Making a buck is the American way, which is why what’s happening with “Hamilton,” the fabulously successful Broadway musical that’s hitting the road, is worthy of note. There’s a battle brewing over control of the ticket reselling market for the play, the latest in the ongoing struggle between resellers, sports teams and artists.
The producers of “Hamilton” raised ticket prices to thwart resellers who are making up to $60 million a year off the hit. That’s money they say should go to the creative forces behind the play.
To beat the scalpers at their own game, [Hamiltonn lead producer Jeffrey] Seller studied the secondary ticket market to determine the average cost of a scalped ticket, then priced his tickets accordingly, betting that scalpers would be unwilling to raise their own ticket prices.
In doing so, Seller has lowered the margin for scalpers and made the tickets less attractive to the “ticket bots” that used to snap up as much as 78 percent of the show’s tickets.
Producer Seller said the new, higher ticket prices will subsidize the lowest-priced seats and, in theory, make the show more affordable for people.
But recognize what’s really happening here. The ticket resellers set the real market value of product — which is in the four-figure range, far more than the box office — thus prompting the box off to raise its price while still making the price look like a steal compared to the scalpers.
This, the Chicago Tribune’s Phil Rosenthal writes, is why sports teams and Broadway producers are more interesting in controlling the secondary ticket market, not snuffing it out.
Some sports teams cut deals with brokers, squeeze others out and decide to give one resale platform or another preferred status. Franchises may charge brokers more for season tickets than individual fans and then pay close attention to just how many tickets from a supposed nonbroker’s account wind up on, say, StubHub.
Pro basketball’s Golden State Warriors instituted a new pricing structure for this year’s playoffs and next season that, the Sports Business Journal reported, has meant charging the resellers more than double what an individual would owe for seats in some cases.
This was on top of across-the-board price hikes that undoubtedly will have some of those individual Warriors ticket-holders laying off seats to some games on the resale market so they still can afford to go to others.
When the show opens in Chicago in September, any resale of tickets will be prohibited.
Tribune arts critic Chris Jones sees the dark side — entertainment venues treating their product the way airlines treat their passengers.
The headlines usually are confined to the issue of scalpers and their bots making it impossible for ordinary folks to get a ticket to a hot show. This is a problem, without question.
But there is some evidence that if the producers and venue operators of live entertainment get their way, the only rights will be confined to you, personally, walking into the theater on the night you bought, as at “Hamilton,” which is, in fairness, genuinely trying to ensure that a broad spectrum of Americans can see its show. As I said, it’s complicated.
Should tickets for live entertainment go the way of the airlines? That’s a good question, but we all know how unpopular those airline policies are with the flying public.
By all means, legislate against profiteering. But a reasonable resale market should be preserved for ordinary single-ticket buyers, lest we all become afraid of committing in advance to anything but “Hamilton.”
All of this is the sort of thing many sports teams can only dream about. In Minnesota, as I’ve written numerous times, the Minnesota Timberwolves have been the most aggressive sports franchise at trying to gain control over the secondary market.
The struggling franchise allows reselling of its tickets through a proprietary app, but doesn’t allow the tickets to be sold at any more than a 25 percent discount, which mostly evaporates with associated fees. That props up a higher price at the box office.
At the end of the day, none of this is about the patron. It’s about making money.