An idea I don’t know how to execute. Maybe you do?

Ok, problem . . . theater tickets are too expensive.

Solution?  Who the @#$% knows?!?

(Actually, the truth is, there are plenty of inexpensive seats to lots of theater, from Off-off Broadway shows to Off-Broadway to yes, even to Broadway shows.  When people say theater tickets are too expensive, they’re generally talking about the most in-demand shows and the most in-demand seats on the most in-demand days.  Which is the equivalent of saying, “Mercedes-Benz is too expensive!  And Telsa, well, don’t even get me started!”  Know what I mean?  There are other cars to buy and plenty of incentives (i.e. discounts) that make that purchase more accessible.)

Don’t get me wrong, of course, I’d love to see even more affordable ways for people to see theater, wherever that is.  I’m often walking up and down the streets wondering how to get more butts in seats, while at the same time paying the high costs of our labor-intensive industry.  And the other day, while riding the subway, and watching someone play Mario Kart on their Samsung, I got an idea. . . that I have no effin’ idea what to do with.

So I thought I’d throw it out to all of you.

Another form of entertainment that’s super expensive?  Video games.  The Mercedes of this industry can be around $60 or higher per game.  Now, that may not seem like a lot compared to one orchestra ticket for Hamiltonbut when you consider the demographics of the video game purchaser, it might as well be the same.

And this is a special problem for mobile game manufacturers.  It has always been challenging to sell a game for a smartphone, because the functionality is less than a desktop, and frankly, there are so many free games available.

So what did the video game companies do?

They added in-game purchases.

You want special features for your character in your favorite middle-ages era role-playing game?  Buy ’em for $1.99.

You want to get a tip on your mobile trivia challenge?  $.99.

The gaming companies are getting you to in their doors for cheap (or nothing!) and then they find a way to charge you when you’re in the door.

Software companies even have “free versions” to get you hooked and when you want a special feature that makes the software actually function, BAM, you gotta pay.

I couldn’t but wonder if there was an application for this theory in the theater.  One could argue that food and beverage or merch income is a version of this idea in action (although on Broadway, we don’t control f&b – all that cash goes to the theater owner).  And certainly, we’re not going to stop a show to ask for $5.99 from every audience member to listen to the heroine sing a higher note than what is in the “free” version. (Although I’d love to see this at a charity gala . . . can you imagine waiting for someone to bid $10,000 for Idina Menzel to sing an optional higher note in “Let It Go“?)

What do you think?  Is there a way to get butts in seats for less, and then have additional and OPTIONAL income provided by those who want whatever ‘extra’ we have to offer?

I haven’t cracked this yet.  And maybe it shouldn’t be cracked.

But sometimes it’s the craziest of all ideas that morph into something that makes sense . . . and cents.

You have an idea?


  • Peter says:

    Perhaps an idea along the lines of what Southwest Airlines does. If I am correct, all seats on the airplanes are the same price (in a section) and then 24 hours before boarding you go online and get a section: A-B-C-D, etc and that is your boarding order.

    In a theatrical application, even out the pricing across the board (like general admission seating) and then have the audience go online and download their section of the theatre. Their seats then are first come first serve within that section.

    Of course I’m just brainstorming here.

    • apc says:

      This is a good way to start a riot at the theatre — e.g., a single person “reserving” an entire row for a large family/group by placing clothing/items on seats is almost always a contentious situation. It’s even worse when the person/people don’t have enough clothes to cover all the seats an verbally turn others away.

  • apc says:

    Pay toilets. #itsaprivilegetopee

  • Naomi Toohey says:

    After the show Meet and Greet
    Not everyone wants to wait at stage door to meet the stars of a show, especially in Winter. A premium Meet and Greet with the stars after the show in the theatre. Each ticket holder gets a photo with the star and a few moments to be a fan. The price of the ticket could be split with the cast members so they are happy to enjoy the experience.
    In my recent show All Out Of Love the Musical in Manila, we did this. Audience members are sold tickets to a Meet & Greet and go on stage after the show to have a photo with the stars.
    It is common in children’s entertainment why not for adults?
    Audience members can still wait at stage door and see the stars for free but if they want a guarantee of meeting the star of their dreams a Premium Meet & Greet might be the answer.

  • Daniel Kilby says:

    Perhaps have the possibility to upgrade to any unsold higher-reserve seats, for a fee, from half an hour before curtain? Obviously, this would only be an option for the non-SRO shows, but they’d be the ones who would need the cash boost most.

