you so much – and you’ll go to work later. What’s a typical day like for a treasurer?
Chris: A lot of it is inventory control. Our show has been around for a year and a half already so we are careful to make sure that pricing is correct, that we have enough seats on sale at every price level, the groups are being managed. The number one priority for every treasurer is the pay check because the folks that come into our theatre are our guests, they’re coming into our home, so it’s me presenting this to the folks that work for me and then also projecting it to the people that are coming to the window. We want that first touch point to be the best, so even if you come from two hours of traffic and your wife is giving you a shopping list and you’re irritated and you come and you talk to a guy and you want to yell at him because you had a crap morning, it’s our responsibility to turn that around and it’s to say “Don’t worry about it, we got you, we’re going to take care of it. What does she need? What are the dates that you require? What can your wallet bear?” and you kind of bring their shoulders down and you say “We’re going to make this an enjoyable situation for you,” and that’s our craft and that’s what we’re supposed to do so I think that’s the first and most important thing. So my responsibility is, number one, to my staff – a happy staff means the people they are selling to are going to be happier, at least that’s the way I’ve felt over all my years so far. I am responsible to Jujamcyn, I have to make sure that all the correspondence and requests and reporting and all of that is done in a timely fashion. They’re an amazing company to work for, very open, technologically savvy, all important things. I’m responsible to the company, so whatever the company needs, their comp requests, their house seats, what does the cast and crew need? Let’s take care of that. There’s lotteries, there’s rushes. That happens on a daily basis, so you kind of juggle all those, I’m not saying one has a priority over the other but as the situation arrives one tends to go in front.
Ken: And how has your day or ticketing in general changed over the last twenty years? Has there been a shift in responsibility for a treasurer?
Chris: Well, I’m not sure if twenty years ago it was still hard tickets, I don’t know, maybe. Maybe smoke of the houses might have still had hard tickets. That was a chore alright, I mean I’m sure you recall those days, when the treasurers were able to hold them up to their ear and roll them and they would say “Okay, that’s fifty.” That always amazed me, there’s so much knowledge in some of the guys that have been in the business for a long, long time. Managing that inventory was probably a most daunting task. Your patrons are different – I mean think about how Broadway used to be, you put a suit on, you put a dress on, you planned months in advance. Now, sales are a week off, a day off, the booth is part of your strategy. That change in itself, and the internet also changes things extremely – that’s a blessing and a curse. when you go on Ticketmaster online and you pull up any particular show and you use their interactive seat map you see all the inventory that’s available so if you see the entire theatre is open is that pressuring you to buy anything or do you say “Ah, I can wait two more weeks to decide,” so that right there changes how you have to control inventory, like do I want them to see 1,500 seats available for a performance in November? Is that the right way to go or do you manipulate it? I think there’s a catch-22 there. So I mean it’s night and day; I honestly believe it’s night and day. We have to reprint tons of tickets because Ticket Fast on Ticketmaster, you know, you’re supposed to print them on your printer, a lot of the houses don’t scan from phones yet and so they’ll come to the window and say “My tickets are on my phone,” and we’re like “You’re supposed to print them,” they’re like “Well I don’t have a printer.” They chose Ticket Fast because they thought they would get their tickets faster, semantics have changed, that’s just like anything else, though.
Ken: You mentioned all the knowledge that these guys have from way back in the day and I noticed you used the word ‘guys’. Treasurers, it’s a bit of an old boys’ club still – how many women treasurers are there compared to men nowadays?
Chris: There’s probably five or six of us out of forty, so certainly a small percentage.
Ken: Is that a challenge?
Chris: It’s never really been for me. Everyone has always been welcoming. I think it’s more about knowledge and openness and wanting to share what you know and being humble enough to say “You’ve been doing this for forty years, what can you teach me?” At least that’s what I would hope. I mean we are a big happy family. Local 751 is a pretty tight organization and I’m proud to be a part of it. I mean I’m happy to be one of them – I’m not the first woman, I certainly won’t be the last, but I’m excited about that. I’m the first at the St. James and at Jujamcyn, I believe.
