When price is no object, wealthy patrons and expense-account execs will always find a way to secure a pair for Broadway’s Hamilton and London’s Harry Potter And The Cursed Child while ordinary stiffs vie for affordable seats through those shows’ lotteries. The two biggest stage blockbusters of the young century have provided booming business for ticket scalpers on both sides of the Atlantic. Now, however, the producers of those shows are making unprecedented moves to choke off scalpers and touts at the pass, through legislation and by taking matters into their own hands. Even at the risk of infuriating customers for whom an $8,000 ticket is only troublesome when a box-office staffer refuses to honor it.
That’s what’s been happening with some consistency at the Palace Theatre, the West End house where the two parts of Harry Potter have been playing to sold-out houses and rave reviews, and will do so for the foreseeable future. Producers Colin Callender and Sonia Friedman, along with Nimax, the six-theater chain that owns the 1,400-seat Palace, have begun requiring ticket holders to produce their order confirmation along with their tickets to prove they were purchased from legitimate sellers. So far, some 60 Harry hopefuls have been turned away — the face value of their tickets refunded and good luck getting the balance back from the scalper. The symbolic value of those turnaways overshadows the low number, as both the touts and their customers have been put on notice.
“The secondary ticket market is an industry-wide plague, and one which we as producers take very seriously,” Friedman and Callender said in a joint statement last week. “Our priority is to protect all our customers and we are doing all we can to combat this issue.” And they aren’t done with their battle. Callender told Deadline this week that further meetings to address the problem and come up with solutions are slated for early September.
Max Weitzenhoffer is a veteran Broadway and West End producer who, with his partner Nica Burns, owns Nimax. He’s been a keen observer of the Harry Potter phenomenon and its Broadway counterpart with Hamilton.
“Harry Potter is making a concentrated effort to make tickets available at prices that at least in the UK people can afford,” says theater owner Max Weitzenhoffer. “This summer my wife and daughter went to see the Bolshoi with the hardest to get ticket in London for about $200 a ticket.”
“Our system, although not fool proof, is very sophisticated,” Weitzenhoffer says of Nimax, whose online system sells most of the Harry Potter tickets. Speaking with Deadline, he also stressed that the clampdown on scalpers was part of a broader effort to maintain reasonable ticket prices for the show across the board. The top price for a ticket to each part of Harry Potter And The Cursed Child is £85 (about $111.15) — or $28 less than the worst seat at the Richard Rodgers Theatre on Broadway, home of Hamilton. There, the advertised top ticket price is $849.
“The [Harry Potter] production is making a concentrated effort to make tickets available at prices that at least in the UK people can afford. I have been working 25 years in the West End and our audiences could not afford those prices,” Weitzenhoffer, who’s based in Oklahoma, said of the pricing at Hamilton. “This summer my wife and daughter went to see the Bolshoi with the hardest to get ticket in London for about $200 a ticket.”
Both shows have lotteries to dispense very low-priced tickets under restrictive conditions, a practice that is being emulated at other hit shows as well. Hamilton hosts “Ham4Ham,” a lottery that makes 46 tickets available at every performance for $10. At Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, it’s called “The Friday Forty.” Every Friday at 1 PM, the production releases 40 tickets for every performance the following week, according to the Nimax website. Customers online hit a button that changes from “countdown” to “book tickets” and are then sent into a lottery where the winners are drawn.
Where Hamilton and Harry are in synch is in their producers’ efforts to spur legislation to make at least some forms of scalping illegal. The day when shady characters — “diggers,” in Broadway parlance — stood on line at the box office to buy as many tickets as possible to that week’s performances of My Fair Lady or Fiddler On The Roof, is long past. Today sophisticated computers called bots vacuum up thousands of tickets the second they become available.
This month Jeffrey Seller, the lead producer of Hamilton, along with the show’s creator and former star Lin-Manuel Miranda, teamed up with New York Sen. Chuck Schumer to introduce legislation that would outlaw the use of bots and attach stiff penalties — as much as $16,000 per incident — to scofflaws. Even without accounting for the inflated prices paid to scalpers, Hamilton regularly grosses $2 million per week at the 1,400-seat Richard Rodgers.
“We need to sweep the stage of bots so that actual fans can enjoy Hamilton, other hit Broadway shows and major concerts,” Schumer said at a press conference proposing the legislation. “These bots have gotten completely out of control and their dominance in the market is driving up prices for music and sports fans as well as tourists and theater-goers. This new legislation, now supported by Lin-Manuel Miranda, will crack down on online hackers and scalpers that use ‘bots’ to purchase thousands of tickets in a matter of milli-seconds, and then sell them at outrageously-inflated prices…I hope that my colleagues in Congress will pass this bipartisan legislation so that consumers have equal access to these tickets.”
In London, the call for a crackdown on touts has reached beyond Harry Potter And The Cursed Child, into the worlds of sports and concerts, but the musical’s prominence has helped push the larger effort into the public eye.
Sharon Hodgson, co-chair of a bipartisan committee in the British Parliament examining scalping, said this week that customer rip-offs had become so widespread as to require government intervention. She urged Culture Secretary Karen Bradley to follow up on a review published earlier this year that recommended government oversight of online ticket sellers to prevent the use of bots.
“The fact-finding clearly reaffirmed the need for action to be taken by the government,” Hodgson told reporters.
None of this is likely to close off entirely the market for the best seats to the top shows. Not in cities like New York and London, where wealth establishes its own access. You can still find a ticket to Harry Potter And The Cursed Child tonight as long as you’re willing to pay $8,000 — and risk the embarrassment of a guard at the Palace saying, “Nuh uh.”