Shubert Ticketing Passes ‘Plum Benefits’ Over To EBG’s ‘TicketsAtWork.com’

Plum Benefits is a leading corporate entertainment benefits provider that specializes in providing discounted attractions and events for company employees. Plum had a specific focus on Broadway shows in NYC, the stable from which it was born.  For the past three years, Plum has been owned and managed by Shubert Ticketing.  This is a division of The Shubert Organization, a private organization owned by the Shubert Foundation, which is also the majority landlord on Broadway, owning 17 of the 40 Broadway theatres.  After acquiring Plum Benefits (Formerly SVM Marketing) from its founder Shara Mendelson in 2011 for a reported $2 million in cash, the Shuberts have continued to run the company, apparently profitably.  As of April 2, 2014, they have announced a merger with TicketsAtWork.com, which is a similar business owned by Entertainment Benefits Group (EBG).  Although it is technically a legal “merger,” the resultant business appears to be more of a takeover as the new entity is largely managed by EBG, and key Plum employees are now employees of EBG.  Oversight of the Plum Benefits brand has been passed from Shubert Ticketing to another Shubert sub-division, “Broadway Inbound.”

Differences Between The Companies

The difference between EBG’s Tickets-APlum Benefits Merges with EBG Entertainment Benefits Groupt-Work and Plum Benefits is that while Plum is based in the New York City area and specializes in promoting Broadway shows to Fortune 500 employers, Tickets-At-Work has a wider reach geographically and also has a significantly larger roster of major entertainment companies including theme parks, hotels, flights, and travel.  In addition, Plum Benefits has until now been using a link-off site transaction process, requiring users to purchase tickets outside of their platform.  On the other hand, Tickets-At-Work uses an internal transaction process, offering a proprietary ticketing technology developed by EBG that only allows customers to buy tickets within their website.  The Shuberts, who are notoriously slow to adopt new technology and practices, have surprisingly provided a competitive advantage to EBG in terms of allowing Tickets-At-Work to engage in end-to-end transactional ticket sales using the Shuberts’ own back-end data from Telecharge, something no other Broadway business has been allowed to do.  Tickets-At-Work has the unique and enviable position of no longer needing to use discount codes, and they are able to circumvent broadwayoffers.com completely, the traditional website that all other market players have been forced to use for online discount Broadway tickets.  It’s unclear if the Shuberts are just testing the waters with Tickets-At-Work and plan to roll out the ticket sales API to other Broadway ticket vendors, or whether they intend to keep this competitive advantage for their Tickets-At-Work relationship only.  It is also unclear how Broadway show producers feel about Plum and EBG’s Tickets-At-Work having this logistical advantage over all the other players in the Broadway ticket market, especially given that EBG and Tickets-At-Work are outside the normal Broadway ticket sales channels.  It is yet to be seen if Broadway producers will see any real value in an increase in ticket sales from this merger. The new website for Plum Benefits looks largely identical to the existing Tickets-At-Work website, not only in terms of structure but also design, but now Plum clients are pitched a dizzying array of other products and services.  Plum Benefits is now called “Plum Benefits, powered by TicketsAtWork,” but the IP address of the new PlumBenefits.com website is actually owned by EBG, further underscoring the fact that it is the latter who has the overall power in this relationship.  Despite the duplicate layout, the differences in the companies’ specialties are clear by the activities that are advertised on each of their sections on the home pages: presently, Plum Benefits’ section advertises Aladdin the musical, as well as Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, The Cripple of Inishmaan starring Daniel Radcliffe, and the jukebox 80s musical Rock of Ages.  On the other hand, the rest of the site is dedicated to Tickets-At-Work and promotes Walt Disney World, Universal Studios, Cirque du Soleil, and the recently much maligned Sea World.

