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, a division of The Shubert Organization, 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 is passed from Shubert Ticketing to another Shubert sub-division, “Broadway Inbound.”

Plum Benefits Merges with EBG Entertainment Benefits Group

The difference between EBG’s Tickets-At-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 has a vast roster of major entertainment companies including 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, whereas, Tickets-At-Work uses an internal transaction process, offering a proprietary ticketing technology developed by EBG that allows customers to buy tickets within their website. The Shubert’s, who have traditionally been very 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 with Shubert’s own back end data from Telecharge. Tickets-At-Work has the unique and enviable position of no longer needing to use discount codes and 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 advantage for their own use. It’s 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 EBG and Tickets-At-Work are outside the normal Broadway ticket sales channels.

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 for the new PlumBenefits.com website is actually owned by EBG, further underlying the appearance of who has the 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’ site advertises Aladdin the musical, as well as Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, The Cripple of Inishmaan starring Daniel Radcliffe, and the jukebox 80′s musical Rock of Ages.  On the other hand, the Tickets-At-Work site 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

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, which is especially attractive as employers have been cutting back on “fringe” benefits in recent years, Adding voluntary benefits made up for the 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 reports that the remaining Plum Benefits staff who manage the corporate clients are now employees of EBG. It is unclear whether the former Plum 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 an expanded 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 Shubert’s have allowed EBG to implement on their behalf, the Tickets-At-Work merger appears to be a step forward from the consumer perspective.

Plum Benefits’ existing corporate client roster may, however, balk at the multitude of new choices that their employees now have access to, through the new relationship. HR departments are already very wary of being aligned with this new service, as their approval may be taken by employees and management as the 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 tuned to the HR division’s needs.

With EBG and “Tickets At Work” being 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 them aren’t in the NYC area, so any ticket sales will be “Visitor” sales, something that the Broadway producer was able to sell full-price tickets to in the past, and now are stuck selling at a discount, even though they didn’t ask for one.

Plum Benefits has opened up their corporate client base to peruse hundreds of other competing entertainment offers, something that does not seem wholly appropriate given that Shubert’s mission statement is to help develop Broadway Theatre, but instead have sold them out for cash, or at least a commission on the sale.

Charles Flateman, VP Marketing for Shubert Ticketing and Board Member of the newly combined organization and Brett Reizen, EBG President and CEO did not return calls seeking comment for this story.

Book Of Mormon Tickets Push New Price of $500 Per Ticket and Raise the Very Lowest Ticket Price to $149

Book Of Mormon

Book Of Mormon Sets Broadway Ticket Price Record

It’s already the highest priced ticket on Broadway and regularly has the highest “average paid attendance” (last week it was $191.55), but in a bid to further thwart ticket brokers, recoup some of the profit for the show’s investors, and raise money to finance the touring productions, The Book of Mormon has set a new ticket pricing schedule that raises the stakes in its premium and cheapest seat ticket prices to new Broadway ticket price records:

Premium orchestra seat tickets during popular show times are now $477 + fees. At less popular times, these seats are now $352 + fees.

Even the very back rows in the mezzanine, which were previously the only bargain at Mormon at $69 each, have been raised to $149 per ticket (these tickets are set to increase again to $159 after July 2013).  During the holidays and other popular times, the “worst seats in the theatre” have been raised to an astonishing $255. This puts the difference between the best premium seat in the house and the very worst seat at just $222, a difference of only 50%, which sets another Broadway record for lack of pricing diversity. In a bid to not completely divorce themselves from lower priced tickets, Book Of Mormon does still offer sixteen “limited legroom” seats in the very back of the mezzanine for $69, but these seats are not available online or over the telephone – and even in person,  they are sold a year in advance and for the the last eight attempts by this writer, no such tickets have been available at the box office.

All Book of Mormon tickets remain sold-out for a rolling year. But the official face value of Book Of Mormon tickets (which is somewhat academic) is now:

  • Amex Premium Ticket Desk tickets are $252.00 – $477.00
  • Select Mid-Premium Seating tickets are $227.00 – $299.00
  • Select Premium Seating tickets are $352.00 – $477.00
  • Select Premium Seating tickets are $477.00
  • Premium Seats: $352 (off-peak) – $477 (peak)
  • Regular Orchestra and Front Mezzanine Seats: $252 (off-peak) – $299 (peak)
  • Rear Mezzanine Seats: $149 (off-peak, raising to $169) – $252 (peak)

telecharge

The Book of Mormon operates on a rolling-year ticket purchase, so all well-placed regular priced tickets are sold out a year in advance.  Each week the box office makes another set of tickets available to buyers (usually a week’s worth), most of which are purchased by ticket brokers (who are the only people that would normally buy tickets a year in advance). This leaves only the less well placed ticket inventory available for the same price, closer to the performance date. For example: a ticket for a seat in Mezzanine row J on the month prior to the performance is the same price as a seat in Orchestra side row A, but only when sold a year in advance.

Ticket brokers have been actively speculating on The Book of Mormon tickets since the show received its bevy of awards at the 2011 Tonys, which drove up interest in the show by leaps and bounds. Recently, Book of Mormon tickets have become so hot that ticket brokers have even resorted to sending their staff down to the daily ticket lotteries because of the tremendous profits that can be made by selling a $32 front row seat for $400 after winning the ticket lottery – in some cases selling the tickets to clients before winning them (this is known as naked short-selling in the stock market).  Other ticket brokers can be seen on the day of the show selling these ‘recently acquired’ tickets outside the theater 30 minutes prior to the performance. Brokers have brought their full set of market manipulation techniques to bear through practices like drip feeding or scalp seeding – practices that are illegal in the New York stock market, but perfectly acceptable in the Broadway ticket market. More recently, ticket speculation for The Book Of Mormon has reached a fever pitch and is now starting to look a lot like the 1624 Amsterdam Tulip bubble, which ended disastrously for both the buyers and producers. It’s that speculation bubble that all others are now judged by and Broadway may be heading that way.

