Jeffrey Seller, one of the three lead producers of Hamilton, announced this week that beginning in January, certain tickets to the Broadway juggernaut will be priced at $849. Also this week the show’s conceiver, author and star, Lin-Manuel Miranda, penned his own version of the Federalist Papers with a New York Times Op-Ed column condemning the use of bots — automated dialing machines — to inhale tickets the second they become available for resale in the legal-scalping market.
Seller says he wants to claim some of the profits that now go to resellers for the Hamilton family of producers, investors, creators and performers. And he hopes that by nearly doubling the price of some tickets (others will see a smaller increase), the plague of bots will somehow recede. Miranda tendered a Guys and Dolls analogy,
saying that the evil bots are Big Julie playing with loaded dice “and you and I do not have a chance. Tickets are taken out of circulation, punishing people who can’t afford to pay more than face value.” I believe he said, or wrote, this with a straight face, and that both he and Seller are confident they’re making a moral argument for charging $849 for a ticket to their show.
As part of that moral argument, they also announced that the number of $10 seats made available by lottery at every performance will increase to 46 from 21. That’s no small concession: Leaving aside their possible value on the black market, those 46 tickets, times 8 performances per week, translate to $3,680 in the lottery, rather than $312,432 at the $849 price point. If you were an investor, which side of that equation would you want to be on?
Still, the news suggests that the spirit of George Orwell is alive and thriving on Broadway, where “top ticket price” is not the same as “premium ticket price;” where “gross” receipts exclude about 9% in mandatory fees the box office never actually sees; where “premium seats” can be defined as any seat in the house a patron will pay the premium price for, and where “gross potential” as a fixed number is so un-fixed that a show like Hamilton regularly reports that its weekly income exceeded its “potential” by 30% to 40%. How’s that work?
Premium pricing was introduced in 2001 by the producers of The Producers, when that was the show no one could get into without sacrificing a first-born or taking out a second mortgage. The same arguments were made: Keep the money out of the hands of scalpers and in the pockets of the people behind the show. We know how that worked out. Why? Because there will never not be a black market for scarce goods in New York, and a Broadway show is scarce goods defined: No performance can be recaptured, the number of seats available is fixed (mostly), and at some point, a Book of Mormon will come along, The Producers will seem old hat, and $4K tickets will go for 67 bucks at the TKTS Booth in Father Duffy Square.
And so with all due respect to the producers and creator of the truly incomparable Hamilton, whom I admire unabashedly, I call BS on these announcements and offer instead a modest moral proposal of my own: Flip the deal. Make all 1,321 seats at the Richard Rodgers Theatre available for $10 except for 46 seats at every performance, which will go to the highest bidder. Try it for a week. I bet the gross remains the same. And no one will be able to complain they had to give up their shot at a chance to see Broadway’s best show.