Plumbenefits, now part of the EBG Group including TicketsAtWork

Plum Benefits, now part of the EBG Entertainment Benefits Group that includes TicketsAtWork

Plum Benefits Business Model

The business model for Plum Benefits had thrived for many years under Shara Mendelson’s iron-fist rule. principally because it was a free service exclusively for employer corporations and organizations.  This is especially attractive as employers have been cutting back on “fringe” benefits in recent years, adding voluntary benefits made up for that void.  Plum’s revenue comes from fees paid by the producers of the entertainment events, so corporate members incur zero cost while producers pay for the promotional benefits of the service.  Therefore, it is surprising that the Shuberts would decide to share ownership of this cash-cow so soon after acquiring it themselves.  Fortunately for them, the agreement provides that they retain rights to the name and trademark of Plum Benefits, and presumably take a fee from all transactions, though EBG conducts the business on their behalf.  At the ground level, they are erasing many roles within their organization, removing what they may have considered to be role redundancies.  EBG has reported that the remaining Plum Benefits staff who manage the corporate clients are now employees of EBG.  It is unclear whether the former Plum Benefits organization was failing to make sufficient profits, or whether there were some other logistical reasons for this merger/takeover decision. In any case, existing Plum Benefits customers can now enjoy a seemingly endless roster of entertainment options, as well as a streamlined booking process.  With a 19 hours a day, 365 days a year, dedicated customer service team and the seamless back-end ticketing technology that the Shuberts have allowed EBG to implement on their behalf, the Tickets-At-Work merger appears to be a step forward from the consumer perspective.

Shopping At Work

However, Plum Benefits’ existing corporate client roster may balk at the multitude of new choices to which their employees now have access through the new relationship.  HR departments are already very wary of being aligned with this new service, as their own employees and management approval may take interpret this as their HR department encouraging and approving of “shopping at work,” something that corporate management is keen to avoid.  HR employees are very concerned about being seen as providing benefits and value, but not distractions, for their employees at work.  The new Plum Benefits’ site does not provide a method to switch off the multitude of offers, and employees are force-fed all these offers from the new partnership, often against their will.  What is missing from this model is the HR manager’s desire, and discretion, to pick and choose what types of offers they want to provide to their employees and which ones they do not, which may mean many Corporations may jump ship to other solutions such as “Corporate Perks” by Nextjump or “Corporate Offers,” which are more attuned to the HR division’s needs. With EBG and “Tickets At Work” primarily based in Aventura, Florida, it is clear that the bulk of the offers will no longer be focused on New York City and certainly not on Broadway shows.  Plum will inevitably see a dilution of interest in Broadway show attractions, but an increase in overall income from its commissions from the other entertainment sales in this joint venture.  Broadway shows expect that their overall ticket sales will go down for Plum, even though the merger with TAW opens up their product to a lot more people, most of whom aren’t in the NYC area.  As such, any ticket sales will be “visitor” sales, something to which the Broadway producer has historically been able to sell full-price tickets, but they are now are stuck selling at a discount, even though they didn’t ask for one.

Overall Value To Each Organization

Through this relationship, it is clear that  EBG’s Tickets-At-Work now has a great opportunity to pitch their endless wares to Plum Benefits’ exclusive corporate club, and will no doubt see profit growth through this merger/takeover.  The Shuberts’ Plum Benefits, however, gets to deliver a wider product range to their existing client base and, in theory, will see increased sales of Broadway tickets.  In reality though, sales of Broadway tickets may in fact go down (due to offer dilution) and their existing corporate client base may be confused and bewildered by the array of choice now available for their employees.  It is expected that the Shuberts will have increased revenue from the Plum Benefits division from the sales of non-Broadway product to their existing clients, making up for any losses incurred by a reduction in overall Broadway ticket sales.  Plum Benefits has opened up their corporate client base to peruse hundreds of other competing entertainment offers, something that does not seem wholly appropriate for the HR divisions of the various blue chip corporations, and this is also quite surprising given that the Shuberts’ mission statement is to help develop Broadway Theatre.  It appears that they may have instead sold out for cash, or at least a commission on the sale. The merger of these two entities was the brainchild of Charles Flateman, the VP of Marketing for Shubert Ticketing (formerly of Gray Line New York Sightseeing Tours and co-founder of Broadway Inbound) and Brett Reizen, EBG President and CEO.  Both individuals are now board members of the newly combined organization and did not return calls seeking comment for this story.