Creatively speaking, the Eugene O’Neill Theatre is the perfect size for The Book of Mormon, but from a financial perspective, it’s clear that the size of the theater is drastically limiting the revenue that the show could potentially achieve – see The Book of Mormon on the Broadway ticket sales analysis or the Broadway sales chart.  With only 1100 seats per show and eight shows per week, The Book of Mormon is missing out on a much higher attendance potential when compared with its two cousins in the the top three Broadway show list:  Wicked and The Lion King. (The disparity can actually be seen across all Broadway shows in “total attendance” when compared to Book of Mormon.)

With The Book of Mormon producers clawing back the profit from the ticket brokers by setting the new standard for pricing for this show, ticket brokers will in turn pass these price increases onto their own clients.  This could set the after-market broker ticket pricing on The Book of Mormon on Broadway at $750 to $1000 per ticket, from the $500 to $600 that they are currently on, a potential bubble in the making.

As The Book of Mormon is now the number one show on Broadway, it has within its grasp the opportunity to change the Broadway ticket game by cutting out ticket brokers for good. It’s clear that Mormon no longer needs brokers to promote the show, so if they were to add buyers’ names on tickets and demand government ID to match at the door (much like airline tickets), it could recoup all profit for the show overnight, cut out all ticket brokers, and provide consumers with a more equitable situation than the one currently being experienced with runaway pricing, no available ticket inventory and market manipulation.

Book of Mormon touring shows open at various locations across America in the coming months, but it’s unclear how this will affect sales of the New York Broadway based show tickets.  Ticket brokers may find themselves with unsold inventory, which could potentially crash the whole Broadway ticket market – something that has never happened in the history of Broadway, even dating back to the Broadway ticket speculation that transpired with the reign of Joe LeBlang in the early 1900s, when Broadway theatre had just moved uptown and the Broadway business was in its infancy.

But then again, Broadway ticket revenues weren’t $25 million per week and face value Broadway show tickets weren’t pushing $500.

Buying Broadway Tickets on Telecharge.com Just Got A Little Easier With Their Graphical Search Tool

It’s been five years in the making, but searching for Broadway show tickets on Telecharge.com just got a little easier as they just launched their Beta version of their re-designed site, which we reviewed in a previous post on this blog.  The new version looks different, but more importantly, it works differently.  With the site’s new capabilities, particularly regarding ticket searches, Telecharge.com is finally catching up to Ticketmaster.com.  But they are still not there yet, as they lack functionality and utilize an awkward design that doesn’t appear to have been through adequate user testing yet.

Telecharge.com now utilizes a graphical map, a feature vastly preferred by users as a method for choosing seats when ordering Broadway tickets.  Telecharge’s new theater maps make it easier for customers to view seat availability for a performance, seeing exactly one the theater’s seating chart which seats are still available and enabling them to directly choose available seats from the map.

However, not all Broadway shows have opted to allow this feature.  Presumably stuck in the old way of doing things, they ask Telecharge to turn off the map selection feature, so that ticket buyers have to struggle through the traditional method of slogging through whatever ‘best available’ choices the computer offers them.  Although this ticket search offers detailed parameters for searching, you have to enter the captcha code each time you look at the next best set of seats, which can be time-consuming at best and aggravating at worst.

Even for the Broadway shows that do allow users to select seats via map, it can be difficult to actually notice the feature, since it is relatively hidden down at the bottom of the Find Tickets page and the user must deliberately select it (the default option is for Telecharge to “recommend” seats).  And if the Broadway show in question does not offer the feature, Telecharge simply eliminates the choice from the page rather than showing it as a “greyed out” option, confusing the user by making it seem as though the feature is never available at all.

Example of the Telecharge.com pesky default choice set to "Recommended"

Example of the Telecharge.com pesky default choice set to “Recommended”

Fortunately the majority of Broadway shows that sell tickets on Telecharge.com do actually choose to offer users the option of selecting seats from the theater map.  A current review of Broadway shows on Telecharge showed that the following plays and musicals support the graphical search:  The Anarchist, The Best Man, Chaplin, Chicago, Dead Accounts, An Enemy of the People, Glengarry Glen Ross, Grace, Mamma Mia, Nice Work If You Can Get It, Once, One Man Two Guvnors, The Performers, The Phantom of the Opera, Rebecca, Rock of Ages, Sister Act, War Horse, and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
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Broadway shows that do not currently support the graphical search function include:

The Book of Mormon, Bring It On: The Musical, Clybourne Park, The Heiress, and Jersey Boys.

Its unclear why these shows are hold-outs, but it could be that they are concerned that ticket brokers will use the new feature to game the system (a theory supported by the fact that two of Broadway’s most popular shows, The Book of Mormon and Jersey Boys, are among the few that don’t use the map search).There may also be a concern among Broadway producers that, because the map allows users to get a good sense of how ticket sales are going, potential ticket buyers may be less inclined to buy tickets for a show that has a lot of availability and therefore seems “unpopular”.  Broadway producers have always been rather cagey about declaring sales numbers, and the seat availability map lays bare the reality of sales numbers at a real-time pace.

It is anticipated that the Shuberts will fine tune the telecharge.com beta website over the next few weeks, with an apparent full launch date in the Fall of this year.