Ken: Wow, what’s pretty big.
Ken: What’s the biggest myth about box office treasurers that you’d love to dispel?
Chris: I’ve only been doing this for eleven months so I don’t know any mysteries about me just yet.
Ken: Any clichés about treasurers that people would normally think?
Chris: I guess it’s that typical opinion that it’s going to be a white Italian or Irish man in his 60s and I think that’s no longer the case. The thing is, those guys, you want to put somebody at your dinner table and talk to them about what they’ve seen and heard, that would be so interesting. I’m not even sure what people think of treasurers, to be quite honest with you. No one has ever spoken to me disparagingly about that. I’m just proud to be one; I’m proud to be in their fraternity, to be honest with you.
Ken: What’s the biggest question you get from customers when they come to the window? This is when I wish I had a camera, everybody, because if you could see her face, because instantly she knew.
Chris: Do you have any Rush tickets left?
Ken: That’s the most common question you get, Rush tickets?
Ken: And you have a Rush policy?
Chris: We do, we sell it in the morning, it’s not necessarily for students, we first open up and it’s a couple dozen seats, partial views, $35, but there must be a brochure out there now that goes out to every state and every country that says “Ask for Rush tickets,” and these customers will walk away if you say no – and we’ll upsell them or we’ll offer them something else, but if it’s not Rush they’ll move on to the next theatre and that’s so crazy to me.
Ken: So Rush has become so branded that regardless of where it is in the building they just want it?
Chris: They just want it, that’s what I’m saying – it’s in a book somewhere, like “Go to John’s Pizza and ask for a Rush ticket.”
Ken: And who are the people that come to the window now? This is what I’m interested in. Most of us buy online but who are the people who walk up to the window. Describe that clientele for me or that demographic – is there a typical type?
Chris: There’s a big mix. There’s definitely the younger 20 year olds that love Manhattan and are just soaking it up as much as they can. There are your more affluent couples that are coming out of other states that, again, Broadway is high on their itinerary but they’re not doing it in advance, which is also investing. Foreign folks don’t come as often. The international patron is not coming as much to be at the St. James right now, just because the show that we have, Something Rotten, requires a bit of knowledge of the English language. It’s not a paramour, where you’re going to walk in and you don’t necessarily have to get the dialogue, this is a dialogue-rich show, so I think maybe that’s why we sometimes don’t get as many of the internationals but do still get some, Canadians definitely, it’s really a mixture. A lot of ticket sales that happen right now, other than the individual buyer, are your Today’s Tix, Broadway Box, the secondary buyers – they’re coming and they’re buying twenty tickets and they’re selling them through their websites.
Ken: Ah-ha, so at first I thought you were talking about discount buyers but you’re talking about people using discount codes or sites to buy a group of tickets to then resell them on the secondary market and hopefully make a profit.
Chris: Today’s Tix is one of the biggest ones. They spend a ton of dough, probably, on all the shows and their runners come back and forth. I witnessed one day they bought like 30 balcony seats for my show.
Ken: Is that a good thing, in your opinion? Or does that mean we’re not doing something well enough?
Chris: Well pricing is interesting. Those folks let us know about the people on that secondary market – what are they looking after, what’s their price point? Usually when they are going to a Today’s Tix they are looking for under $100. It’s sad that they’re not coming to the box office because we’ll always work with them to buy that and yet they’re paying a $10-20 service charge to get the same thing, worse quality probably. That $57 price point, $75 price point, that’s, I think, where these folks are going to these discounts. It’s like going to Odd Job or Jack’s Place, that’s where they’re going to buy these tickets, as opposed to the folks who are going to go to Americana, they’re going to spend more money. Today’s Tix and those guys, that’s the discount sector, CheapTix.com or whatever it is, that’s where they’re going, and they all bought from us because obviously if they bought from Ticketmaster you’re losing part of your service charge because now you’re paying them service charges.
