The Shubert stimulus package.

Earlier this week, the theatrical royal family known as The Shuberts announced an unprecedented three year development deal with two commercial producers, Frederick Zollo and Robert Cole.  Zollo and Cole (has a nice ring, doesn’t it?) have been responsible for a bunch of shows between them including Angels in America, Chitty2 Bang2, and, this season, they teamed up like the Wonder Twins to produce a little event known as A Steady Rain.

The deal seems pretty simple.  Zollo and Cole get three years to develop projects and get dibs at Shubert theaters (one of the most challenging issues facing producers is how to develop a show without knowing if it will get a theater).  This first-look deal guarantees Z&C that their shows will have a home, and gives their artists the security that their work will be seen on a Shubert stage.  In addition, the Shuberts get first chance to invest, and they’ve given the guys some nice offices in the castle on 44th St.

What’s exciting about this deal is its similarity to the movie model.  The Shuberts have forged a relationship with producers that they trust, respect and that have done well for them; guaranteed them “distribution” (theater availability); and pledged financial support if the product is something they are interested in.  While the guys aren’t necessarily hired guns that are being paid to develop product, they have been given an incredible public demonstration of confidence and support from the largest landlord in the theatrical world.

Independent producers are so often out there on their own, flailing in the wind, trying to drum up interest for projects from artists, investors, etc,.and that is getting harder to do considering how risky of a proposition Broadway is.  When a producer can say that they have a contractual relationship with The Shuberts for developing new material that guarantees them a theater and possible investment, that goes a long way.

Look, Z&C are smart, successful, and powerful producers in their own right, so I’m sure they didn’t have problems getting their phone calls returned before this deal.  Still, I’d bet that they go up a few notches on everyone’s call list now.

This is a bold move, and a great one.  Let’s hope it’s successful for everyone, because if it is . . . they’ll be looking for more Producers to fill the offices in Shubert Castle.

My suggestion for the next deal?  Get someone from the Roth generation.

Another thing I learned from the airlines.

The theater industry has learned a lot from the airline industry.

The airlines taught us about premium seating (first class). They taught us how to get rid of their unsold inventory with email blasts.  They taught us the ways of yield management.

And now they are teaching us about the upgrade.

I flew out West to see American Idiot at Berkeley Rep. on Saturday morning.  I was doing one of my favorite things to do when traveling coast-to-coast and making the trip in one day.  First flight out, and red-eye back.  No one even knows you’re gone!

I flew Virgin Airlines, which is pretty comfortable in coach, although the leg room is almost as bad as it is at a Broadway theater.

When I checked in for my red-eye back, the self-check-in computer popped up a screen offering me a chance to upgrade my ticket to First Class for only $250.

Huh.  I considered it even though I didn’t even think about going First Class when I bought the original ticket.  But since I knew how important it was that I slept the whole way home, and since I had saved myself a night at a hotel by not staying in San Fran, I did it.

After I clicked “buy” . . . I started to think about why it was such an easy choice for me . . . and then I started to think about how we could do the same thing in the theater.

It was obvious that the airline had some unsold first class tickets that they were willing to offer at a discount last minute.  Why not, right?  Get every dollar you can, before that flight takes off (curtain goes up) and the premium seat goes dead.  Additionally, by popping up only the upgrade price, it looked like a bargain. I already bought and paid for the coach ticket.  I wasn’t adding the coach ticket plus the upgrade together to calculate the total fare, which is why it was easier to buy.  And just like that, Richard Branson had a few more of my bucks.

We’ve all been to shows where the rear mezz or the balcony was sold, but the better seats weren’t, right?  And during intermission, or right before the show starts, there’s a mass movement of audience members scrambling to the better seats, even though they paid the cheaper price.

What if we could get those people paying a bit more and filling up the seats beforehand?

How could we do it?

  • What about sending the balcony seat holders an email 24 hours (or even less) before the show with a chance to upgrade for only $20? $30? (See, doesn’t it sound like a bargain already?)
  • What about a sign at the box office advertising an upgrade?
  • What about having the box office staff up-sell an upgrade when tickets are picked up at the window?
  • What about putting a seller in the house itself that roams the balcony before the show starts?

Upgrades are awesome.  Parsing the purchases in two makes them both seem more manageable, but ends up making you more money.  At the same time, the upgrade gives the audience member a better experience than they were expecting.

I know I slept a lot better on that flight home, thanks to my upgrade.

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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