Broadway Woos Audiences With New Ticketing

'Spider-Man' lets you reserve without paying, while TDF launches TKTS Fast Pass

For his lastest superheroic feat, Spider-Man has endowed Broadway theatergoers with the extraordinary ability to reserve tickets and pay for them later.

It might not sound like much. But the mobile ticket reservation system for musical “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark” marks a change from the Rialto’s traditional pay-now model, and it’s part of larger thread of Broadway’s ongoing experimentation in ticket accessibility at a time when top ticket prices continue to rise and annual attendance seems to have leveled off around the 12 million mark.

Also initiated in recent weeks was the TKTS 7-Day Fast Pass, a program that allows ticketbuyers at TDF’s discount ticket booth to bypass the line for a second purchase within a week of the first. The initiative rankled individual producers here and there — why buy a full-price ticket when it’s suddenly easier to get a discount one, as producer Ken Davenport argued on his blog — but most in the producers’ camp were on board with the idea, according to TDF exec director Victoria Bailey.

“Everybody is concerned about building audiences and wide access,” she said.

The “Spider-Man” reservation system also aims to break down purchasing friction. Via the “Spider-Man” dedicated app, ticketbuyers can reserve tickets the way customers book a table at a restaurant, with no payment required up front.

Depending on the performance, users can reserve for shows up to a few months in advance with tickets held until sometime during the day of the performance, at which point the tickets, if not yet purchased, will be released for sale again several hours before curtain.

“The overall trend is that for years now, people are buying Broadway tickets more last-minute than they used to,” said Damian Bazadona, prexy of Situation Interactive, the firm that works on the “Spider-Man” digital initiatives. “Instead of trying to fight the trend, the ‘Spider-Man’ producers are going with it.”

The reservation system allows marketers to capture the data of interested theatergoers and then encourage them to buy (via text message) in the few days prior to the performance — the last-minute window during which a lot of customers are most likely to pull the trigger on a purchase. For consumers, it’s a less intimidating first step than shelling out for the ducat at the get-go.

Per Bazadona, an average of 30%-40% of reservations result in purchases, and some weeks it’s been as high as 60%.

But there are factors that make the mobile reservation system viable for “Spider-Man” but not a lot of other shows on Broadway. The production’s tied to a global brand that gives it an international profile, for one; it also gets a lot of walk-up business and  sits in the largest theater on Broadway (the Foxwoods at 1,930 seats).

With “Spider-Man” regularly posting weekly sales above the $1 million mark, business is generally brisk but inventory isn’t tight the way it is for ultra-hot titles such as “The Book of Mormon,” which occupies a venue not much more than half the size of the Foxwoods. In general, there are more tickets available at “Spider-Man” at any given time, which allows (and even encourages) the flexibility to get creative with how they’re sold.

Besides, the reservation system is part of a dedicated “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark” app that’s been downloaded some 1.1 million times, according to Situation’s estimates. It’s one aspect of an unusually broad digital push for a Broadway show, which also sees in-theater cameras snapping photos of the aud during “Spider-Man” performances and making them available online.

For several reasons, the “Spider-Man” reservation system likely isn’t feasible for every Main Stem show; meanwhile, Bailey says that if the new Fast Pass doesn’t catch on at the TKTS booth they’ll chuck it and try something else, as they’ve done with other ideas that didn’t pan out. But as the the two initiatives underscore, producers and ticketers are increasingly willing to experiment in order to ease the journey from intention to purchase.

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