5 Signs that Broadway is becoming more like Vegas.

I’ve been in New York for just shy of two decades now, and to say things have changed in the theater district is as obvious as saying Wicked is a big hit.

The transformation of Times Square into a Vegas Strip-like scene seems to have had an effect on what’s happening inside our theaters as well.

Here are 5 things I’ve noticed that indicate we’re getting Vegas-ized:

1.  WHO IS THE HEADLINER?

We’re becoming increasingly dependent on the names in our shows, just like the casinos have depended on Wayne Newton and friends for years.  In some cases (A Steady Rain, anyone?), Shakespeare has gotten a rewrite because now, “the star’s the thing.”

2.  A TRIBUTE TO TRIBUTES.

When Love Never Dies canceled its Fall NYC opening, the show that took its place wasn’t a limited run play revival.  Instead it was Rain, a Beatles tribute show that has been touring the nation.  If it succeeds, expect more of this type of entertainment to be coming down the long and winding road.

3.  BROKERS ARE NOT GOING BROKE.

In Vegas, the Brokers mean business.  If you don’t have them on your side, you’re gonna get Bugsy Siegeled in no time.  In NYC, they don’t wield that much power . . . yet.  But as they continue to out-spend us on advertising, and continue to organize, we may find ourselves not wanting to sit with our backs to the door, if you know what I mean.  My suggestion?  We all have a sit-down.

4.  PARDON ME, I DON’T SPEAK AMERICAN.

International audiences have been slowly increasing here in NYC, with the Broadway League reporting that 21% of our audience was from around the globe in 2008-2009.  21%!  That means more than 1 in 5 people that see a show many not speak English as their first language!  You’d have to be high on glue to not think that stat has an effect on what runs.  If it increases, expect more and more non-verbal entertainment or spectacular events to take over our boards, like, oh, I don’t know, Spider-Man?

5.  ADVANCE = DAY OF.

It used to be that our tourist audiences picked up a paper before they came into town and bought their tickets in advance.  When my Mom bought my fam Phantom tickets we waited EIGHT months. And we sat in the 2nd row from the back. (Side note: when I went to see it a second time, I bought tickets from a broker because I wanted a great seat.)  Our audiences are becoming more like Vegas audiences, and waiting until they get here to decide, causing most shows to have more availability, requiring more discounting, etc.  So much of our marketing dollars now have to be spent on converting the customer when they get here, instead of before.

Will Broadway become the U.S’s second Strip?  I doubt it.  Great plays and great musicals will always have a place here, whereas I can’t imagine that The Pitmen Painters or Next to Normal will ever play The Mirage.

But we do have more in common with Vegas than ever before.

And you can place a big bet that this trend concerns me.

(Not So) Favorite Quotes Vol. XXIV: Won’t you be my neighbor?

One of the couples on my floor loves the theater.  They go on a regular basis, have great taste, and are always asking me for recommendations on shows to see.

Oh, and get this . . . they always pay full price.  (insert “whoopee!” here)

Last week, I ran into them in the elevator and they told me they were on their way to see Red.  I started asking them my usual string of mini focus group questions:  how they heard about Red, if they could describe the artwork, and then I landed on my finale of, “Where do you go to get your tickets?”

Their answer was Telecharge . . . but then the husband’s eyes widened and I could tell he wanted to share some sort of secret.  Here’s what he said:

“Yep.  We buy on Telecharge.  And pay full price.  But we never buy in advance.”

My heart sunk . . . and I kind of wanted them to move to another building.

He continued:

“Yeah.  We find we get better seats when we buy last minute. Whenever we try to get something in advance, we always get crap. But if we go online the day before or even the day of, we usually find gold.”

When I heard this, I wanted to move . . . to Tallahassee. There’s something wrong with a ticketing purchase process that reinforces full-price buyers to wait until pulling the trigger.

So what’s the problem?

There are probably a few issues at work here, but I’d bet a couple of full-price tickets to Red that the issue most at work is that theaters and shows are holding too many of their best locations for House Seats, etc.  House Seats (or quality locations held for use by the Producers, Theatre Owners, Actors, Designers, etc.) that are not used get dumped back into the general pool of available seats 2-3 days before each performance, which is why there is sometimes a flood of good seats available closer to the performance.  My neighbor was probably getting the tickets held for the Set Designer, or one of the Principal Actors, etc.

