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Greetings after a bit of a hiatus, and welcome to the 2014-2015 touring season!

Actually, the season pretty much started back in September, so we’re in the thick of it now!

But how did we get to this point? Hundreds of touring engagements will make their way across North America this season, as they do every season. What are the basic mechanics of the business that make that happen year after year? What’s the timeline?

Well, aren’t you glad you found The Road 101, because it is here where you’ll find out how that wholllle process works! A process that is a long, complex, ongoing cycle. There are many places I could begin, but for this post, I am going to begin discussing this cycle with the Tony Awards Nominations as a starting point, which typically take place at the end of April.

There are many types of shows that are out on The Road in a season and it is often a foregone conclusion that many of these will be back out there — the blockbuster, the second and third year tour, the non-Equity tour, the special attraction, and the smaller Off Broadway type show that has built its brand over many years, are just some examples.

Then, there are the new shows coming from Broadway in the current season. So, in this case, we’re talking the 2014-2015 Broadway season. These shows are the touring question marks. Which ones will make it out on The Road in 2016-2017? That’s right. Wrap your head around that for a second so you can follow along. The shows running on Broadway in 2014-2015 are being considered for touring in 2016-2017.

The Broadway 2014-2015 season is still evolving as I write this post, and booking agents (some already representing some of these shows) and presenters are watching closely which Broadway shows will make it through the season and rise to the top. When the Tony nominations come out in April 2015, that is a moment when certain shows could get a key boost, especially those shows nominated for Best Musical. Though agents and presenters are seeing shows throughout the entire season, it is typically during Tony Awards season when many in the industry check out Broadway to see which are most likely to end up being viable touring properties. A lot of this theatre-going happens during the annual Spring Road Conference, which typically takes place between the Tony nominations and the Tony Awards. Now, winning a Tony Award this season does not necessarily guarantee that a show will go out on tour for the 2016-2017 season. There are many factors that a producer and a general manager need to take into consideration before deciding if their show is viable enough for a tour:

  1. Did the show make it through Tony season in good shape both from an awards standpoint and a box office standpoint?
  2. Did the show make a good impression on enough presenters?
  3. Can the show offer a deal that presenters can work with?

Okay, so, the 2015 Tony Awards have happened and we are now in summer 2015. The blockbusters, second year tours and non-Equity tours are largely routed and slotted in for the 2016-2017 touring season. The booking agents are also more clear at this point regarding which of the new 2014-2015 Broadway shows they represent will likely make it out on The Road in 2016-2017, and which will fall by the wayside. The final part of the 2016-2017 touring season programming process is now in full swing as booking agents and presenters work through final deals and tour routing. Again, these interactions happen throughout the year, but it is during the summer and into the early fall where all programming MUST be finalized.

Why must programming be finalized by fall 2015? Because it is at this point that presenters need to then begin figuring out how they want these shows to be priced. It is important to be thoughtful about all the details that go into pricing and to consider all data and history available to maximize profit. If an engagement is not priced and discounted correctly at the outset, there is the chance that the engagement could lose money, or, conversely, it may make money, but if it was underpriced and over-discounted at the outset there is a chance of “leaving money on the table,” meaning even more money could have been made. The opportunity to maximize profit is then further exploited via dynamic pricing.

So, once the presenter decides on the pricing for a show, which includes prices for singles, subscribers and groups, the presenter then sends this pricing to the show’s booking agent for consideration, which oftentimes ends up turning into a back and forth negotiation. Again, multiply this step by many, many engagements that need to go through this detailed process. For a large company like Broadway Across America with numerous markets, the ticket pricing process takes several months to complete. During the pricing process, things move fast and timing is everything, as prices need to be agreed to by the show and the presenter and locked in quickly so the marketing teams can then get to work on creating the brochures, which will include these prices and discounts, and which need to go into the mail to subscribers by certain established deadlines.

