Advice from an Expert: Vol. X. A Day In The Life Of A Customer.

I’ve been lucky enough to have some great folks write “Advice from an Expert” columns over the past 2 years.  But with all due respect to each and every one of them, I don’t think anyone qualifies more as an expert in Broadway buying patterns than today’s guest columnist?

What makes Meg Walker so qualified, you ask?

She’s an actual customer.

What you’re going to read below is a word-for-word email I received last week from Meg who thought she would share her experience of a week of theatergoing with me.

Enjoy and learn . . .

I don’t remember how I stumbled across your blog, but I’ve been reading it for several months now. My family enjoys theater a lot and we see many shows locally as well as in Philadelphia and New York when we can.

Anyway, I was in the city for a week (Aug 2 – 8) because my daughter was attending Broadway Artists Alliance’s intensive. I got to spend days on my own in the city! I waited in the TKTS line 4 times in Times Square and also checked the board at the Seaport. EVERY TIME I went near those lines, I heard people in line asking questions. They had NO IDEA what any of the shows were about! These were tourists who just knew that one of the things you do when you visit New York is to get tickets from TKTS. And so they got in line!

Every time, somebody asked me what AVENUE Q was about! They hadn’t heard of it! They hadn’t heard of anything but BILLY ELLIOT, SHREK and STOMP, it seemed. They were going to buy tickets and they had budgeted the money, so they were going to spend it. It didn’t really matter on what.

The young people who walked up and down the lines were nice and informative, but a lot of the tourists didn’t seem to trust them. Are they employees of the TKTS or of the individual shows? It would make a difference to the tourists, I think, if they had official shirts that identified them as employees. Several people around me in line waited to ask questions of the ticket sellers at the windows. At that point, it was crowded and noisy and hard to hear and the sellers didn’t have the time to chat.

On Monday, a couple of hours before the booth opened, I wanted to find out what was playing that night, so I went into the Times Square Visitors Center. I asked for and was given a list of the current shows and their schedules. It made me a very popular person in the ticket line later! I also picked up a tourist booklet that had a brief description of each show, in addition to a lot of other info about the city. I passed that around the line, too. No one else had this information and they seemed surprised that it was available.

The point I want to make to you is that the vast majority of the people I heard talking around me had no idea what they wanted, and no idea how to find out the information.

Having young people walking along the lines is a very good idea, but something needs to be changed so that the tourists will trust their information. A lot of them seemed to congregate near the light boards with the availability lists–they really should be working the other ends of the lines. And really, I cannot believe that people would spend all that money to visit NYC and not do a little homework beforehand! But, apparently, they don’t. So, there’s a market segment for you to try to figure out how to reach.

And I have a question for you–why were so many of the shows doing discounts of 20, 30 and 40 percent? I thought the idea of TKTS was “half-price tickets.” When did that change?

Some of the tourists were shocked at the prices. But by the time they heard the prices, they’d invested all that time waiting in line and they were going to buy just about anything.

So, there’s my visitor’s view of TKTS.

Thanks for sharing, Meg, and for taking the time to give me and the rest of my readers this very valuable information.

Most customers aren’t like Meg.  Most customers won’t give you this kind of feedback . . . unless you ask them.

Take today to find a way to open a line of communication with your audience.

What do you do if your the majority of your sales are day of?

Why, you extend that day as long as you can!

