This just in . . . theater tickets are expensive.

Ok, you knew that already.

But here’s something you may not have known . . . They’ve always been expensive.

Hal Prince once gave a speech where he confirmed my theory that people have been complaining about theater prices since The Black Crook opened.

Yet one of the most common complaints I still hear at meetings regarding the problems of Broadway and the theater in general is that tickets are too expensive and if we could only fix that, the theater would be restored to its past glory!

Sorry, not gonna happen.

As Hal insinuated, it’s time we acknowledge that theater tickets are expensive and get over it, because it’s not gonna change.

Theater tickets are a high priced commodity.  They are a luxury good.  But are they too expensive?

Let’s compare Broadway theater tickets to other live entertainment options:

  • A recent scan of the web found me a pair of Bon Jovi tickets for a top price of $129.50 in Wisconsin (something tells me people in Milwaukee may earn less than people in New York City so $129.50 might feel like a heck of a lot more to them).
  • The Yankees offer a bunch of different ticket options, including SEVEN price levels at $100 or higher (up to $400).
  • Top price for Ka in Las Vegas?  $169.50.
  • Disney World?  $71.

Our ticket prices are not out of line.  They are even cheap by some comparisons (something tells me those $400 Yankees tickets will go faster than premiums to A Catered Affair).  And most Producers (as they should) have a small allocation of much lower priced seats to offer those who can’t afford the high priced options (lotteries, rush, etc.)

People will pay the $125, $250 or sometimes even $500 for the
right ticket to the right show, which demonstrates that people are not
price resistant.

They are value resistant.

We need to stop worrying about how to decrease prices and start worrying about how to increase value.

Your customers will pay top dollar plus for an experience that they believe is worth it.  Your job is to make the value of your ticket seem even higher than the price your customer is paying so it seems like they got a bargain.

Oh and to all the people that say we need to cut the price of the ticket to
save the American theater, I point to all of the shows that have
discounted tickets down to the $20s and $30s to “save their show” only
to still see them close (there is no value in a crappy show).

And, vice-versa, every time I’ve raised prices on a Broadway or Off-Broadway show, attendance never drops.

The day of the $1,000 theater ticket will be here some day, and as depressing as that sounds, don’t worry.  It’ll still be less than what a lot of people pay for tickets to the Super Bowl or The Kentucky Derby.

Favorite Quotes: Volume IV


“Ambition wins over genius 99 percent of the time.  Sooner or later, the other guy is going to have
to eat, drink, go to
the bathroom, get laid, or take a vacation, and that’s when I catch him.”
– Jay Leno

Jay doesn’t think he’s that smart.  Ironic, because I think it takes a genius to say what he did and to do what he has done.

Does what he say work?  Well, when both he and Letterman went back to work without writers, he came out on top.  In fact, when the ratings came out, NBC Late Nite Programming Chief Rick Ludwin said, “The audience made the decision of which of the two hosts they wanted to watch . . . They made the decision 13 years ago.”


I get called a workaholic a lot.  I hate that word, because I don’t think it’s work when you love what you do.  But hey, if Jay is a workaholic, then by all means folks, slur away, because that’s some nice company and maybe Jay can take me for a ride in one of his 180 cars at the workaholic convention.

Want to read more about Leno’s work ethic and how much he loves what he does . . . so much in fact that he acknowledges that it was ok that he trumped Letterman and got paid less?  Click here.

I’m not the only bloggin’ Producer.

For a few weeks, Chicago Producer and stunt-caster extraordinaire Barry Weissler was blogging on Yahoo Broadway.  Unfortunately, they seemed to have removed it (let’s start a rumor that Barry insisted that it be taken down, shall we?).

It was pretty neat – Barry talked about how how he started off doing children’s theater with Robert De Niro, he talked about his relationship with Ben Brantley and more.

Barry is one of the best.  During the decade of corporate producing on Broadway (the mid/late 90s), Barry and Fran were one of the only Mom & Pop organizations consistently doing it, and making money.  What they’ve done with Chicago is nothing short of a producing miracle.

So how do they do it?  And what can we learn from it?

If you look at their resume, only four of the nineteen shows they are credited with producing weren’t revivals.  One of those four shows was a jukebox musical, and another was Falsettos, which was the juxtaposition of two previously existing works, which leaves only two original pieces.

The Weisslers have chosen to mitigate their risk by making sure they start with material already accepted by the public and build an exciting production around it.

Look at their first few shows . . . you can’t start with a better playwright than Bill himself.

Not the most adventuresome model, but it sure has gotten them one killer apartment (Yahoo didn’t take down the best part of the blog:  the video).

I’ve got the mouse on my mind.

I was looking at a bunch of different Broadway budgets recently and I wanted to compare the budgeted breakevens with what the market was currently bearing.

I wanted to see what shows were grossing over $700k, even in the tourist-free winter months, so I flipped open my Variety and here’s what I found:

Broadway Grosses w/e 02/10/2008
Wicked                            $1,310,705
Jersey Boys                     $1,127,362
The Lion King                      $962,925
The Little Mermaid              $889,942
Mary Poppins                     $731,687

What’s interesting about this?

The mouse has 3 of the 5 shows above $700k.

And this list looks very similar if you look at the week before.  And the week before that.  AND the week before that.

Leverage works.  So well, in fact, that it’s a little scary.

You know what else is interesting?

Of these five musical behemoths, only 2 got good reviews from the New York Times.

It’s not the size of your lever.

A little Pumbaa told me an interesting tid-bit recently:

During the first week of performances of the national tour of The Lion King in each city, the local ABC affiliate does a half-hour television special on the arrival of the show, featuring interviews with cast members, a behind the scenes look at the costumes and scenery, etc.

It’s a half-hour commercial that doesn’t look like a commercial, because it “teaches” the audience about the show in a news format.

How come everyone doesn’t do this?

Well, maybe it’s because not every Producer owns a television network.

Yep, in case you didn’t know, Disney owns ABC.

Ahh, the wonderful world of leverage.

Don’t get depressed because you think you’ll never have a list of subsidiaries longer than the lines at Space Mountain.

There are all sorts of levers out there of various shapes and sizes:  restaurants, limo companies, charities, dentists, etc. Anywhere that has a consumer base similar to yours.

Your job, find a partner that can benefit from promoting you and vice-versa.

You’ll find it much more economical, and the promotion will actually mean more to the consumer, because it’s comes from a vendor that already has their trust (like a news station).

So until you own a television network, find a way to exploit the levers that you do have or go out and find a few.

Because leverage is supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.

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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