Ambassador Theatre Group Challenges Broadway Ticketing Duopoly
Ambassador Theatre Group (ATG) is a London-based theatre organization that owns or operates 45 theatre venues across Britain, the United States, and Australia. In London alone, they own 12 different theatres including the Apollo Victoria (where Wicked is currently running), the Donmar Warehouse (the prestigious Off-West End venue), the Duke of York’s Theatre (The Dresser), the Fortune Theatre (The Woman in Black), the Harold Pinter Theatre (Nice Fish), the Lyceum Theatre (The Lion King), the Phoenix Theatre (upcoming The Girls), the Piccadilly Theatre (Jersey Boys), the Playhouse Theatre (An Inspector Calls), the Savoy Theatre (Dreamgirls) and Trafalgar Studios 1 and 2 (Buried Child). On Broadway, they recently bought the Lyric Theatre (formerly the Foxwoods), where Cirque du Soleil’s Paramour is currently running. In addition, they have secured a long-term lease on the newly renovated Hudson Theatre, where Sunday in the Park with George starring Jake Gyllenhaal will be the inaugural performance this spring. While currently almost all Broadway tickets are purchased through one of two companies – telecharge (owned by the Broadway megalandlord the Shubert Organization) and ticketmaster (a widely used ticketing site for sports and concert events as well) – ATG has their own ticketing site widely used for their shows in the United Kingdom. In a new venture, they will bring ATG Tickets across the pond as a trial for the new show entering the Hudson Theatre. This is a challenge to the longstanding power position of telecharge, which has recently been seeing some pushback from ticketmaster, and which may now have to fend with yet another competitor.
In addition to challenging the powerful duopoly of telecharge and ticketmaster, ATG plans to bring other new concepts to the Broadway space. In general, they are working to make the Broadway experience more VIP friendly, catering to the high end ticketbuyers who are the most fitting demographic for the high ticket prices. For instance, they are offering special packages starting at $70 per person that include premium champagne, chocolates, private restrooms, and access to the exclusive Ambassador Lounge before the show and during intermission. As Sunday in the Park with George is the first show entering the new Hudson Theatre, it will be a good trial show for this new package series – both because it has a major star in the cast, Jake Gyllenhaal, and because it is a classic Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine musical that will cater to diehard theatre fans. Thus, it is a good starting point for those high end customers who value both star power and the pride of theatre patronage. In addition to these premium packages, ATG Tickets is a different system, which comes with higher ticketing fees. These fees include a $3 order processing fee and an $11 service fee, both of which are avoidable by purchasing tickets directly at the box office window. While the Lyric Theatre, also owned by ATG, is currently using ticketmaster, there is a high chance that it may switch to ATG Tickets if all goes well at the Hudson – if not for the currently running show, Paramour, then perhaps after the extensive renovations in preparation for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, which is set to open in spring 2018. The only downside to the renovations is that there will be no elevator to the balcony or dress circle (the British term for mezzanine, which they are snobbily using in the U.S., even though it may confuse patrons). Therefore, even with extensive renovations, those who have difficulty walking upstairs will be forced to pay for orchestra seats. In any case, competition is generally a good thing for any industry, as it can inject a burst of quality into all aspects of the Broadway experience as different landlords and producers vie to stay on top.
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