The problem is . . . there are so many people that have House Seats in their contracts, that up to 75 prime orchestra seats can be held . . . for every performance.  I mean, is the Set Designer or Principal Actor really going to use 2 or 4 seats every night???

In survey after survey, our audiences tell us that the #1 thing that they want is a great seat . . . and we’re holding them back.

By serving our own selfish needs, we’re causing our customers to do one of three things:

– Not buy at all (there’s really no better seat than on your own couch).

– Wait until something better opens up, thereby decreasing our ability to build advances.

– Find better locations elsewhere . . . translation:  they are going to brokers.

That last one is the most ironic.  Everyone in our biz has been concerned about the huge amount of business going to third party ticket brokers.

Well . . . news flash:  we’re part of the reason our audiences are seeking them out.

We’ve got to find a way to give our customers as much access to the best seats possible.  And one of those ways is to decrease the number of house seats we all hold.

Then, after we’ve decreased the number of house seats . . . we can start charging for them.  (For more on house seats, click that link)

Are they playing hockey in hell?

Something froze over last week.

The primary and secondary markets started working together.

As reported in Ticket News, LiveNation, an official promoter of concerts and an official pusher of the tickets for those concerts, started listing brokers on their ticketing site as another option for tickets to their events.

For an example, click here to see the event page for the upcoming Jay-Z concert at the Izod Center in East Rutherford, NJ.  (And make sure you click on the “Search Tickets” button because the interface is awesome).

It’s an admission to the public that the secondary market exists, and that it may be able to provide something that the primary market can’t.

And it’s a way for LiveNation to provide customers with all of the options, under their own umbrella.

Oh, and it’s surely a way for LiveNation to make some extra bank, because you know those brokers are paying them big time.

It reminds me of Amazon.com listing secondary sellers of books, etc., even when they have the items in stock.

We talked about the primary and secondary shaking hands before.

It looks like the partnerships have begun in other live entertainment industries.

Is ours next?

It should be.

The first cease fire in the secondary ticket war.

It finally happened.

We’ve discussed the secondary market a few times on this blog, wondering e-loud if there was a way for the major players in each market to work together.

Earlier this week, two of the biggest of the big, shook hands on a peace treaty, in a first attempt to figure it out.

Jersey Boys, one of the members of the million dollar club on Broadway (and probably the member with the lowest weekly nut), officially announced that StubHub was their “official secondary market ticket provider.”

What does this mean for both parties?  Details on the deal itself were a bit vague in this Variety article that broke the story.  But, since StubHub is more of an Ebay experience than a broker experience, the financial arrangement doesn’t seem to involve what I think will be the basis for future deals between brokers and shows:  a portion of the above-face-value revenue in exchange for an allocation of tickets for certain performances (thus preventing the brokers from having to speculate).

Still, the deal is a symbolic one.  First New York state made its peace with scalpers, and now a show.

It kind of feels like that time when your Uncle Ernie . . . you know, the one no one talked about because no one was really sure what he did for a living . . . was finally invited over for Christmas dinner.

And it was good.

Because Uncle Ernie brought lots and lots of full-price-plus customers as presents.

Broadway reports close to a billion dollars in gross sales. But was it more?

The industry breathed a collective sigh of relief as Santa brought us a few more presents than we were expecting this holiday season (set your expects low enough and you’re bound to exceed them).

The last two weeks of the calendar were pretty decent, and they added to our industry’s total 2008 grosses to once again yield a number that flirted with a billion, but didn’t go all the way, as you can read here.

Or did it?

I spoke on a panel at the Ticket Summit yesterday to a room filled with ticket brokers or the “secondary market”, as they are called.

As I stared at all of them, and as we debated whether or not there were ways to work together, all I could think of was . . . what was the total amount above the face value that all secondary market resellers earned in 2008?  And if we added that number to the overall gross figure, what would the true gross of Broadway tickets be (even though authors, investors, unions, etc. aren’t sharing in that extra moola).

Does the broker vig tip the scales over a billion?  I’d bet it does.

Think the secondary market would ever share this info with us?  Doubt it.  But I wouldn’t either.

But there has to be a way that we can work together that satisfies the concerns of both parties. They have something of tremendous value to shows:  customer information for full price (and beyond) buyers, and we all know those peeps are the key to recoupment.

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