The time is now winter of 2015-2016. The 2016-2017 pricing process is beginning to wind down as we move into March. The booking agents and presenters are making any final little programming and deal tweaks to the 2016-2017 season while at the same time are also in the process of booking the 2017-2018 touring season. Meanwhile, as all this is happening, don’t forget, the 2015-2016 engagements are currently out on the road on tour requiring constant management through the end of their tours in May or June, each engagement culminating in its own final bravo – settlement.

And now, it’s Tony Awards season again. Which brings us back to where we started.

Pfew. Did you follow all that? Yeah, I’m still learning to wrap my head around it, too, and I WORK in the business!

In the end, this is just a broad overview of how the booking and pricing cycle works as I have come to understand it. It is likely that others in the industry would have other details to add, but this should give you a pretty good sense of the general timing of it all.

If you have questions, feel free to email me anytime at robin@theroad101.com. If I don’t get back to you immediately, please forgive me. I’m probably swamped in pricing for 2015-2016.

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I’m writing this post from my mobile phone. I’ve never done this before, so apologies in advance for any typos or weird formatting!

Day 2 of the Spring Road Conference has been a full day of diverse panels and creative conversations that began at 8am. Below is a small sampling of just a few of today’s discussions…

EVOLUTION OF THE ROAD

In this panel, a group of presenters, producers and booking agents discussed general observations, as well as some of the economic challenges involved in commercial theatre touring from their varying perspectives. Here is an overview…

– In the course of laying out a tour presenters and producers feel there is room to improve with regard to balancing the strength of sub load-ins from one market to another. In other words, perhaps adjusting the deal for a show from market to market in relation to the size of the sub load-in is worth considering, as a larger sub load-in involves less risk compared to a sub load-in that is not as robust.

– Bookings are happening further and further in advance, allowing for more lead time.

– The success of family titles was seen as varying from city to city from one presenter’s standpoint. Certain cities will have more family programming over another and the popularity of family programming is not necessarily uniform across markets.

– The question of whether there is too much product out there was brought up, and how that might be affecting the success of an engagement, as well as the number of weeks competing tours are able to get as a result.

– Revenue Management: Dynamic Pricing, also called Demand Pricing, is becoming an increasingly popular and effective tool for presenters and producers to maximize revenue and the panel concurred that demand pricing has even much more potential. Demand pricing, when implemented effectively, in addition to increasing gross revenue also helps to offset show and venue related expenses that continue to increase year after year.

– On a universally positive note, the panel agreed that Broadway is becoming more mainstream. Songs are getting out there due in large part to the recent theatre reality shows, as well as TV shows (such as “Glee”) that have helped to educate a larger population about musical theatre.

– The panelists agreed it was wise to think more about seeing how to effectively harness the digital activity that goes on during Broadway runs and apply this momentum to touring shows. The first time theatre ticket buyers hear about a tour coming to their town should not be when they are being sold a ticket.

“HAVE SAFE TIX!”

This panel discussed the ongoing problems presenters have with ticket scalping websites that make themselves appear as though they are associated with the presenters and their theaters. Many presenters are trying to get state and federal legislation passed to combat these companies, as many patrons are buying their tickets from these sites thinking they are buying tickets from the actual theatre organization. These sites overcharge and also don’t provide customer support when something goes wrong. The theater then ends up holding the bag and dealing with angry, confused patrons who thought they bought their tickets from the theater. It seems presenters are fighting an uphill battle against the savvy scalpers, but they are indeed fighting hard, and have been finding better ways to educate their audiences about these sites.

CREATIVE CONVERSATION

We were super fortunate to have the leads of KINKY BOOTS along with Harvey Fierstein, Jerry Mitchell and Cyndi Lauper as a creative conversation. These conversations are fun, informal panels about the creative process and other behind the scene tidbits. This group had a wonderful chemistry, which is also apparent when you see the show!

* * * *

The most significant takeaway for me from this year’s conference is how much more digital the commercial theatre industry has become since I first started attending this conference six or seven years ago. Producers, presenters, and their teams are clearly beginning to embrace digital media and strategies to strengthen their marketing and ticket sales. Even the conference schedule was accessible via an app!