Long running shows see their advances decline over time.  And with the number of tourists that come in to New York City on a weekly basis (especially during the summer months), it’s not uncommon for Broadway shows to see grosses increase by several hundreds of thousands of dollars during a playing week.  It’s can be nail-nibbling time to say the least.
Imagine you’re the Producer of a small to mid-sized musical, and on a Monday you see that you only have $250k in ticket sales for the week.  But as the week goes on, and since plenty of people buy day of, you’ve got $550 or more by the end of the week!  You just went from losing a few hundred K to breaking even or putting a few bucks in the bank in a 6 day period.
Do this a few times, and you can find the rhythm, however, and you can start to make projections based on those weekly sales (again, depending on the time of year – the day of sales in September ain’t nuthin’ compared to the day of sales on December 27th.)
And now it’s your job to figure out how to maximize those same day sales.  Outdoor advertising in Times Square, street teams, TKTS promoters, are all some of the tried and true methods of kicking up sales on the same day.
And they all work.
At Altar Boyz, we’ve been in the same day market for a couple of years now, and just recently we figured out another way to fill a few more seats.
Simply put, if people are buying tickets day of, then why not give them more hours of purchasing time!
One of our softer performances of the week was our Saturday afternoon at 2 PM.  Guess why?  Well, think about it . . . if people are buying day of, then a 2 PM performance just doesn’t give them as many hours to buy a ticket!
Because Altar Boyz is only 90 minutes, we were able to change our performance time to 4 PM and gain 2 hours of ticket selling time, and still have no conflict with our 8 PM show!
On Sunday nights, we took our 7 PM and changed it to 7:30, to give us another half hour of selling (especially at the TKTS booth which remains open until then).

The first week we did incorporate those changes, we put another 30 butts in the seats.  Not an enormous amount, but long running shows are about the long haul, on over time, those 30 butts will add up to a butt-load.

Opening a show and keeping it going and going and going is a lot like making fresh squeezed orange juice.  When you first squeeze that orange, a lot of juice comes out.  After those first few squeezes, it gets harder and harder.  But, as I’ve found out, if you keep squeezing, there’s always a little more juice.
It just depends how hard you want to squeeze.  And how thirsty you are.

Priceline for tickets?

Ticketmaster and Priceline formed a partnership last week.  The deal is pretty simple:  Priceline is going to provide Ticketmaster customers with access to its hotel and travel deals.
I had to wonder, will the deals ever flow the other way?  Could this be the beginning of an online ticket liquidation system?  Stubhub, but for less?
True, the theater has some ancient last minute liquidation systems already in place (TKTS booth, TDF, etc.), but I wonder if there will ever be a push for an online auction model, like the original Priceline model, where shows could put up tickets at the last minute, set a threshold for what they would accept, and allow customers to bid for them.
It could be a way to get rid of unsold inventory and put a few more bucks in the till.  But, it could also be a way to train our audience into waiting until the last minute for a deal.
Do I think there’s room for it?
I actually do . . . but I would take such a system and merge it with a stubhub, making it an auction for the upside, the middle and the low.  Customers would go to bid on going-fast Billy Elliot tickets and leftover Chicago tickets.  And with enough care, planning, and monitoring, I’d bet some shows could get more than the half price that they are getting from the booth . . . and in advance.
I mean, why would a customer wait online, when they can go online?
And if didn’t work, and it did end up just being a bargain bin for Broadway tix?  Well, I’d yank it down. But it’s worth an experiment, as is most everything.
I mean, the TKTS booth had its non-believers, I’m sure.

10 Things I learned about London

About a year ago, I blogged about three of the biggest differences I noticed about the London theater experience. Since I was there for a bit more time this visit, I was able to notice a few more things about the London theater experience that I thought were worth sharing.

So here they are, in no bloomin’ order!
1.  STANDING OVATIONS ARE HARDER TO COME BY.
It’s not as easy getting a British audience to their feet (If you’re curious, the quickest and biggest ovation I saw was for Priscilla).
2.  OLIVER IS THE UK ANNIE.
We may love Oliver here, but they LOVE IT, YEAH, YEAH, YEAH over there. You know how the Bald Eagle is the National Bird of the US?  Oliver is the National Musical of the UK.  (I also heard recently that the authors of Les Miz were inspired to write their epic after seeing Oliver.  Apparently, they wanted to write a French National Musical.)
3.  YOU CAN EAT AND DRINK ANYTHING IN THE THEATERS.
Take anything to your seat: ice cream, fancy pink drinks (Priscilla, again), even Coke brought in from outside (that was me).  Their theaters are older but they’re happy to clean up after you if it makes you happy.
4.  CASUAL SHAKESPEARE IS MORE FUN.
In this country, Shakespeare seems to equal stuffy.  At The Globe, it was fun, and probably more authentic.