  • Andre N. Jones says:

    Actually, it seems to me that the Gaming marketing idea with regards to theater would work best with group seating. You already are offering seats at a discounted rate for groups of a certain size. So, why not as an incentive offer a similar discount for couples but only until a certain date. After said date groups pay an inflated rate closer to full price up to the premiere week. After the premiere week, you can get the inflated rate for groups of 20 or more. But the original discount is null and void. Early bird gets the discounted worm. Basically, those who do not purchase by a given time pay a small penalty. But even that is better than paying the full price. And those who what a break after the premiere, then ensure that quadrants of seats are filled at a time.

  • Much more public funding paid directly to artists. Period.

  • Lowell says:

    Perhaps a web site that offers a discount on tickets when you agree to participate in a survey or other marketing offer, sell the eyeballs to retailers. I’ll write the app.

  • Prouvaire says:

    There are some fundamental differences between gaming and theatre that make this principle difficult to implement. For instance, gaming more easily allows for an individually tailored user experience. If you elect to buy the 99 cent tip for a game, then this is provided to you at a time and place of your choosing. Theatre, on the other hand, is a communal experience with set times and places, which makes it more difficult to customise. Further, the incremental cost of providing extras is much lower for gaming. You set up the infrastructure and it can then be deployed to millions of users thereafter at minimal additional cost. Whereas “extras” in theatre, being a form heavily dependent on actual people, will usually incur a higher per-use cost. (Eg “meet and greets” require cast availability, which is both limited and expensive.) Thirdly, a good game can keep you occupied for dozens, even hundreds or thousands of hours, which opens up a much longer period of time to extract revenue from the customer. In contrast, a theatrical experience is typically over and done with within two or three hours.

    Tiered seating, dynamic pricing, merchandising and “premium experiences” (tickets packaged with private pre-show/intermission lounges, programmes, food & drinks, cast meet & greets etc) are ways of enhancing revenue, but none of these fundamentally alter the core customer experience in the way that a freemium gaming model does (except maybe tiered seating).

    Seeing a big name star in a role is something that people are willing to pay a premium for (hence the stratospheric prices for, say, Bette Middler in Hello, Dolly!)… so maybe a model where prices are cheaper if the alternate/understudy is on? (To an extent this already happens I guess due to natural supply & demand fluctuations on the secondary market, but this could be formalised more in the primary market.)

    I’d love to see soundboard recordings for the specific performance you’ve just seen officially available for sale somehow, but I know there are too many legal (and probably logistical) challenges to make this viable. But it would be a great way of making a bit more money while preserving the performances of actors who didn’t get to be on the original cast album and to give audiences a memento of the unique performance they’ve just seen.

    To implement something like a “freemium” theatrical experience probably needs a more fundamental rethink of how shows are constructed. For instance, just like The Mystery of Edwin Drood allowed audiences to choose whodunnit, a show conceived as a freemium experience could have multiple options (high notes, extra songs, different endings) that are determined by what the audience in that specific performance were willing to pay extra for. Depending on the venue, you could even split the audience into different groups, each of which might get a differently tiered experience. (This would also help mitigate possible “freeloader” issues.) But this idea wouldn’t work for the vast majority of conventional shows.

    Maybe this model would work best for a modular show designed web distribution rather than a conventional physical venue. But then, that wouldn’t really be theatre… it’s more a web show or interactive game.

    Or maybe the model is more suited to ancillary products like videos of the performance (assuming you can get over the legal and financial issues of producing a video in the first place). Pay nothing for a 360p mono version, a little for a 480p stereo version, more 1080p surround sound, and even more for cut songs, behind-the-scenes features etc.

    It’s an interesting question, to be sure…

  • Hi Ken.

    This is a role streaming can play. Paying more money if you want to be able to watch over and over via the streaming link.

    Also the material that gets sold and auctioned during Equity Fights AIDS can be an upsell. Best.

