Ticket Masters of Charge

Times Square Panograph
Photo by Mr. Chalk — Creative Commons License Some Rights Reserved

There’s the feeling of excitement from holding a winning ticket. There’s feeling disappointed from holding a losing ticket. Now, there appears to be a new category: feeling ripped-off by holding a show ticket.

Many of us work hard to bring audiences to a performance by paying attention to each step of creating, promoting, and selling the show. You know, it can be rather hard work. What helps close the deal is old-fashioned customer service — with a smile. These days Broadway theatre appears to be offering customer service — with a shove.

Cara Joy David of the New York Times recently covered all those little added fees to ticket purchases from the large services, Ticketmaster and Telecharge. You know these fees. You see an advertised price for a show, but when you actually make the purchase it is higher, and not from some obscure retail tax but from “processing” charges.

You’ve got to admire the lingo, and the audacity, used by some in the industry. “Service Charges” or “Convenience Fee” range from $6.50 to $11.00; “Restoration Fee” or “Facility Fee” adds another $1.50; if you want your ticket mailed to you, add another $2.50 to $4.00, or $19.50 for second-day post; or, if you want to wait to pick it up at the box office, well, you still have to add $2.50.

They want you to buy your ticket on the web — but charge you for this convenience, or charge you for the inconvenience of picking it up at the box office! Catch-22, anyone?

They want you to help preserve and restore their theatres, but aren’t they already charging each production those costs in their rental agreements, or in the terms for producing the show?

Does all this add up? Well, according to the New York Times that little “restoration” or “facility” fee of $1.50 on top of the $110 ticket brought in an additional $10.5 million for the Broadway landlords last year, alone. (If that’s the restoration, can’t wait for the renaissance!)

David asked the Shubert Organization, one of the grand Broadway theatre owners and producers, about these charges. Shubert is in a privileged position, as they also own Telecharge.

Shubert president, Philip Smith, provided this in-depth and to the point response: “We will not talk about this. We do not ask you to comment on how much you charge for the newspaper.”

Ouch! Someone seems a bit sensitive (and a bit clumsy) when it comes to customer relations.

The chairman of the Shubert Organization, Gerald Schoenfeld, has had, at times, a testy view of the New York Times’ approach to Broadway. He has correctly noted that the paper makes a great deal of money from Shubert advertisements that run in the paper, costs that the Times can, and has, increased when they see fit. Moreover, while the New York sports teams receive free daily listings of when the game is going to be played, theatres have to pay for listings in the newspaper.

Still, when a reporter is asking a question, they are (hopefully) asking questions we want to know. There really is no need to slap the reporter — and us — for asking a simple question; just as there is no reason to slap on all these additional charges.

I wonder why they don’t clearly establish and advertise the price for a seat that includes these little costs. If venues hire an outside company to provide the ticket selling “convenience” to the public, then be upfront about the charge for this convenience. Let us decide whether paying for the convenience is worth it.

For the rest of the producing world, this is a good reminder about the importance of customer service, transparent ticket pricing, and the feeling of excitement from holding a winning ticket.

- Bill Reichblum

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One Response to “Ticket Masters of Charge”

  1. Larry Murray
    March 14th, 2007 07:38

    Usually you can purchase tickets at face price by going to the venue’s box office and buying them in person. Buying them by phone entails extra work, though other than the setup costs, I would think online purchases would actually be cheaper.

    I was in the ticket business for twenty years, ten of which were spent at an “audience development” organization similar to the Theater Development Fund’s TKTS in Times Square. Someone has to pay the overhead for these services, and you can be sure the presenters won’t.

    So the reason there are all these extra charges is actually twofold: becasue they can and because they must. The public is pretty accepting of these surcharges, though I balk at them myself. Most of the Berkshire organizations charge minimal fees, but I recently decided against seeing a Broadway show when the extra charges exceeded $20.00, After all, I can hit TKTS which still has a very minimal service charge, and there is up to half off as well!

    Where the service charges really are counter-productive is when I find them in subscription offers. The companies work so hard to find the right names, print and mail expensive brochures, make the case, and then at the last moment, just before I give the credit card intoromaton (or write the check) they hit me with a service charge, and that just frosts me.

    I think if folks mail a check, or come to the Box Office they deserve the incentive of no service charges.

    Certainly accepting credit cards can cost up to 5% in the fees Visa and MasterCard processors charge the business, and someone has to pay for that. Most nonprofits don’t want to be reimbursed less than the face price of the ticket.

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