EXCLUSIVE: Deadline’s Jeremy Gerard and Jujamcyn Theatres majority owner and president Jordan Roth talk about the state of the industry, the only stipulation being no holds barred.
GERARD: A couple of weeks ago Jerry Seinfeld announced a “residency” at the Beacon Theatre comprising six once-a-month performances beginning next month. He also announced the date and time tickets would go on sale. Not surprisingly, the six shows – and six more quickly added – sold out in seconds. But not to actual people. The shows are sold out only in the sense that if you want a ticket, you have to go to the secondary market and pay three, four, five times the face value, and of course those figures will only go up as we get closer to the performance dates. This ensures two things: SRO boasting rights for Jerry & Co., and audiences overwhelming filled with rich people. I have nothing against rich people as a rule, but this problem is also epidemic on Broadway. Today, sophisticated bots make the restriction on single card purchases useless.
ROTH: This is a big one and it begins not with creating bots but with creating the opportunity for resellers — which brings us back to our favorite topic: pricing! It would seem logical that the way to make tickets accessible to people on all budgets and to make sure true fans can get tickets would be to charge less. But actually, that’s where this challenge can start. If there are people willing to pay say $300 for a ticket, and the producer decides to sell them for $100 to keep them somewhat more accessible, that $200 difference creates a market for resale, an opportunity for brokers to buy low and sell high. That’s not specific to theater or ticketing, that’s just the reality of economics and re-sellers are acting economically rational when they step in. They should not, however, be allowed to step in with the unfair advantage of bots. Already banned on major ticketing sites, bots don’t announce themselves — they have to be detected and then stopped. As the ticketing systems get better at detecting them, the bot makers get better at hiding. Combating bots will require legislation that is enforced.
But beyond bots and back to the larger issue of economics, this is why premium and dynamic pricing happens — producers and theaters decide to charge the $300 directly from the start. Those seats may still end up being filled by the same people, but at least all the money goes to the creators and stakeholders of the show. Of course, the show now has to endure articles accusing it of gouging. What those articles miss, though, is that in the current landscape, shows aren’t deciding what the ultimate price is, market demand is. The show is just deciding how much of the ultimate price it will get.
GERARD: I understand that there is no easy solution to this problem. Indeed, I remember some guy writing about it as far back as 1988…
…during the first ticket craze over The Phantom of the Opera – well before computerized ticketing. But complexity doesn’t mean the issue should just go away. Maybe reserve 200 tickets per performance for full-price, day-of sale.
Next subject. The change of date for the Tony Awards — they’ve been moved back a week, to June 12 — has had one more consequence: There are now openings slated for every night of the week leading up to the April 28 cut-off date. Five major shows that will leave my colleagues and me reeling as we struggle to give thoughtful — hell, we’ll settle for legible — reviews to shows, each of them representing the creative and financial aspirations of people we can barely do justice to. Something is wrong with a system that accepts this traffic jam as inevitable.
ROTH: Totally agree the complexity shouldn’t deter us from finding ways to improve the situation. I like your idea of holding full-price tickets for day-of sale. We’ve done that for a long time with very discounted tickets through rush or lottery, but not with full-price. Good thing to try on a very hot show where there’d be enough day-of demand at full-price to sell them all.
On the next subject, totally agree too. (Wait, is this our first column of total agreement?!) The end-of-season crush can’t be accepted as inevitable and is something we as an industry have been trying to figure out how to alleviate for a while — as yet unsuccessfully, obviously. It’s frustrating not just for critics, but also for award nominators. And ultimately it’s frustrating to the shows themselves, which have to fight even harder than usual to register with audiences as well as be on the receiving end of reviews written under stress.
So why do we keep doing this to ourselves? In most cases, the answer is time: for several reasons, there isn’t enough of it, and shows will take every last day they can get to prepare even if it means risking the last-week melee.
Here are a few more thoughts about scheduling…
• Non-profits: Roundabout and MTC open 3 shows in each of their available Broadway theaters over the season from September to the Tony cut off date. That’s 3-month runs plus the weeks in between to load out and in. Tight.
• Theater availability: Most shows opening in the spring are moving in on the heels of a show that closed in January — natural timing for closing shows is to enjoy the high of successful holiday weeks and get out before the low of late January/early February weeks. That leaves three and a half months to load out then load in, tech and preview. Tight for a musical.
• Stars/creative team availability: While the above is tight for musicals, it can get tight for plays (which usually require less time to load in) if their team can’t start immediately in January. This is often an issue if a star is doing a show during a TV hiatus.
Once again, just because it’s complex doesn’t mean we should give up trying to improve it. But in order to fix we have to start with the why.
GERARD: Those are certainly considerable obstacles. And yet I think it’s the myths that persist despite evidence to the contrary. First is, Don’t open in the summer. Well, Hamilton should dispel that one forever.
Second is, If you open in the spring, grab the date closest to the Tony deadline, on the theory that your beautiful baby will be freshest in the minds of nominators and voters. The situation I mentioned above happened because a producer changed the opening of a show to the last available day before the nominations close. I fully defend the right of producers to do whatever in their wisdom they believe will be best for their show. However I also believe in the rule of common sense and even push-back when those decisions seem a little wacky.