  • The circus has all kinds of upsets… from meeting thebperformeea after the show. To a special lounge. Moulin rouge had special packages for alsnost stage seating. Mystery shows have packages that include having photo with cast or in costume. Getting keychain etc wih it. For an immersive interactive show people can pay extra to have someone involved or featured in some way. To fill those empty seats the more people you bring the less each one pays… not 2 for one but 4 for one of you need to fill the seats. Also use the Toms shoes model ( and many merchandise models buy one one goes to people in need)people can choose to buy a double seat one for them one for underserved communities or one that goes towards providing a visiting artist / performer to visit a location selections from the show…. just some thoughts

  • Up-sells ( sorry for spellcheck mis choosingg

  • Joseph Marino says:

    How much money does a show make on an empty seat? 100% of Zero dollars is … (takes out phone, does math…) nothing. I would rather see/play to a full house than one that is 75% full.
    How about this:
    1. Why is the magic # at TKTS 50% off? With today’s technology, why can’t tickets be lowered to 75% off 30 minutes before the show? Those tickets are probably not going to sell and I’d rather have $35 in my pocket than nothing. That’s not going to stop folks who really want to see the show from getting them earlier but those people who are iffy on going to the theater that day/night or don’t know if they want to drop a ton of money on a show might take a chance. Once they’re in the door, you’re golden.
    2. a MOVIE-PASS type program. Now, I know MP tanked horribly but AMC is killing it right now and my butt has been in the seats for movies I’d never pay full price for. How about something that allows you to see a set number of shows per month (week/year?). Here’s the catch- again, you can’t use it until 30 minutes before the show. We know you’re not getting tickets to WICKED or LION KING that way, but why not ANASTASIA? WAITRESS? REUBEN AND CLAY? Charge a monthly fee and watch folks stream into your theater.
    3. Some sort of link system to social media that tells your followers when you bought your discount ticket. Why not? It’s a small price to pay for a small price to pay! (See what I did there?)

    Frankly, I don’t like the upsell. It feels like bait and switch to me. Just get me in the door. I’m your best marketing tool.

    • THIS! ALL. OF. THIS!

      Did you see the Hal Prince documentary? (Ken: Surely YOU have seen it). Prince talks about how when he was a kid, he would go to somewhere (can’t recall where exactly at the moment), where someone would LITERALLY erase current ticket prices of all of the current Broadway shoes from a chalkboard and rewrite a NEW price as the minutes to the curtain dwindled down. Prince would buy a ticket for .50 cents, with MINUTES to spare and then RUN to the theatre. Nowadays with apps and social media, there is absolutely NO reason why this model cannot be re-created (but up to say 15 minutes to curtain so people don’t have to run to a theatre). This could be particularly strong among college and high school ages theater kids (They are ALL OVER Snapchat, and Instagram! Use these, too!

  • I’m sure lots of people would pay extra for Backstage access (I know I would). A tour and time to have a conversation with cast and crew. As someone who works on the crew of “filmed” projects, I would love to be behindthe scenes of live theater. If that could pay off, perhaps regular ticket prices could be reducedsomewhat. 

  • CJ says:

    What about doing what airlines do? Often, if they have seats left by the time the plane is about to take off, one can get a better seat for less. Is there a way to charge a little extra for the great seats that are about to go unused? Perhaps, this can happen after intermission. Attendees bid on seats (or just have a flat price), and whoever bids the most (but much less than if they had bought it ahead of time) wins. They get a text message at intermission telling them to go to their new seats.

    Also, perhaps we can set up a system where when people buy their tickets, for an added fee, they can order their drinks and snacks at the same time. Then, those drinks would be brought to their seats at intermission.

    We could create some type of Bdway or off-Bdwy membership club. Members of the club would have to buy 2 tix to at least 3-4 shows per year. They would have to spend above a certain amount overall (but not per show) by a certain date. These people would get advance notice on tix and better seats, etc. like other clubs, but they would also not be charged those horrendous ‘handling fees.’

    And what about a blind date service where the dates meet over a Bdway show and dinner? Information about each person would be shared in advance, so that good matches could be found. Packages that included backstage tours, talk-backs, etc. would be available.

    Perhaps, people can bid on costumes once the show is over? Yes, the production might go on tour, but if the person pays enough for the costume, the costume designer could create another item. It would not be for all for all of the items, just one or two special pieces. The designer would know in advance that those particular items could be sold, and would have backup costumes. Imagine how much money could be made on Cher costumes????


  • Lawrence Starr says:


    The razor blade people figured this out long before anyone else. Give away free (or real cheap) but well made razors, and then have people buy the blades on an “on going basis”. What else is bought on an on going basis? Subscriptions. The Bushnell depends on subscriptions as our base (and the single seat sales are the cherry on top). Why doesn’t Broadway do subscriptions? Don’t know how they would do that with different houses and different producers, but doesn’t Roundabout do that? And aren’t the movies trying to do that (not sure it’s successful yet, but someday they might figure out the right approach). There are a bunch that are trying (besides Movie Pass; see this article for a start:

    Anyway, just my thoughts after a long, long day.

