UPDATED: Tuesday, March 14, 2017. New York City, NY.
Blizzard, extreme snow, and ice conditions are again forecast for New York City, so it’s a great time to revisit the policies and practices of what happens to Broadway show performances during a Winter storm event. Many Broadway ticket holders are wondering if their shows will be cancelled due to the blizzard, or whether they will have to fight the weather to get to the show. Some people ask whether they can exchange their tickets now, for another performance after a storm. Others ask if they can get a straight refund on their tickets. Below we attempt to answer all those questions and give you a brief history into what has happened in the past.
WINTER STORM STELLA UPDATE: 03/14/17
Winter Storm Stella arrived in NYC in the early hours on Tuesday 03/14/17 and will run through to the same early hours on Wednesday 03/15/17. It was forecast to dump anywhere from 12-18 inches of snow on NYC, but it actually only dumped a paltry six inches on the Great White Way. Thus, Broadway show performances were not affected. Last month, Winter Storm Niko was forecast to dump 12 inches of the white fluffy stuff in NYC on February 8, 2017, but it also barely brought in more than five inches, which also did not have any impact on Broadway performances. Weather forecasters are now getting it wrong more often than they are getting it right. Given this, the once-bitten-twice-shy Broadway League and the NYC Mayor’s Office are often slow to make a cancellation decision for all Broadway shows, given the financial impact and the past inaccuracy for snowfall predictions from the weather services. Individual Broadway shows can make their own decisions to close their show for the day, but they rarely do, given the financial impact to their investors. When safety becomes an issue, the house manager at each theatre can override any decision made by the producers of the show. For Winter Storm Stella, all Broadway shows will still be performing, but customers that have tickets for shows on this day and have problems travelling, should be able to exchange their tickets if they so choose, for another performance on another day. Straight refunds are a different matter and each show has a different policy, depending on whether the show still plays. If the show does not play, everyone gets a straight refund without even asking for it. Ticket holders should call their point-of-purchase for their show, which will be one of the following for face value and discounted tickets (Ticket broker numbers are not listed as they are too numerous)
Telecharge at 212-239-6210
Ticketmaster at 800-653-8000
Manhattan Theatre Club 212-399-3040
At this time the NYC Mayors office is reporting that all transportation systems (other than Metro North) will be operational on Tuesday, March 14 2017, so make the call to exchange your tickets now or better get your snow boots out of the closet.
Traditionally, Broadway shows will stay open even during the worst winter snow storms, as long as the NYC public transportation systems in New York City (and the surrounding areas) are still in operation. This has been true in many recent New York storms; Broadway shows will always close if the New York City Mayor issues a storm emergency, closes all public transportation, closes the bridges and tunnels going into the city and issues a vehicle and people-ban on the streets. If the Mayor has not issued such a mass-closure announcement like this, then Broadway shows may still announce their own a mass-closure in advance of (or in place of) the Mayor’s announcement, but this is rare – they normally take their lead from the Mayor’s Office. Broadway shows will usually only close for the most egregious or dangerous conditions, so it takes more than just a major ice storm, crazy blizzard, or damaging hurricane to turn the lights off at the Broadway stage.
For non-weather related events or problems, a rule of thumb in the Broadway industry is that the “show must go on” and individual show performances will only be cancelled if there is a power outage or flooding, where it will be dangerous for cast, crew and audience to be in the theatre. Even in major power outages, some Broadway shows still put on a performance, which was true in the North East Blackout of 2003 and for the Hurricane Sandy blackout aftermath in 2012, which both lasted for a week.
Show Cancellation Announcement And Ticket Refunds
In the extreme case where the New York City Mayor issues a weather emergency and a complete travel-ban and the Broadway League then announces a mass Broadway show closure, then all Broadway show tickets are usually automatically cancelled. In this case all tickets are automatically refunded, an automatic refund check is mailed or online purchases credited to the credit card that was used to purchase the tickets. In lesser storms, the Broadway League usually lets each individual show make their own decision to whether they will open, or not.
The New York City Mayor and the NY State Governor are notorious for leaving it to the last minute to make their announcement, especially after getting it wrong in recent years. This makes it difficult for Broadway theatregoers to plan around this important information. The Broadway producers and theatre owners industry group, “The Broadway League,” headed by Charlotte St. Martin, will often follow the Mayor’s lead, or make their own decision earlier, to close all shows based on their own information and/or feedback from Broadway theatre owners and producers and the city. Their official decision can be found on their page: www.broadway.org. and is a good source to determine what Broadway shows will be open and which ones will be closed. Obviously, the Broadway League does not want to make Broadway patrons feel compelled to see a show if it is dangerous to travel, as legal liability issues can arise. They may err on the side of caution, striking a tricky balance between the interests of their Broadway landlord membership and the safety of the general public at large. Some Broadway theatre landlords do a great job in clearing snow outside their theatre and salting during the actual storm, while others will wait for the storm to pass before trying to get it clear. The latter theatres will often not open during the storm as their sidewalk is not clear and they will have insurance liability issues with the talent, crew and theatre audience.