It’s both exciting (and a relief!) to see that the commercial theatre industry is starting to implement technology more assertively, and in creative ways. Using digital marketing and social media enables audience members to interact with the brand in a more direct and constant way, and also extends a sense of the live experience. This, combined with effectively reaching ticket buyers through all the various electronic devices we have now, and will continue to have, will help sustain the industry and make theatre remain a prominent entertainment choice for years to come.

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concert-promoter-settlement-sheet

I tend to keep things pretty simple here at THE ROAD 101. This blog is designed to give basic insights into the business of commercial theatre touring without being overally technical. That said, I found a useful link at Actors’ Equity Association called TOURING 102 that presents a few hypotheticals showing how a producer’s and presenter’s bottom lines are affected depending on different guarantee and gross revenue scenarios. It’s a little more advanced than what I typically get into here, but, hey, it’s good to exercise those brain cells once in a while! The Touring 102 post also gives some good, general insight into the risks and profit requirements a producer needs to consider when building and booking a tour, as well as what a presenter might generally take into consideration when creating a season.

If the lexicon is unfamiliar, you should be able to find all the tools you need right here at THE ROAD 101 to help you! Be sure to check out THE ROAD 101 Glossary for a solid list of definitions. Also, be sure to input terms into THE ROAD 101 search field, and you will likely find related posts containing the answer you are seeking.

The graphic above is a blank settlement that is actually for concerts rather than theatre, and includes some line items that are not applicable to this discussion, but does share some basic similarities with a theatre settlement and may be a helpful visual to get a sense of what a settlement looks like.

I recommend you have a calculator handy! It will help you understand better how the Touring 102 author arrived at his or her various numbers.

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The 12-13 season is underway! THE BOOK OF MORMON kicked off its First National Tour in Denver. Based on how fast tickets sold, and the response of critics and bloggers, this first engagement certainly looks like a good omen for a show that presenters love, but who are also probably a bit nervous, at least in some markets, about how the material will be received by their subscribers.

FOX 31

DENVER POST

5280 – THE DENVER MAGAZINE

COLORADO SPRINGS INDEPENDENT

THE COLORADOAN

WESTWORD

BREITBART TV

HE SAID/SHE SAID CRITICS

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The Smith Center for the Performing Arts – Las Vegas, NV

Traditional musical theatre has had varying success in Las Vegas. For example, AVENUE Q angered presenters across the country when it initially chose Sin City over doing a National Tour, only for the puppet show to get its strings cut early there due to slow sales. On the other hand, JERSEY BOYS thrived on the Strip for several years at The Palazzo and then re-opened in March after a transfer to the Paris Las Vegas, and is currently considered by local press as the “Must see show of the year!”

The Smith Theater for the Performing Arts will now be offering its first full Broadway Series.  The Smith Center is a traditional theater, as opposed to a venue in a hotel on the Strip, and is apparently something the locals have desired a long time. Having a blockbuster like WICKED on season for six weeks should certainly help build a subscription base for the next year or so. Hopefully, the Smith Center will have more than just beginner’s luck!

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With the 2012 Tony Awards behind us, it is now much clearer which shows will have a tour in the 2013-14 season. Even before it’s numerous Tony wins, ONCE The Musical announced it would be going out on The Road.

I believe ONCE, though, could potentially face some challenges on The Road. The show is based on a film, but it was a small indie film, and because the title lacks the kind of name recognition that a more widely-released movie does, the show is probably going to need some sort of “sellable” name in the cast to give it a bit more of a boost in attracting single ticket buyers. ONCE will be on subscription, but being on subscription alone is no longer a guarantee that an engagement will be profitable. I believe selling single tickets will more than likely be necessary for the engagement to go into decent overage in larger theaters, more or less so depending on how reachable break-even is, what the labor costs are, the rate of the weekly guarantee, and just overall how shrewdly and economically the touring production is built.