Ken: What’s the biggest complaint you hear about the ticket buying process from buyers? Do you hear anything at the window about how it’s difficult or challenging? Is there anything that bugs people or bugs you?
Chris: A face to face sale is always going to be better and customized, that’s the best thing for anybody to do, but obviously if you’re in Wisconsin you can’t go to the box office and buy a ticket and that’s where Ticketmaster is very beneficial to us. I think not knowing what the difference is between what the price points are and is it worth it for me to pay the $150 as opposed to the $99 as opposed to the $75, like where would I prefer to sit? Do I need an aisle? Those are things that a computer’s not going to answer for you, you need to know that ahead of time. I don’t have so many complaints about Ticketmaster as I have about the secondary sites, the Stubhubs and the Vivids and things like that, they have to have some sort of a trust in this buyer and not necessarily is it always going to work out on their behalf. That’s where we’ve come up with a couple of real problems, “I tried to print my tickets out and I couldn’t, I’ve been on the phone with customer service, I haven’t been able to get through.” The phones, I think, are probably more problematic than the internet.
Ken: What do you think is more important to the customer – location or price?
Chris: I think it’s a combination of both and I think it’s depending on the demographic that’s buying the ticket. For your younger student-type it’s always price and that’s where your Rush and your lottery are always going to be top. Whether I say “You’re in the last row of the balcony and it’s partial view.”, “Is it $35?”, ‘Yes.’ I could have a hundred thousand seats available at $147 – “I’ll take the partial view at $35 please,” or you’re going to have the guy who’s going to drop his platinum Amex and he says “Give me the best seats in the house.” Love that buyer, I want more of those buyers.
Ken: I so remember sitting in the last row of the aisle of that second balcony at the St. James when I was in college many, many times. Tommy. What’s the biggest mistake you think producers make when they price their tickets? Anything that you see that we could do differently in terms of how we price? Such a big topic of conversation at every ad meeting that I’m at.
Chris: I think that you have to pay attention to your discount strategy and if you are able to get the data on where are your discounts going, then you know where maybe your prices should be, because if you go out of the gate with, let’s say, a $300 premium and a $199 regular and your balcony is filled and your rear of the mezzanine is filled but your orchestra is empty then that’s Ticketing 101 – you’re top heavy, and very often you’re going to see places that are top heavy and that’s the type of thing that you’re going to send to the TKTS booth and things like that to start filling things in. It’s a very delicate situation because you’re worried about your ATP, your average ticket price is extremely important these days, and so you don’t want to have too many tickets out there at that reduced rate because it’s going to ruin your ATP, so you need those higher tickets sold and you have to worry about your demand and your supply and you have to worry about the other shows that you’re competing against so you have to take all these things – and I’m sure that they do – “Okay, what is my direct competition? How are they priced? What are my costs?” and you have to come up with that perfect spot right in the middle and sometimes we’re wrong and sometimes we’re spot on and this is where my experience is still a little limited, maybe talking to my predecessor he would tell you exactly what they should be priced at because he was there for forty years and he saw producers come in and out. Right now, I know Something Rotten, I don’t know any other shows so I might have to take a step back from that question and say I’m going to learn that as I go along but I’m always asking the question and I’ll say “Hey, what do you think we should do about this?” You can’t be afraid to ask that question, or “We’ve got half of an orchestra right now. What do you want to do about it? Do we want to offer it to a TDF? Do we want to run a sale of some sort?” That’s another catch-22 – does it cheapen your ticket by going out with too many of those promotions? I know with the Spectacular, discounts started almost the week after we went on sale and very often our patrons got savvy to it and they wouldn’t buy a ticket until the buy one get one free coupon came out, so did we as the producers at Radio City create that problem ourselves by being so aggressive to sell and not wait? It’s a game. It’s gambling, don’t you think?