Monitor

5.  SOMETIMES THE BRITS ARE SMARTER THAN WE ARE.
Look at this pic.  It looks like a standard cast board that you’d see in any theater, right?  Wrong.  It’s actually a video cast board. In several theaters, the cast board and the understudy boards are on video monitors. More aesthetically pleasing, easier to edit, and cheaper in the long run.  Why don’t all of our theaters have these?  I hate when we get beat.
6.  BLOOMBERG LOVES LONDON.
Our mayor failed to get London’s idea of congestion pricing passed, but he did manage to shut off traffic in Times Square.  Guess what other square doesn’t have traffic?  Leceister Square.  I wonder what Bloomie will bring from Britain next?  Multiple TKTS booths, I hope.
7.  YOU CAN BUY ADVANCE DISCOUNT TICKETS AT TKTS.
Yep, they take the money anyway they can get it in the UK. If you’re willing to offer a discount to your show for a future date, the TKTS booth will sell it for you.
Bar
8.  THE THEATERS ARE BIG.
Many of the larger theaters have room for large bar areas, where folks can sit, have a drink and socialize before their show.  It makes going to the theater more of an experience, to say the least.  At all of the shows I went to, the theaters let people in the building (but not to their seats), 1 hour before the show began.  I bet their bar revenues are bigger than ours.
9.  PRODUCERS OWN THEATERS AND ARE CELEBS.

Photo

Two of the largest theater owners in London are Cameron Macintosh and Andrew Lloyd Webber, and you can feel their presence in their buildings.  And it helps that people actually know who they are (helped, no doubt, by their reality TV shows).  I also got a sense of a real attempt at keeping audience members within the theater chain.  Look at this picture of a wall of posters of shows. It was taken from inside the box office at, yes, Priscilla again, promoting all the shows playing at the Really Useful Group theaters.
10.  YOU NEVER KNOW WHAT TIME YOUR SHOW IS GOING TO START.
2 PM, 5 PM, 3 PM, 7:30, 8 PM, etc.  It’s confusing and curious.
And here’s a bonus 11th thing I learned this trip . . .
11.  YOU KNOW WHAT?  I LIKE LONDON.
Maybe it’s because I’ve been there a few times in the past few years, so I’m more comfortable finding my way around now. Maybe it’s the fact that they speak English, so I don’t feel like a tool because I’m uni-lingual.
Or maybe I like London because there just seems to be theater on every bloomin’ corner.

The game on Broadway has changed.

http://www.theproducersperspective.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/my_weblog/6a00e54ef2e21b8833011570a4d6bd970b.jpgAnd by game, I mean traffic.  And by Broadway, I mean the actual street.

The picture in this post is of Broadway (que Ripley).  Those are chairs down there.  And people sitting in them . . . in the middle of the street, where taxi cabs and City Sights buses once fought for the same slice of the street.
No more, thanks to Mayor Bloomberg.  Traffic is now closed on Broadway from 47th to 42nd street and the street is a a big pedestrian mall.
And since a chunk of that real estate saddles up against the TKTS booth, you can bet that it’s going to affect ticket sales. But how?
  • There will be more room for pedestrians to walk, talk and interact, therefore the importance of a great street team is even greater than it has been in the last 12 months.
  • The importance and value of outdoor advertising in Times Square (billboards, etc.)  just went up, as more pedestrians should flock to the area (and if those chairs stay, so will the pedestrians, soaking up a much stronger impression from that advertising).
  • How people physically approach the booth is going to change, and so should booth business, as more people will be simply walking closer to it.  More people in closer proximity puts more pressure on the the booth promoter for your show (yes, I’m sorry to say, but those many people that stand by the TKTS boards and shout, “Any questions?  Anyone need help,” are actually being paid by specific shows to “guide” you towards the right decision (which is the the show they are being paid by).

The environment has changed.

And that means there’s a new opportunity.  It’s your job to find it.
(BTW, I’m predicting grassed over streets in Times Square in 10 years or less.  And nothing will make me happier.  Thanks, Bloomie.  I’m sorry your congestion pricing didn’t pass, but this is a great alternative.)
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