(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)

House seats shouldn’t be on the house.


Every show on Broadway holds a certain number of seats offsale to the general public called “house seats”. They are reserved for the authors, producers, cast, theater owners, etc. and are generally released 48 hours prior to each performance if not used.

(Ticket buying tip: if you’re looking for great seats to any show, go to the box office 2 days prior to the performance you want to attend looking for any house seat releases.)

It is also industry standard to allow other people in the industry, from agents to ad agencies, to purchase house seats, even if they aren’t working on that specific show (i.e. I can have my assistant call for house seats to The Little Mermaid).

When I started out, each GM office had a “house seat hotline” that was open from 3 – 5 PM, Monday to Friday, and anyone could call and purchase great seats to any show at regular prices with no service fee. There was even a way to hold these tickets on a “48 hour hold” which reserved the tickets, didn’t obligate you to buy them, and if you didn’t purchase them, they were just let go 2 days prior as previously discussed.

We’ve gone to email and fax now, so house seat requests can come in 24 hours a day. And believe me, on hot shows like South Pacific, they do. Every friend of a friend knows someone who works somewhere close to Broadway and wants a couple of tickets to the hottest show around.

House seats are a job that sometimes falls to the Assistant Company Manager, but many times, a person in the General Manager’s office assumes the responsibility.

You know what that means?

It means that house seats cost shows money. The GM has to put someone on salary. In triplicate house seat forms are created. Phone calls, faxes, mistakes. Money, money and time and money.

Should we get rid of house seats? No. But why not add a service fee to offset the costs and inconvenience?

If we charged $5/order to the people that had no connection to the show (I’m not suggesting that we charge those that work on the show), we could pay for the staff member and expenses associated with house seats.

And what if the buyer didn’t want to pay? Well, then they can call telecharge like anyone else. I hear the same locations would go for double regular price. But something tells me that just like the $1 comps, the buyers would suck it up and pay.

I’m all for being nice to the people in my industry. But I’m all for being nice to my investors first.

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