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Despite swings in audience levels over the past decade, rising ticket prices have helped industry revenue climb for the past five years.
At Sunday’s Tony Awards ceremony in New York, many of Broadway’s biggest stars — and some of Hollywood’s too — were on hand to tout the theater community’s achievements from the 2013-14 season, which ended in May.
One milestone that didn’t get mentioned on television in front of millions of potential theatergoers: the new high in Broadway ticket prices.
The average ticket price for a show on the Great White Way this season passed the $100 mark for the first time.
Though the very best seats on Broadway topped $100 years ago, many consumers have been able to find reasonably priced tickets at well below the highest prices listed by the most popular shows.
However, this season, theatergoers in New York forked over an average of $103.88 per ticket, up 5.5 percent from $98.42 last season, according to figures from the Broadway League, a nonprofit industry association and one of the organizers of the Tonys.
For the last five seasons, the average price of a Broadway ticket has climbed 34 percent. The price of a movie ticket nationwide rose 10.8 percent in roughly the same period from 2008 to 2013, according to data from the National Assn. of Theatre Owners.
“I think there’s no question that rising prices on Broadway are problematic,” says Stephen Hendel, a producer whose credits include the current “After Midnight,” which was nominated for new musical, as well as the recent “Fela!” and “American Idiot.”
“At some point, Broadway shows run the risk of pricing tickets beyond the capacity of many potential audiences.”
Industry leaders say the upward pressure on prices is the result of a complex set of factors that includes not only the rising costs associated with producing theater in New York, but also dynamic ticket pricing, which allows producers to charge premium prices for desirable seats and discounts for others.
“I understand a production has responsibilities to investors to pay them back,” says Victoria Bailey, executive director of New York’s Theatre Development Fund, a nonprofit group whose mission includes developing audiences for live theater. But, she adds, conversations with box-office workers have convinced her that consumer sticker shock is real: “I didn’t hear about that three years ago.”
The most expensive tickets on Broadway usually come attached to blockbuster musicals. “The Book of Mormon” charges as much as $477 for its best seats, while tickets for “Kinky Boots” and “Wicked” top out at $349 and $300, respectively.
Plays aren’t immune to the pricing trend, especially when it comes to celebrity casting. The revival of “A Raisin in the Sun,” which ends Sunday and stars Denzel Washington, is commanding a top price of $348. The recent run of “Betrayal,” starring Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz, saw seats go for as much as $423.
“If you want center orchestra (seats) no matter what, you’re going to be paying more than you used to pay,” says Charlotte St. Martin, executive director of the Broadway League.
Daryl Roth, the veteran producer who has several Tonys to her name, said in an email that she is focused on providing an array of prices for a wide range of audiences.
“Dynamic pricing doesn’t (always) mean higher pricing, as tickets are dynamically priced both up and down in order to accurately reflect our audiences’ demand,” she says.
One of the city’s most enduring venues for tickets is the TKTS booths, which offer discounts of as much as 50 percent off box-office prices. TKTS accounts for 12 percent to 15 percent of the number of tickets sold to Broadway shows, according to TDF, which operates the booths.
Some shows offer heavily discounted tickets through promotions like same-day lotteries for a limited number of seats. “Mormon” and “Kinky Boots” offer ticket lotteries, with seats going for $32 and $37, respectively.
This season, the British-imported repertory productions of Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” and “Richard III” offered $25 same-day tickets for certain sections of the theater. The productions, which received a combined eight Tony nominations, ended up making a profit on Broadway.
But only one in five Broadway shows breaks even, and those that do take an average of two years to show a profit, according to the Broadway League. Twenty-five years ago, it took an average of six months for a hit show to recoup its cost.
And theater veterans say the Broadway economy _ with its many unions and high rents _ has made producing shows in New York an increasingly expensive and risky proposition.
Most musicals cost between $10 million to $16 million to produce, while plays typically range between $2 million to $5 million.
This season, Broadway drew 12.2 million people, up 6 percent from last season, when it was adversely affected by Hurricane Sandy, which hit the New York area in late 2012.
Audience levels are still down from a recent high of 12.5 million seen three seasons ago.
Despite these swings, higher average ticket prices have helped industry revenue to climb steadily in the last five seasons, reaching $1.27 billion in the most recent season.
Tourists account for the majority of tickets sold on Broadway. For the 2012-13 season, out-of-towners represented about 66 percent of all Broadway ticket buyers, according to the League.
Visitors tend to gird themselves for high prices when seeing a Broadway show, according to Chris Heywood, a senior vice president at NYC & Co., the city’s official marketing and tourism organization
“I think that people have come to expect that and to plan for that when they come to New York.”
Traveling to New York isn’t the only way to see Broadway shows, thanks to touring productions that regularly come to venues like the Ahmanson Theatre in downtown L.A. and the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, both of which are operated as nonprofit organizations.
The Segerstrom says the average ticket price for its Broadway offerings was $63.67 for the 2013-14 season. The Ahmanson’s average price was $61.57 for the 2012-13 season, the most recent period for which figures are available.
Broadway tours also come to the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood. A spokesman for the Pantages, which is operated by the for-profit Nederlander Organization, said the theater doesn’t disclose ticket data. But for its current touring production of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” available tickets range from $32.25 to $165.70.
Although a $100 average ticket price is a far-off prospect for Los Angeles theatergoers, the widespread adoption of dynamic ticket pricing has nevertheless created some highs. Last fall’s run of “I’ll Eat You Last,” starring Bette Midler, at the Geffen Playhouse had seats go for as much as $397, a record for the nonprofit theater.
(c)2014 Los Angeles Times. Distributed by MCT Information Services.