‘The Book of Mormon’ Inks Deal with StubHub.com

The Book of Mormon now officially sells tickets on StubHub.com.

Since its opening in 2011, the Broadway production of The Book of Mormon has been selling out its houses at the 1,006 seat Eugene O’Neill Theatre.  With rampant demand for the satirical musical written by South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, along with Avenue Q writer Bobby Lopez, the show has regularly seen premium ticket prices as high as $477.  The show’s lead producers Scott Rudin and Anne Garefino have often been at the cutting edge of strategies to maximum their ticket revenue, utilizing dynamic pricing to vary ticket prices throughout the house in line with demand.  As of just week ago, they have announced a new partnership that changes the game for the Broadway ticket marketplace: they will now sell tickets on StubHub.com.

Book of Mormon and Stubhub join forces

Book of Mormon and StubHub.com  join forces

StubHub.com, an online ticket marketplace owned by eBay, has grown from America’s largest secondary-market ticket marketplace to the world’s largest ticket marketplace.  The secondary market for tickets refers to when tickets are re-sold, often at a higher amount than their original price, especially when the primary ticket sellers have sold out their inventory.  Another example of a secondary-market ticket site is TicketsNow.com, which is an acquired subsidiary of Ticketmaster.  Ticketmaster often redirects its customers to TicketsNow.com when the original inventory is sold out, which is effectively the same thing as selling tickets at a higher price through the same outlet.  Critics of secondary market ticket sites consider them to be just another form of scalping, and thus the legality of such sites is often questioned.

In an unprecedented move for Broadway, The Book of Mormon has decided to utilize StubHub.com as another outlet to sell their higher priced premium tickets.  In this way, StubHub will not be functioning as a secondary ticket marketplace, but rather a primary ticketing outlet.  Presently, the primary ticketing outlet for Broadway shows is more often than not Telecharge.com, which is owned by the Shubert Organization, one of the major Broadway landlords.  Therefore, this decision will present StubHub as a direct competitor to Telecharge.

It is common for producers to turn to additional outlets to help move their inventory, yet this is generally done in the form of discount ticket sales.  When sales are slow for a certain show, producers will often offer lower priced tickets either by direct mail to potential ticket buyers’ homes, or through online promotions by email or on websites.  However, the decision to sell premium seats for this hot-ticket show specifically through StubHub is an interesting maneuver, especially as the StubHub customer base may not be accustomed to seeing theatre options on the site.  StubHub’s biggest business comes from the music and sports industries, and this will present a Broadway option to this largely untapped audience.  On the other hand, the advantage from StubHub’s point of view is that it will help shift their reputation from that of a glorified online scalper to a more legitimate ticket sales outlet.

In any case, this novel approach presents an interesting dilemma for the Shuberts, who own Telecharge.com.  If premium tickets can be sold directly though secondary outlets commonly known for scalping tickets, there is a grey area between the primary and secondary market ticket outlets that had not previously existed for the Broadway marketplace.  If they neglect the opportunity to invest in secondary outlets, like Ticketmaster did with TicketsNow, then they might very well be losing profits in the long run.  Still, for now, The Book of Mormon’s new partnership will be a noteworthy case study to see if the StubHub customer base opens up new avenues for premium Broadway ticket sales.

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.

Shubert Organization Makes Big Changes To Their Online Broadway Ticket Website Telecharge.com

Telecharge.com, the Shubert Organization ticketing site that is the official Broadway show ticket vendor for over half of the shows on Broadway, has recently re-worked its website.  Currently in Beta testing, the new version of the Telecharge website is seen by 1 out of 5 people who visit Telecharge.com (or you can click the Beta test button).  Besides an overall re-branding (the primary color is now blue rather than white, for example), there are some key changes in terms of functionality and information offered.

The new Telecharge.com layout features more information on each Broadway show, from cast details to handicapped accessibility information.  This includes a schedule of upcoming show dates and times (and a “View Full Calendar” option) that is a much-needed improvement, making it easier for ticket buyers to see at a glance what show time will be best for them.  The comprehensive pricing breakdowns are shown by performance, enabling customers to more easily see which seats are available at what cost.

