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How a New Deal With StubHub Could Boost Nonprofit Theater

In the theater industry, “secondary market” used to be dirty words, conjuring images of price-gouging brokers and risky, potentially fraudulent transactions on a street corner. But not anymore.

A new partnership between the ticket reselling giant StubHub and the Roundabout Theater Company, one of the biggest nonprofit theaters in the country — and supported by a broader pact between StubHub and a major software provider for nonprofit performing arts organizations, Tessitura Network — shows just how fast the secondary market’s rep is improving.

In ticketing-jargon terms, the new deal will see StubHub become Roundabout’s premier secondary ticketing partner, with StubHub offering seamless integration and the data insights and consolidated inventory management made possible by its multichannel distribution capabilities. But beyond the nuts and bolts, the pact looks a lot like an endorsement of the secondary market as a valuable way to reach and track customers — and not just a predatory place for unscrupulous brokers to siphon revenue from the producers, creatives and organizations who really deserve it.

It’s all part of an active push by StubHub to expand its business and cultivate its ties to the theater industry, according to Jeff Poirier, StubHub’s GM of music and theater in North America. Part of the company’s deal with Roundabout will include presenting Roundabout events at StubHub’s studio theater in Times Square, where RTC’s Women in Theater symposium was held Jan. 22. “Events like that help us show credibility in the industry, and show that we’re able to give back in meaningful ways,” Poirier said. (In the music world, StubHub has committed $3 million to a multiyear program supporting music education.)

Roundabout is one of 600 nonprofits, including the Metropolitan Opera and Second Stage Theater, that are also part of the Tessitura Network. The partnership expands RTC’s reach to the wide swath of consumers who look to StubHub for tickets to everything from sports to concerts to “Hamilton.”

Tessitura, meanwhile, can offer its partner organizations access to StubHub integration in a variety of capacities, with Roundabout serving as a pilot program of sorts. “There’s a lot of value in the broadness of StubHub’s reach, the quality of the brand and the comfort factor for consumers that the tickets they purchase will be legitimate,” said Tessitura CEO Jack Rubin.

For the theater industry, the shifting perception of the secondary market’s legitimacy can be likened to a similar change for the major sports leagues, which seem to have come around to looking at the secondary market as an important outlet for connecting with a broader base of customers. It can also serve as a good place to sell off what ticketers call “distressed inventory” — that is, tickets to low-demand events.

For nonprofits like Roundabout, a connection to StubHub can streamline the reselling process for, say, a season subscriber who suddenly discovers she can’t use her tickets to next Tuesday night’s performance. Alternately, it can be a place where tickets that aren’t selling at face value could go for less — and thereby expose theatergoers to Roundabout work in a seat that otherwise would have gone vacant. “It’s just going to give us a push and a bigger presence that I think is going to be really helpful as a not-for-profit producing in the commercial Broadway market,” said Gabe Johnson, Roundabout’s Director of Ticketing and Sales Operations.

But for some in the theater industry, there’s still a stigma attached to the idea of the secondary market. “You go back even just two, three years, and it was noticeably different in terms of the willingness to sit down with us,” noted Poirier.  “But it can certainly still be a challenge.”

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