Charles Flateman at Shubert

Charles Flateman at Shubert

Brett Reizen at EBG

Brett Reizen at EBG

 

Key Brand Entertainment Adds BroadwayBox to the KBE Family, Already Includes “Broadway Across America” Show Producer and the “Broadway.com” Ticket Brokerage

Broadway.comOne could expect that the official Broadway ticket vendors, the brokers who sell Broadway tickets at inflated prices, and the companies that offer Broadway discounts would all be in competition with each other. But with a couple of recent mergers and acquisitions, it appears that Broadway companies increasingly prefer to be involved on all ends of the Broadway ticket market – low, medium, high and now very high.

The company that owns the Broadway ticket broker site Broadway.com, Key Brand Entertainment (helmed by John Gore), recently bought BroadwayBox.com, a website that offers Broadway discount ticket codes. Some Broadway fans who enjoy using BroadwayBox codes to buy their theater tickets at a discount have expressed concern at the acquisition. They are worried that this change will enter the territory of ‘conflict of interest.’ At a minimum there are worries that Key Brand may diminish BroadwayBox discount offers altogether. But the worst case scenario is that Key Brand might plan to transform the site into another kind of overpriced ticket broker even though BroadwayBox had seemingly been moving in that direction prior to the acquisition, to one that offers after-market ticket prices (i.e. overpriced) when discounts aren’t available for those shows. This would not be wholly unexpected as Key Brand Entertainment is no stranger to investigating new paths for additional business revenue. For example, the BroadwayBox acquisition by Key Brand is not its first purchase – in December 2010 they bought Broadway.com, which was a first for them in Broadway ticket sales area, and as well as being a producer, they are also a distributor of live theatre in North America, and they also own Broadway Across America. So Key Brand Entertainment proverbially has their pennies in many buckets- or in these circumstances, the hard earned money of Broadway show fans in many of their pockets.

However, since BroadwayBox’s business model involves getting paid directly by the producers of Broadway shows for sending out e-mail blasts with Broadway discount ticket offers, it may make more sense for Key Brand to allow BroadwayBox to continue targeting the discount seekers. After all, a great deal of BroadwayBox users likely can’t or won’t pay $155 for a full-price Broadway show ticket anyway (let alone that plus the extra $40 or $50 that Broadway.com tacks on to the ticket price).

shubertThe Shubert Organization, Key Brand’s direct competitor, likely had the same idea in mind in 2011 when it purchased Plum Benefits, a service that offers discount codes for Broadway shows and other events directly to tens of thousands of large corporations and their millions of employees. Shubert also owns numerous Broadway theaters and handles the ticketing for all of them through its own ticketing service, Telecharge. Not every potential ticket buyer will be prepared to pay the full prices they see listed on Telecharge.com. But if that person sees the opportunity to buy a ticket to that same show at a discounted rate through Plum Benefits, then Shubert is winning a customer it would have otherwise lost. Whether the person buys a full-price ticket or a discounted ticket, if they order online or by phone, they still have to pay a Telecharge surcharge (usually $10-$15 per ticket) that ends up in The Shubert Organization’s pocket.

So Key Brand Entertainment now provides discount Broadway tickets (through BroadwayBox) and broker tickets (through Broadway.com), but it still lacks the complete picture that the Shubert Organization has already achieved, by missing a big spot in the corporate market.  We anticipate another potential acquisition by Key Brand Entertainment of corporateoffers.com or workingadvantage.com, allowing them to play with a full hand in the lucrative corporate market, thus creating an interest in all sectors of Broadway ticket sales.

As a side note, TheaterMania, yet another Broadway ticketing website, also takes a piece of both the high-end and low-end of the Broadway pie, but they did it without acquiring other companies. Originally a purely content-driven site, TheaterMania started offering discount codes and a papering service to budget-minded Broadway and Off-Broadway fans, only to eventually create its own full price ticketing service, OvationTix, which is used by many off-Broadway houses – but never on Broadway – due to the theatre agreements that preclude any new companies from entering the scene.

Whether or not these companies can continue to satisfy the entire spectrum of Broadway theatergoers remains to be seen, but so far it appears that they hope to make money off of all Broadway ticket buyers, from bargain hunters to those willing to pay top price.