Shubert launches new telecharge website

The most significant improvement on the new Telecharge.com site is that it now allows users to search and select seats on a map.  This is helpful to Broadway ticket buyers because they are able to easily see where available seats are located in the theater and to choose their preferred seats accordingly.  Telecharge’s 3-D seat map gives you the option of looking at the theater from overhead or from a stage view — if you already have your tickets, you can even enter your section, row, and seat numbers to see exactly where the seats are located, although Microsoft Silverlight must be installed for this functionality to work. Telecharge has also included functionality to see a view of the stage from your seat before buying.  Not all the theatre data and photos have yet been loaded, but this function promises to be quite valuable to ticket buyers.

Overall, Telecharge’s seat finder is not as good as the one used on Ticketmaster.com, which handles the ticketing for most of the rest of the shows on Broadway. Though it will likely improve in time, at the moment Telecharge’s map has an unfinished look, is often slow to load, is not nearly as intuitive as Ticketmaster’s map, and in some cases lacks the flexibility of being able to see all the available seats on one screen.

The new website still does not allow the use of discount codes, they must be used on Telecharge’s other website, BroadwayOffers.com. The new site also requires Microsoft Silverlight to be installed, further limiting the penetration of their latest development, as Microsoft Silverlight has very limited user adoption and many documented problems with Google Chrome and Safari on the Mac. Similarly this functionality will not work on Apple’s iPad or iPhone.

On the whole, the new Telecharge website is an improvement because it presents Broadway ticket buyers with more detailed information on schedules, pricing and seating, along with a more complex search function. Nonetheless, it needs work in terms of smoothness of appearance, ease of use, and functionality.

Broadway Theatre Owners Raise Facility Fee Surcharge To $2.00 on Broadway Tickets

Broadway show producers often increase ticket prices to their shows to match growing demand. It now appears that theater owners want to get in on the action.

Many Broadway theaters have just increased their facility fee charges to $2.00, making that the new standard amount for facility fees on Broadway in addition to the base ticket price, the convenience charge, and the per-order handling fee.

The facility fee (sometimes called the theater restoration fee, or the 3rd surcharge) is the only surcharge that you have to pay even if buying your tickets directly at the Broadway theater box office — unlike other Broadway ticket surcharges, this one comes from the theater itself, not the ticket agent.

In a way, it sounds like a classy sort of fee. After all, everyone wants those beautiful Broadway theaters to continue looking nice, and $2.00 doesn’t sound like that much when you just threw down $155 for a ticket. But when you really consider it, that fee is rather odd. You don’t pay any other industry an extra fee to simply maintain their place of business, do you? People wouldn’t normally pay a facility fee when they dine at a restaurant or shop at a store. If the Broadway theaters need money for upkeep, you would anticipate that they would factor this into the rent that they charge their tenants, the Broadway shows themselves.

The switch that many theaters made over the years from calling the fee a ‘restoration fee’ to calling it a ‘facility fee’ is also telling, since the truth is that none of them are actually guaranteeing that the money is going directly to theater restoration projects. The fact is, that little charge can add up to tens of millions of dollars annually for Broadway theater owners, making it an excellent source of extra revenue.  It is unclear why they don’t just charge the producers of the show more rent, who will in turn increase the prices of tickets to their show.

In an article that Cara Joy David wrote for the New York Times in 2007 on ticket fees and surcharges, veteran Broadway producer Emanuel Azenberg was quoted as saying of the fees, “I think all of these things cumulatively are insane … Someone must have men in the back room making up names, euphemisms for profit.”

The facility fees have not always been uniform, and different theaters have charged different amounts over the years. Ten years ago, most facility fees were around $1.00 or $1.25, and $1.50 was typical for a very long time. But now $2.00 has emerged as the most common amount for the facility fee.  (A few exceptions exist, such as Disney’s New Amsterdam Theater and Lincoln Center’s Vivian Beaumont Theater, which have no facility fee at all; and the Gershwin Theatre, home of Wicked, which charges $1.25.)  Somehow the American theater managed to thrive for decades before fees were introduced in the ’90s, so these charges really do seem unnecessary.

Part of the reason the facility fee doesn’t get that much attention from Broadway ticket buyers is because they are already used to paying much higher surcharges directly to Ticketmaster and Telecharge. The popularity of phone ordering (much easier than traveling down to the box office in person, especially for tourists and out-of-towners) and the advent of online ordering provided an excuse for the “convenience charge,” which usually breaks down into two types of fees: the per-order handling fee (currently $2.75 on Telecharge, after recently being raised from $2.50) and the per-ticket service charge ($7.50 on Telecharge). There also may be additional charges depending on what delivery method you choose.

Broadway ticket buyers can continue to avoid the larger surcharges by making the trip to the Broadway theater district and buying their tickets directly at the box office, rather than dealing with the middle man that is Ticketmaster and Telecharge. But no matter how you purchase your Broadway tickets, that $2.00 facility fee will still be going from your pocket to the theater owners, at least hold the door open for me.

Seating Options Abound For Book of Mormon Tickets – But A Scant Few Tickets Are Actually Available

More than a year after it won its Tony Award for Best Musical, The Book of Mormon remains Broadway’s monster hit, completely selling out performances several months in advance. The recent departure of original cast members Josh Gad and Andrew Rannells (soon to appear on TV shows 1600 Penn and The New Normal, respectively) hasn’t made a dent in sales either, since The Book of Mormon is the rare Broadway musical where members of the behind-the-scenes creative team (i.e. South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone) are more famous than the people onstage.

Needless to say, The Book of Mormon tickets continue to be challenging to purchase. If you want The Book of Mormon tickets, you better be prepared to make your theater-going plans way in advance (are you free in the summer of 2013 by any chance?). Making matters more complicated is that The Book of Mormon‘s official ticket seller, Telecharge, is now utilizing a surprisingly complicated seating structure. When searching for The Book of Mormon tickets on Telecharge.com, you have the option to search by section (see image on the left). In the past, these drop-down menus might show 6-8 sections to choose from, but now The Book of Mormon is an example of a Broadway show that offers roughly two dozen options.

While this lengthy seating breakdown creates the illusion of choice, the reality is that the pricing options for The Book of Mormon tickets are extremely limited. The available regular ticket prices for The Book of Mormon are $69 rear mezzanine, partial view for $145-$165, and everything else in the $155-$175 ticket range. On that entire list of seating choices, only the Mezzanine Rows J-L gets you the $69 tickets. (By the way, the premium seats on that list will run you $250-$477 each.) Another popular Broadway musical, Jersey Boys, has a similar set-up, with numerous seating choices but limited price points. Meanwhile, a show like End of the Rainbow, which is struggling to fill seats, shows far fewer seating choices, but a slightly wider variety of pricing options.

One possible reason for the increasingly detailed seat offerings for popular Broadway shows is customer demand. When searching for The Book of Mormon tickets on Telecharge, you can just leave it on the default ‘Best Available’ setting to be given whatever Telecharge has determined are the best seats. But with Broadway ticket prices at all-time highs (especially for hit musicals like The Book of Mormon and Jersey Boys), buyers feel that if they are paying $155 for a ticket, they should at least be able to choose what row they want to sit in. The incredibly high demand for tickets, though, gives The Book of Mormon producers little reason to charge anything less than an arm and a leg — except for throwing ticket buyers a little bone by offering a few rear mezzanine rows at $69 (which of course sell out very quickly).

The complex seating breakdown for The Book of Mormon tickets also highlights the problem with Telecharge’s online ticketing system. Unlike Ticketmaster, which now lets you easily view and select the precise seats that you want from a seating chart, Telecharge leaves ticket buyers flailing in the dark, attempting to get the system to pull up desirable seats. Having a detailed list of seat row ranges at least allows buyers to choose their preferred seating sections with greater accuracy. Then again, with a sell-out show like The Book of Mormon, customers often find that there isn’t anything available in their selected row anyway. The truth of the matter is that, for big Broadway hits, you often have to settle for whatever is available — or else pay the premium ticket prices.