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Two options with blank road signs

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.

woman-tearing-hair-out

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The Broadway League has launched a new and improved Touring Broadway site, which according to the latest League newsletter, “will provide consumers in-depth info on the shows, venues, and presenting organizations that bring Broadway to 240 North American cities each year.”

Check out the site here.

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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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Check out this super awesome promo created by my company, BROADWAY ACROSS AMERICA announcing our 2012-2013 season in Boston! (More season announcements from around North America to come in my next post…)

 

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The Spring Road Conference is an annual New York City event coordinated by The Broadway League where presenters, booking agents, producers and other stakeholders in commercial theatre touring come together for panels, networking and to take in the current Broadway offerings that will possibly be touring in the 2012-2013 season. Check out my post on The 2009 Spring Road Conference if you are interested in seeing some of the topics that were covered that year.

With regard to this year’s conference, which is still underway as I write this post, there have already been several engaging panels and creative conversations. The theme of this year’s conference is “Road To Success” with a focus on how the industry is starting to re-think how to reach and retain ticket buyers in an age that is becoming increasingly digital and spontaneous.

The first panel on Tuesday was entitled “What Is The Industry’s Commitment to Subscriptions?” where the main takeaway was, yes, subscribers are necessary, and will remain necessary because they form the foundation that gives the presenter the ability to buy shows. The members of the panel, who included producer, Kevin McCollum, Amy Jacobs of Nina Lannan Associates, and Randy Weeks, President of The Denver Center for Performing Arts also all agreed that one of the main ways to keep and increase the subscription base was to include a blockbuster on season. When a season doesn’t contain a blockbuster, subscriptions will often go down. So, it is important to have an anchor every year if possible. An interesting fact that came up was that JERSEY BOYS is considered the last new blockbuster to come along, which apparently makes this the longest stretch since 1972 since there’s been a new mega-hit.

The panel also agreed that it is especially crucial now to find unique ways to make subscribers feel special, and reward them for their loyalty in order to retain them. It’s so easy to buy tickets these days with people being able to go on the internet, their iPad, their iPhone, et. al. at 3am to make a purchase if they want to, that presenters need to provide a strong sense of value to subscribers beyond just sub discounts. It is important to give a loyal subscriber of, say, 10…15 years a different and better experience than the single ticket buyer, who may just attend shows once every few years, and to come up with ways to show subscribers that they are cared about. That said, the presenter also still needs to spend time trying to turn a single ticket buyer into a subscriber. So, ultimately, it’s a bit of a balance that needs to be figured out.

Another point brought up was related to communication and that it is key that presenters reach out to subscribers regularly so subscribers feel engaged, and to also reach out to them through a variety of different media since people are getting their content in so many ways today, especially digitally.

Lastly, everyone agreed that it is essential to listen to subscribers and to what they care about most to best accommodate them. It was also agreed that, in general, subscribers care about these areas, and in this order:

  • Product (i.e., what shows they want to see on the theater’s season)
  • Schedule
  • Price

The Tuesday afternoon “Hot Button Topics” discussion touched on a number of issues, one of which was pricing. Many strategies were offered, including the idea of monthly pricing plans to entice new, or re-newing subscribers who may not be comfortable laying out a large sum of money for a subscription all at once. Another strategy that was offered, and which various presenters feel has been successful in their markets, is the “flex package.” Though, one presenter cautioned that what may work for one market may not work as well for another, so to be careful when considering an idea that worked well in another city or town. Another perspective came from the producing side. While the producer is sensitive to the presenter’s need to retain and build their sub base and keep prices attractive, the producer only has a certain number of weeks available within a touring schedule to be able to recoup, and so they don’t want to under-price their shows. Ticket pricing is often a long and complicated process between the producing and presenting sides, and so the final scaling can sometimes take a while to negotiate.

I look forward to sharing more with you about this year’s conference in “Part 2” of this two-part post in the coming days…

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Are touring orchestras getting larger?

When a Producer is putting together a musical for a commercial tour she likely takes into consideration the potential expenses that will be associated with each engagement of that tour, and logic would also dictate that she would aim to build the show in such a way as to keep these engagement costs in line with the size and scope of the show. For instance, the Producer of a tour that has been out there a couple of years, and which doesn’t have the same level of momentum it did when it first began, will likely consider re-building and scaling down the production’s size so that it does not require the same number of Stagehands, Musicians and set pieces as, say, a new tour of a recent Broadway hit, or a longtime blockbuster.

Stagehands are often the single most expensive cost for an engagement. Loading a show in and out of a venue is usually the bulk of it, and then that can sometimes get even more expensive, prohibitively so, if there’s overtime involved, which can happen when a show is in the midst of it’s first few jumps and hasn’t established a yellow card yet. It can also happen when the show is delayed getting to it’s next market due to weather, or other travel issues, and so the load-in in those cases will inevitably go into OT so that the first scheduled performance can take place.

After Stagehands, probably the next most consistently expensive touring engagement cost for a musical is Musicians. When a tour is on the road, especially a new show, or a blockbuster, the Musicians expense will inevitably be a cost that will either be a shared cost between Producer and Presenter, (Guarantee deal, certain kinds of Terms deals) or fully paid for by the Presenter (certain kinds of Terms deals.) If the show has been out there for a long time, or is a Non-Equity tour, the Musicians costs will usually be “self-contained,” meaning that the show travels with all their own Musicians and this expense will not be a shared expense between Producer and Presenter. Presumably, the cost of Musicians in a self-contained show is part of the Guarantee that the Presenter pays to the Producer for licensing that show.

Is your head completely spinning now? Sorry. The main point I’m getting to here is that labor is expensive and both the Producer and Presenter are constantly doing what they can, often through negotiation, to each keep their engagement expenses down. At the same time, when the Producer is initially building a show to tour, while she wants to keep the costs down she also still wants the show to look good and sound good, which brings me back to the Musicians. It seems that even with the desire of both Producer and Presenter to keep tour costs down, the orchestras for some shows currently on The Road are rather large, which I first began discussing in my post “Mu$ic To The Road’$ Ear$?”

Presenters are generally skeptical about the need for large orchestras in touring shows, even though they appreciate them from an artistic standpoint, because in order to mitigate their risk they will often need to look to increasing ticket prices, which could potentially alienate the subscriber base they’ve taken so long to cultivate.

Here’s a recent article from The Washington Post that talks a bit about the larger orchestras out on The Road:

A HIGH POINT IN THE PIT

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