The Jujamcyn Theatre Group, a Broadway theatre landlord that owns five Broadway venues, has switched the ticketing service used by all of their theatres from the Shubert Organization’s “Telecharge” ticketing service to rival “Ticketmaster”, despite protestations by Broadway show producers. This move has affected all of the Broadway shows under their purview including Something Rotten, The Book of Mormon, Kinky Boots, Jersey Boys, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, and The Crucible, as well as all future shows to play in their theatres.
There is no official word from the parties about the reasoning behind the move, but it is very rare for a Broadway landlord to make such a drastic change that incurs significant sales crossover, retraining, and branding complications for employees and consumers alike. The reasons behind Jujamcyn President Jordan Roth’s move could be due to better financial terms, better technology, and/or improved communication with customers through better consumer data sharing. The Ticketmaster.com website is often noticeably more reliable than the Shuberts’ Telecharge.com, which could be another reason that may have played into the decision.
Telecharge.com still services the majority of Broadway shows on the Great White Way, but Telecharge still only sells Broadway show tickets – which is both its strength and weakness. A strength for its ability to specialize, but a weakness for its lack of exposure to other technologies and solutions. Shubert’s Telecharge has suffered with its lack of foresight in adopting new and developing technologies over the last few years. Ticketmaster has been leveraging these new technologies for the last five years, due to their overall scale of handling over 1000 times more volume of tickets than Telecharge and the panacea being a great deal more urgent when dealing with this kind of ticket volume. One of the charges aimed at the Shuberts’ Telecharge by industry pundits in recent years, is that they are seen as a bit of a dinosaur in the modern age of the internet ticket sales, with their failure to move with the times and embrace new ideas and approaches. These cultural changes are often a problem for organizations that are over one hundred years old, which cannot make the transition into the modern world of real-time sales/transactions and data. Rather than change these long-in-the-tooth organizations from within, the senior management of these kinds of organizations can adopt solutions that include breaking the organization into smaller pieces, which allows innovation to happen both more rapidly and more organically.
The other major Broadway theatre landlord owners, Nederlander Theatre and Ambassador Theatre Group, already use Ticketmaster, so this leaves The Shubert Organization as the only Broadway landlord left using the Telecharge service. They are obliged to use this service because it is, after all, their own service. Pressure mounts inside the Shubert Organization to dump their own service in favor of Ticketmaster. Shubert may be forced to move to the more advanced technology of Ticketmaster, rather than their own dated solution, which suffers from Silverlight and Adobe Flash issues. Recent failings of Telecharge have been the continued use of these technologies, especially when internet browsers like Google Chrome and Firefox no longer support those technologies due to their security vulnerabilities; Shubert has been unable to counter this with its own internal development team an support for their solution is clearly on the wane.
Broadway Theatre Breakdown By Landlord
The current Broadway theatre landlord landscape has the following number of theatres apportioned to each:
Shubert Organization: 17 Theatres (All Telecharge)
Nederlander Organization: 8 Theatres (All Ticketmaster)
Jujamcyn Organization: 5 Theatres (All Ticketmaster)
Ambassador Theatre Group: 2 Theatres (All Ticketmaster)
Others (Disney, MTC, Roundabout, Second Stage and Lincoln Center): 10 Theatres (4 Ticketmaster)
With no landlord (other than the Shubert-owned theatres) using Telecharge, the Shubert Organization faces an unprecedented challenge: market marginalization. This also means that for the first time in Broadway history, there are more theatres using other ticket solutions (like Ticketmaster) than theatres actually using the Shuberts’ Telecharge service, now putting Telecharge in the minority overall, (but the majority when compared one-to-one) . The list of theatres above fails to show the true scale of the problem for the Shubert Organization, as the top 5 grossing shows on Broadway are not even in any of the Shubert-owned theatres. Those top five shows are Wicked, The Lion King, Aladdin, The Book of Mormon, and Hamilton. It appears that the Shubert Organization may not be well-tooled for the future, and they may have been relying on their historical position in the Broadway theatre world, rather than innovating for their evolving environment. To get out of a bind, the Shuberts’ past modus-operandi has often been to buy more Broadway theatres and dictate to those Broadway shows that they use the Telecharge ticketing systems, but with the recent sale of the Hudson Theatre to Ambassador Theatre Group and the sale of the Helen Hayes Theatre to Second Stage, the Shuberts appear to be losing their grip, if not their monopoly, on a market that they have controlled for nearly a hundred years.
Ticketmaster Faces Its Own Problems
Still, it is not all roses for Ticketmaster; their online service may be technically superior, but their phone operators take calls about any show or attraction in their portfolio, which runs into the thousands of different events all over the world. They may have a dedicated performing-arts phone number, but the degree of training in Broadway matters pales in comparison with Telecharge. Therefore, they can often lack knowledge about specific details regarding the Broadway shows they offer, questions like “where is the best place to sit at Wicked?” and “what show would you recommend?” Telecharge, on the other hand, could handle these types of questions, their call center is based locally in Hackensack, NJ and only processes Broadway shows. Most of their staff see 50 shows a year. Ticketmaster comes in at an average a little above zero, for Broadway shows seen by staff per year. Telecharge will often work with the ticket buyer when there is a problem, whereas Ticketmaster lacks on-the-ground exposure even to know if there is a hurricane, or some other natural disaster that is stopping the shows ability to run on Broadway in New York City. Telecharge can also allow a ticket buyer to leave a single stranded seat (although this depends on the deal with the producers and box office), whereas Ticketmaster outright bans the practice, especially as it is a practice favored by ticket brokers who often cherry-pick the best tickets and leave the less-than-stellar single tickets unsold.
Gift Card Buyers Left High and Dry
Any change to ticketing mid-season can leave gift card buyers in a quandary – as Broadway is split into two ticketing groups, Telecharge and Ticketmaster. From which service does a customer buy the gift card? If they choose incorrectly, the recipient of the gift card may be upset that they cannot purchase the show that they wanted to see. Another problem could be that at the time the gift card was purchased, a particular Broadway show may have been on one vendor, only to move to the other vendor when the gift card recipient is ready to purchase their tickets.
Jujamcyn Expected To Develop Its Own Ticketing Service
Jordan Roth, the President and majority owner of Jujamcyn, is no slouch when it comes to finding creative solutions to these types of challenges, so we expect he may develop his own service to sell tickets online and over the phone, which will cut out the duopoly of both Ticketmaster and Telecharge from the Broadway ticket market. What isn’t clear is why he hasn’t done so already, as a joint venture with the Nederlander Organization and the Ambassador Theatre Group. This could be developed as the solution that meets Broadway theatre interests, rather than using the existing cookie-cutter solutions, where one size fits all. Another alternative is Theatermania, whose Ovationtix service has been around for many years, but it is unclear why this is not considered, or at least not selected. This would be a great business opportunity for Ovationtix, so it may be worth undertaking development as a loss-leader to gain considerable market share. The fact that this solution it has been around for so long may explain why it is out of consideration, because it lacks a smooth interactive seat map that Broadway consumers now expect and often demand.
Charles Flateman, the VP of Marketing for Shubert Ticketing, declined to comment for this story citing Shubert’s policy of not commenting to the press, unless it’s through a press release.
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