    Got your holiday card today; it was beautiful. Thanks much.


  • Sue says:

    Today I ordered a hard-cover book on Amazon as requested by someone for Christmas. Amazon offered me a second copy, the Kindle version for only $2.99, normally $14.99. Amazon didn’t even know the first was a gift — it just thought I might buy a digital copy if the price was cheap enough. I bought the Kindle version for myself. (This was on Amazon Smile actually, because it gives a tiny percentage to the participating charity of my choice, further helping me to justify my purchases.)

    Customers buying theater tickets on Ticketmaster or Telecharge could be offered e.g. another pair of tickets from a select list of shows that need butts in seats. This might require more cooperation between producers and their lawyers than actually exists.

    Restaurants in NYC could offer heavily discounted tickets to shows that need to fill seats.

    Producers could offer heavily discounted tickets to one of their shows as an add-on when buying full-price tickets to another.

    Wild idea: Sell inexpensive tickets for Act I and then add on Act II !!

  • Christopher Carter Sanderson says:

    Yes, Ken, I do have an idea about this – and the book and lyrics are 80% done, after the collaboration agreement with the writer was signed last month. And the music is coming along in rough form, too, in a popular idiom never heard on Broadway. I don’t want to disclose the details of course, but I can give you two clues. One is that between my company founded in 1992 (rave Times reviews on dirt budgets) and the book I write about it, I am often considered (and often lecture or lecture/demo as) a kind of grandfather of immersive theatre. The other clue is that Wildwood, New Jersey is a physical embodiment of the phenomenon you have observed in the virtual world. If you don’t know Wildwood, it is one long board walk along the Jersey shore. And to your point, it is free to walk down. You can walk back and forth, up and down the boardwalk all day with your kids without spending a penny. Ah, but… the boardwalk is lined opposite the ocean with games, games, games. Carnival-style games. Air gun games, ball-toss games, shoot-the-animatronic zombie games, all kinds of games. And they cost a little each to play. Food, sure, and there are restrooms and such but mostly fun, physical, active games. Each one a reasonable price to pay. And a reasonable-fealing day of playing games with your kids there would run up to more than the entrance fee into any theme park in the state. When the time comes to roll out my idea about this, I also have a fun story about how the idea for this musical came to be born… in Jordan Roth’s office. Best, CCS

  • Sue says:

    Convince theater owners to install cell phone lockers in every theater. Give patrons a ticket price rebate to lock up their cell phone for the entire performance.

  • Emily Ellet says:

    As a millenial who is well-versed in the in-app purchase gaming model, I have lots of experience seeing how it can go wrong. Having in-app purchases with a free/low-cost buy-in is great but NOT when your gaming experience changes with the money. The successful games like Candy Crush or DOTA2 (two very different but wildly successful games with different player demographics) offer in-app purchases that can speed up your gaming experience, give you cosmetic bonuses, or provide special content or bragging rights but that DO NOT in any way change your ability to play or win the game. What happens when you can buy your way to winning the game is that often fans and players become very, very angry with the company and the gaming experience, and it promotes cheating and other negative effects. So if you’re gonna consider the gaming industry as a model for the theatre, it’s best to be very, very careful how you do it, or you could end up alienating many of your stalwart and even potential customers down the line.

  • Robert Winthrop Talmage says:

    Perhaps, it’s been said or even done already….
    How’s about a volume discount to those attending 10 B’way shows per year? The model in the Asia is that the same people have the habit of going to THE SAME show-10, 20, 30 even 100 times. Quite different than here.

  • alan buchberg says:

    If you go to stadium concerts – I don’t – there is usually a jumbotron so that you can actually see the performers. Thinking about Paula Wagners’s comments on cinematic vs theatrical – no closeups in the latter – how about having a few sections in the back balcony or rear of other sections where there are some moderate size tv screens – hopefully people would pay extra for this amenity. I enjoy going to the shows that are telecast in theaters because I want that closeup view (and I’m far from Bway). Of course devil in the details – cost of cameramen and would they interfere with others’ view and perception of the theater experience – and would theater owners be receptive? Just a thought…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *