Amex ticket deals have stoked a gold rush on the Great White Way.
The company’s Gold Card Events program has changed the landscape of Broadway ticketbuying with a growing number of exclusive ducat deals.
The program, which began in 1988 and includes concerts, sporting events, the Tribeca Film Festival and upcoming touring King Tut exhibit, has perhaps its highest profile in the legit arena. Sixteen of the 28 Broadway shows that have begun previews since Nov. 1 have teamed up with Amex.
Joe Farrell, CEO of the premium ticket service Broadway Inner Circle, puts it bluntly: “From a card standpoint they kind of own Broadway.”
While Visa scrambles to keep up with its rival, Off Broadway ticket purveyors are exploring ways they can get in on the deal with a less expensive Amex card.
So how does the Gold program work? To be eligible, you need to have a Gold, Platinum or other exclusive Amex card. A regular Amex card won’t cut it.
Eligible cardholders may then snap up tickets before they go on sale to the general public or purchase prime seatsset aside by the box office specifically for the program.
In return, Amex promotes the sale, typically through an email blast to Gold Card members on the Thursday the window begins, followed by a full-page ad in the New York Times on Sunday.
Many shows sell over $2 million in tix in that first weekend, says Nancy Coyne, whose ad agency, Serino Coyne, reps Amex in its dealings with Broadway.
“If you take the demographic of a theatergoer, you’ll find that they are educated and affluent, and that overlays nicely onto the Gold Card membership,” says Coyne.
Reserved seats are available for all the shows in the program; early ticketing is only available for some.
Amex rep Desiree Fish says one of the hottest early ticket offers was for the return of original “Producers” stars Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick in January 2004. Amex members reportedly scooped up $1 million worth in each of the first two days of the weeklong sale.
“It certainly helps you get out of the starting gate very quickly,” says producer Jeffrey Richards. “All producers are really excited at the opportunity.”
So what about other cards?
MasterCard isn’t on the map, but Visa has been teaming with Broadway shows since as far back as “A Chorus Line.” “The Lion King” reserves seats for Visa Signature Card members and special Disney Visa Card members.
Plus, since 1999, Visa has sponsored both the League of American Theaters and Producers and the Tony Awards — it’s the only card you can use to buy tickets to the kudofest.
But now that Amex has become ubiquitous, Visa is scrambling to attach itself to more shows. In return for Visa-sponsored ads and other marketing components, the upcoming Broadway show “The Mambo Kings” will offer tickets to Visa members first, and then, during the run, will reserve seats for Visa Signature Card members. And “Beauty and the Beast” will offer a premium seat deal similar to “The Lion King” come June 1.
All these credit card deals raise the question: doesn’t restricting ticket-buying to a select group of high-end credit card members perpetuate the stereotype of Broadway shows as an elitist entertainment that’s just for the old and rich?
“Mambo Kings” producer Jordan Roth responds that while every show wants new auds, the exclusives are aimed specifically at that core group of seasoned theater hounds who are “going to pull out their Visa card as soon as they see their first ad.” It’s what politicos call playing to your base.
“It doesn’t preclude offering a range of other ways to come,” says Roth, who notes that “Mambo Kings” will also offer more than 100 $20 seats at every perf. “It’s about adding services, it’s not about subtracting services.”
And, as Roth points out, credit cards deals are a “win-win-win.” The shows get free advertising. The card holders get good seats. And the card companies create a loyal following among people who like to buy expensive things.
Now even Ticket Central, a small company that sells tickets for Off Broadway companies like Playwrights Horizons and MCC, wants in on the act.
Ticket Central director Mike Rafael says he’s made a proposal to Amex to offer early ticketing to owners of Amex’s IN:NYC card, which caters to a younger, more Gotham-savvy demo than the Gold Card. Deals would be for popular shows with big stars and limited runs.