If The Show Is Not Cancelled, Refunds Are Not Issued
If the Broadway show is not cancelled, then Broadway ticket refunds will not be issued. While it may be more difficult than usual to get to the show, it is the responsibility of the Broadway show ticket holder to get to the theatre to see the show, if they do not want to lose their tickets. If they do not turn up, or do not make other arrangements for a ticket exchange, they will effectively lose the value of their tickets, as their seat will remain empty during the show performance and it cannot be re-sold by the box office to anyone else.
Many Broadway patrons opt to exchange their tickets for another performance after the storm has passed. This means that they don’t have to guess about the storm’s impact on the show, transportation, and/or parking problems. These ticket exchanges are at the discretion of the individual show, and are usually only available on the phone or from the box office in person, in advance of the actual show. Patrons leaving this decision to the last minute may find that the show may deny their request, especially if the show is still scheduled to perform. If you have purchased the extra insurance at the time of the original ticket sale from Telecharge or Ticketmaster, you can just have the whole transaction refunded, but as most do not opt for this expensive option, you are left to fend with Telecharge and Ticketmaster. Box office staff at the individual theatres are in the perfect position to help with this exchange request, but it is, after all, a request – they are not legally compelled to exchange these tickets. Telecharge.com has also begun to offer “Advance Exchanges” for tickets for the days when they know the storm will likely have the most impact on the city, but not all Broadway shows participate in this process – and the shows that do participate may not actually close on that day.
Getting “Broker” Tickets Refunded
Ticket brokers are not the most helpful people when a big storm approaches New York. They are the least likely to help with refunds or exchanges, as they have already made their profit from the sale and are not interested in the concerns of the clients pertaining to the weather or any potential danger in getting to the show. When all Broadway shows are completely cancelled and refunds are automatically processed for ticket holders, some ticket brokers do not automatically refund their clients’ money, unless requested, which is a highly questionable practice. This is perhaps another reason to avoid ticket brokers for Broadway tickets in the first place.
Even In Mass-Cancellation, Many Broadway Shows Still Go On With A Snow-Performance
In past years, even if all the Broadway show performances are officially cancelled and the snow is piling up on the streets, many Broadway shows actually perform anyway. This is because many of the actors and stage crew live in New York City and they can easily make it to the theatre for work. For ones that live outside the city, they are often asked to make arrangements to stay locally during the storm. These Broadway shows usually do not hold the original ticket holder to the contract to appear, but the shows often play to empty houses or even let people in for free (or for lottery prices), after it becomes clear that the original ticket holders are not turning up – often the show starts an hour after it was scheduled to accommodate the ever-changing weather situation. The Book of Mormon and Chicago have been known to do this in the past to the delight of the people who are still in NYC, passers-by or people looking at their official show Facebook page. Broadway Shows that are aimed at younger children, will often cancel and not hold a “snow performance”, The Lion King is a good example of this. Ticket holders who do not turn up for a “snow performance” are automatically refunded the ticket sales price, if the show has officially cancelled the performance, but still goes on anyway.
Broadway Storm-Shows Can Often Be A Bargain
When Broadway is officially closed, but an individual Broadway show still chooses to run, the box office becomes a bargain-hunter’s dream. The producers will be left with lots of unsold ticket inventory from the patrons who exchanged their tickets ahead of the storm, and the producers are eager to offload that now-spare ticket inventory. Expect prices to be slashed and the best tickets in the house running at a 90% discount. Sometimes they just hand them out for free. When the storm hits, things can get crazy at the theatre, but this is part of what makes New York theatre so great.
Historic NYC Winter Snow Storms and Blizzards, and Their Effect on Broadway Show Performances
Winter Storm Stella March 14, 2017 This snow storm was forecast to dump up to 2 feet of snow on NYC and it ended up being a paltry 5 inches. Broadway shows waited until the last minute to decide if the shows would be cancelled because of the poor track record that the weather forecasters have had and the producers called it right this time, as it ended as being a complete non-event and the Broadway shows went ahead with very little, or no impact. Last month, Winter Storm Niko was forecast to dump 12 inches of the white fluffy stuff in NYC on February 8, 2017, but it barely brought in more than five inches, which also did not have any impact on Broadway performances.