And that is what is possibly going to be the biggest challenge – how to successfully build an intimate show for The Road that will sometimes be presented in very large houses. Yes, ONCE is now on Broadway, but the Bernard B. Jacobs Theater only has a capacity of just a little over 1,000, which practically feels like a black box in comparison to some of the gigantic houses on The Road such as in Atlanta, St Louis, Costa Mesa, Portland and Toronto. That said, it is the responsibility of experienced producers to know The Road, and to know how to build all sorts of shows to work in the many different kinds of houses throughout North America. So my concerns about the intimate and delicate ONCE fitting well in large houses could very well end up being completely quashed, which is what I’m certainly hoping for! After all, the show did make an incredibly successful transfer from New York Theatre Workshop to Broadway when many doubted that the scale of the story and overall show itself would translate in a Broadway house. Other shows making Off-Broadway to Broadway transfers have not always had such good luck.

Here is a recent article that touches a bit on ONCE and some concerns about it playing in a larger space, suggesting if the show can be persuaded to do a sit-down at a smaller theater, that this would be the ideal scenario.

I tend to agree, but I’ve been wrong before…more than once.

TORONTO STAR

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DYNAMIC PRICING:  REVENUE MANAGEMENT STRATEGIES

On Thursday 5/17, the final day of the conference, two sessions were devoted to Dynamic Pricing. (For my previous post about Dynamic Pricing, please click here.)

A lot of information was disseminated by the various panelists on how they have navigated within the Dynamic Pricing model. Below is a list of bullet points that give an overview of the information that was imparted at these sessions:

  • Build different price levels horizontally rather than vertically to fill the orchestra and fronts of other sections to create an electric feeling. People behind these locations will see the energy in front of them, rather than seeing empty seats.
  • Look at pricing by performance, not just overall sales.
  • When you have distressed inventory, align with organizations that can sell these seats at full price to a “valued buyer.” There are companies with a target constituency that may have an easier time getting their consumers to buy the same tickets that you may have trouble moving.
  • Hold back seats to create demand if you know you will sell quickly.
  • Be conscious of the price/value equation. Create a sense of scarcity to spark interest and urgency.
  • Continually monitor and manage rezoning, revenue management and forecasting.
  • When implementing Dynamic Pricing, consider your messaging since prices will fluctuate, i.e. “Prices starting from…” or “Today’s price is…” or “Act now! Prices go up on Friday!” or “Prices are not guaranteed,” etc., so people know the price will change.
  • QUESTION: How can an organization keep up with the messaging, though, if you have limited resources within your advertising spend, and you also don’t want to upset potential customers by over communicating?
  1. ANSWER: Create a seat map that allows people to scroll over seats to see the different prices. “Pick your seats online.” (See Ahmanson Theatre)
  • Price aisle seats higher. People will be willing to buy adjacent seats at the same price when they buy the aisle seat.
  • Set a deadline for subscriber renewal. “Act by x date, otherwise the package goes up to y.”
  • Consider using the word “Adjusting” rather than “Discounting” when messaging that prices are being lowered.
  • Be careful lowering prices for people who already want to attend a performance. People who already don’t want to come probably still won’t want to…even at a lower price. “If people don’t want to come…you can’t stop them!”
  • For one-week markets, do surveys in advance to get a sense of the heat signature.
  • QUESTION: What are some successful strategies when middle-priced inventory isn’t moving?
  1. ANSWER: Raise deeply discounted mid-section seats back to full price, then reduce them and give the inventory to a company like Goldstar. The Goldstar consumer will feel like they’re getting a deal. i.e., they will be getting the full price $75 ticket for $49.
  2. ANSWER: Raise the PL3 price to the PL2 price to give the perception that it’s a hot ticket.
  3. ANSWER: If you have three price levels, for example, $45/$35/$25 and your $35 tickets are not moving, consider raising your $35 ticket to $45 at both peak and non-peak performances with the messaging, “a new block of $45 tickets on sale!”
  • Know your timeline so you are ready in advance to have higher pricing in place before your campaign hits.

Annnnd…this post concludes my coverage of some of the panels and a bit of the fun from the 2012 Spring Road Conference. I hope you found these posts useful, and that you continue to check back here at The Road 101 for more observations, updates, and articles related to the commercial theatre touring industry.

See you down The Road!

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