Ken: Yes, I do, actually. Very expensive gambling. Again, what’s cool about the treasurer is that us producers, we sit in these offices and we so rarely get to be on the ground talking to these folks. You mentioned trying to upsell Rush folks – so you have the authority?
Chris: Absolutely. We had a conversation about this early on, because we have a whole new crew at St. James since I got there, and it was a conversation that we had – “Let’s say we’re sold out of lottery, we’re sold out of Rush, how do we capture them? We need price points to be able to not let them walk away from the window,” and that’s my biggest thing – nobody walks away. I mean there’s going to be times when they’re going to walk away but I want to capture them, so if capturing them means taking the last row in the balcony and selling it for $37, which is basically what the lottery is, that’s where the show is going to be sold anyway. Yes, offer it at that price point because it’s only $2 more and you can say “I don’t have Rush but I actually have a full view seat for only $2 more. How about that? Or, for only $10 more, I can put you in the mezzanine towards the back, $49, that’s a home run right there,” and then they start thinking about it and they’re like “You know that seat back there, do I want it for $10 more? $14 more I can move down.” Some people can’t afford that $14 and we’re aware of that but those that can, that’s where the upsell comes into play. If they jump on that $49 then you say “Well for $99 we can put you there.” The conversation is then led to “What would you like to spend? What’s more important to you – the price or the seat?” and you ultimately have that conversation with the person in front of you, because they ask for Rush first, “Oh, do you have anything better?”, now kind of reel them in – “Where do you like to see a show? Do you prefer to see it in the mezzanine, do you prefer to see it in the orchestra?” and the conversation happens and that’s how the relationship is formed, and can you wind up selling them a full price ticket? Yes. Very often they are going to buy that $37 balcony seat because that’s what they came to buy.
Ken: Yeah, you sold me on that $37 balcony ticket right here – I want to go now! I just love this part of what you do because this was one of the biggest mistakes I made as a producer and even as a company manager. All of us here who create product, we’re such control freaks about our product and we want to control it, we’re so afraid it’s going to get out there for less than it’s worth, that I find that some producers that I’ve worked for and then myself are almost “No, no, no, I don’t want you to do it. Just sell it the way it’s supposed to be and if they walk away, they walk away,” and it was hearing conversations like that from treasurers, saying “Just trust us, we know what we’re doing,” and I think it’s important for all the producers and managers out there listening to empower the treasurers.
Chris: Let us do our job.
Ken: Yeah, you’re talking to customers more than we are so I love it and, again, that was a masterful sales lesson right there.
Chris: Thank you.
Ken: Where do you think ticketing is going? Where do you think it will be in twenty years? What do you think it will look like?
Chris: I don’t think it’s going to change that much. I mean we’ve already made huge strides with buy on your own, print on your own, scan on your own – I mean at the Red Bulls we were using cards, all of your entire season was on one card and it was a cashless society, even – if you wanted to put your money on that card too you scanned your ticket in for all twenty home games, you could go and buy your beer and your hotdog on that same card and it’s a completely cashless society, that’s cool. That comes down to your ticketing systems. New York really is Star, Ticketmaster and then maybe you’ve got your Tickets.com or something trying to eke its way in, like Audience View who ATG is now partnering with, so there are others that are coming in but they don’t have that web presence. You open up any one of the newspapers to see what’s happening and it’s always Ticketmaster.com, Ticketmaster.com, or they’ll tell you exactly where to buy it. That makes it easier to decide what to do, where to go for the weekend, what show to see, because it’s easy to get online and to buy those tickets, or TKTS, look at how much TKTS has done for Broadway – people line up and line up and line up and they don’t even know what they’re going to see. That’s a good thing and a bad thing too, again the blessing and the curse. More internet, obviously mobile – everything is mobile, mobile, mobile, mobile. When you have a website, it needs to be mobile friendly and we need to keep up with that. Treasurers are always going to be necessary because it’s so easy to screw it up – you buy four sets of them instead of one because you keep clicking that submit thing or you go into a tunnel and you lose your signal and you don’t know what happened to it or you come to a box office where there’s a thousand people on their phones and you can’t download your seats off your email, you can’t get in. These are all great things, it’s immediate access and I think that’s what’s happened to our society – we want it now, we want it yesterday, it’s got to happen right now, right now, I want to see it – well it doesn’t always work that way, I wouldn’t mind taking a step back.