The weather forecasters inaccuracy is costing NYC a huge amount of money in losses each time they get it wrong, which is now becoming quite common. They have got it very wrong in three of the last five major snow storms in NYC, including Winter Storm Stella, Niko and Juno . This batting average of 400, is very poor for meteorologists. Despite NBC having the very expensive Doppler 4000, it clearly is providing little value in predicting the amount of precipitation that will fall. The cost to NYC in lost business for inaccurate forecasts that force NYC to close is astronomical for even just one day. The losses have been estimated at over $3 Billion in total lost revenue and productivity.
Winter Storm Jonas (AKA Blizzard 16) Saturday, January 23, 2016. This blizzard was correctly forecast and became the second-largest snowstorm in New York City history. At 26.8 inches of the white fluffy stuff falling in Central Park (the official weather monitoring station) this blizzard was just shy of the record 26.9 inches set in 2006. With up to four feet of snow in drifts in NYC, most Broadway shows were still planning to be open for business on Saturday with all performances still going ahead on time until the NYC Mayor and NY State Governor issued a travel ban at 1PM on Saturday, January 23. The travel ban lasted until the following Sunday morning. This meant that the Broadway League then followed suit and issued a mass Broadway show closure statement for all shows on Saturday, January 23, 2016. Broadway shows resumed for the matinee shows on Sunday, January 24. All Broadway shows processed automatic ticket refunds for tickets for the Saturday cancellations. The producers also offered ticket exchanges for all shows on Saturday Jan 23 and Sunday Jan 24. Ticket holders had to request a ticket exchange – by contacting Telecharge or Ticketmaster over the telephone (or go to the box office) to arrange a ticket exchange. The TDF discount booth at Times Square was open both days of this winter storm, for anyone brave enough to face the pounding snow-in-the-face, but as shows closed on the Saturday, any tickets gleaned from the TKTS booth were be refunded to the poor souls who braved the weather and still got cancelled.
Winter Storm Chris March 15, 2015. Despite a total of 18 inches of snow falling in 24 hours, most Broadway shows still played, but shows did offer ticket exchanges for future performances to ticket holders for that night’s performances only. This was graciously applied to all people who did not turn up for the show, despite not pre-arranging ticket exchanges.
Winter Storm Juno (AKA Snowmageddon, Snowpocalypse) January 25, 2015. The New York City Mayor, Bill De Blasio, warned New Yorkers that a historic snow storm with 3 feet of snow was heading to New York on the following day. He closed all public transportation systems, and all Broadway shows were forced to close. Fortunately, it was a Monday when most of Broadway was dark anyway, and little inconvenience was felt by Broadway patrons. De Blasio’s statement sent New York City residents running to stores to stock up on food, snow shovels, and rock salt. The Mayor was erring on the side of safety; he just got it wrong this time. This was the first time that the New York City subway has ever closed for snow reasons, and ultimately a paltry 9.8 inches fell in NYC, making residents angry at the mistake in the forecasts. Boston, MA, however, was buried in up to three feet of snow.
Winter Storm Knife (AKA Snowvember) November 13–21, 2014. This series of Winter storms dumped over 33 inches on NYC, but as the dumping was spread over a few days, NYC was able to keep ahead of the snow ploughing and there were no stoppages to the city or the Broadway show schedule during this time.
Winter Storm Double January 26, 2011. 19 Inches of snow – All Broadway shows closed
Boxing Day Blizzard December 26, 2010. 26 Inches of snow – Some Broadway shows closed
Snowicane February 25, 2010. 21 Inches of snow – No Broadway shows were closed
New York City Blizzard February 11, 2006. 27 Inches of snow – All Broadway shows closed
Presidents Day Blizzard February 16, 2003. 20 inches of snow – All Broadway shows closed
Who Gets To Name The Winter Storms?
Although Hurricanes always get named by the National Weather Service, they do not typically provide names for Winter storms. Seeing an opportunity, NBC’s “The Weather Channel” began naming winter storms during in the 2012-13 winter season, but many media outlets still do not recognize (or even use) the names given to the storms by this outlet. The Weather Channel has a rule that will only name the storm if it significantly threatens populations of 2 million people or greater, so a winter storm needs to be pretty severe and hit a major city to get a Winter storm name. The Weather Channel (TWC) has been ridiculed in the press for using many comedic names for Winter storms that failed to recognize the potentially life-threatening destruction that they can often wage upon cities across the United States. When someone dies, its no longer funny to name a storm Winter Storm “Snowtorious B.I.G.”
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