Ken: If you could get all the Broadway producers in one room, what would be the one thing you would tell them that they should do to sell more tickets?
Chris: Interesting question.
Ken: Think back to your hot dog selling days, to your concerts – what’s the one thing we could do that we’re not doing well enough?
Chris: I don’t know if I have all the experience to answer that question yet.
Ken: I do.
Chris: I would love to have a conversation with them, like why? Explain the why – why are you going to that price point, what in your research has told you to do that? I guess this will be my answer – have options. Instead of just having two options, maybe have that third option and think about your balcony, those who are lucky enough to have a balcony, price accordingly, have maybe a less expensive option available in your side, rear orchestras. Something Rotten has been very, very good with that so I hope other producers are that way as well. Have options, because if you have options, most of the coupons that are out there now are turning that $147 seat down to $99. Well if you already have a $99 you’re not going to need that coupon and then you’re not a discounted ticket and that’s part of your full price, your ATP is going up because of that. Options. And I’m sure they know who they’re up against and who they think their demographic is going to be.
Ken: Do you think tickets are too expensive, generally? We hear this all the time on Broadway – “Tickets on Broadway are too expensive!” Are they?
Chris: But the consumers are buying them, so if they were too expensive they wouldn’t be spending the money on them. It’s the same problem with why is someone spending $2,000 on a Hamilton ticket? Because someone’s buying it. That’s not Hamilton’s fault, it’s the guy who’s like “I don’t care what I’m going to pay.” If you have options then, no, the good seats should be more expensive. I think the most important thing is to educate our consumers – do they have any idea how much it costs to put a show on? Is a $35 seat going to pay for makeup and costumes and dry cleaning and the cast and the crew? It costs money to put those masterpieces on stage and maybe if they understood that part of things, you know, educate them. I don’t know how to do that. I would love to educate them – that would make my job a heck of a lot easier and I could upsell everyone then.
Ken: Okay, Chris, my last question, which is my Genie Question. I want you to imagine that the genie from Aladdin comes to visit you and wants to thank you for all the upselling you do at Something Rotten, the genie, aka Kevin McCollum, comes to thank you and says “I’m going to grant you one wish.” One wish to change one thing about Broadway that drives you so crazy, makes you angry, makes you mad – you’re such a great sales person, a lovely woman – what makes you mad about Broadway that you would ask this genie to change with the snap of a finger?
Chris: Well, first of all, my answer to this would always be the same. I would always ask the genie for more wishes.
Ken: Yeah, Kevin McCollum will not give you more wishes.
Chris: Because then I could give you a couple different things that I could change. Well I’ve already told you that I want a more educated consumer – just remember that Loman’s commercial from a long time ago, or was it Siemens? I forget which one it was. The educated consumer would be much better because they would understand what is entailed in putting on the production that they’re about to see. Maybe the biggest thing I would change is that Rush, is that $35 ticket. It’s necessary, I know it’s part of the culture now. One of the hardest tickets to sell is a $35 and that doesn’t make any sense.
Ken: So it’s hard for you to sell a $35 but if it has the word “Rush” on it you could probably sell it for $39?
Chris: Yeah, or let’s just sell the whole house and say the whole house is Rush.
Ken: $150 Rush ticket! We should try that.
Chris: I have tried.
Ken: Well, thank you so much for doing this and thanks so much for being on the frontlines, we’re lucky to have you there talking to our consumers. Thanks to all of you for listening, we will see you next time. This is Ken Davenport and The Producer’s Perspective Podcast!