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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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In honor of Father’s Day, I would like to dedicate this post to a wonderful man that the theatre industry recently lost, Seth Popper.

I had the good fortune to work with Seth while he was at Broadway Across America. Seth was a lawyer specializing in labor relations and I provided support to Seth in the tracking and management of the many collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) across North America that BAA negotiated directly, or had an association with via one of our presenting partnerships. Seth was terrific to work with. Reliable, responsive, patient and clear, it was easy to feel confident in him and know that the complicated task of dealing with all the various labor agreements was in excellent hands. I was sorry when Seth left BAA to return to The Broadway League, but knew that the change was one that would make him happy, so I was happy for him. I didn’t get to know Seth well, but I had an easy rapport with him and, even after he left BAA, whenever we crossed paths I was always happy to see him and greeted him with a hug, as I had done at the Spring Road Conference less than two weeks before his untimely death on May 26. I am still reeling from Seth’s passing and so cannot even begin to imagine what his wife and two young children must be going through.

Life is precious and unpredictable and if I can gain anything positive from Seth’s passing it would be to not let petty gripes and setbacks consume me, and to remember to appreciate every minute of what I have, and who is in my life.

So, thank you, Seth for passing through my life. I’m sorry we didn’t talk just a bit more in depth about our histories on those elevator rides to and from the BAA office. If we had, we may have discovered that we had gone to the same elementary school, P.S. 117 in Briarwood, Queens (though different years) and likely had some of the same teachers, and we also could have determined if my mom had been your kindergarten teacher there. Though I did not get the chance to know you back at P.S. 117, I am so thankful I got a second chance.

Rest in peace, Seth.

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Well, another fabulous Spring Road Conference is in the books! If you are not familiar with this annual industry conference, check out my posts from previous conferences, such as this one, which will give you a basic overview.

It was a hectic week, filled with a variety of panels, creative conversations, lunches, cocktail parties, networking and shows. What was clear was how far the conference and the commercial theatre industry as whole has come as far as going more digital. The entire program for the conference was available through the Guidebook app and could also be viewed on a pdf. Conference binders were still being distributed, but I have a feeling that by the 2016 conference, the binder option will be gone completely. Also, a number of sessions were dedicated to digital and there was a “Digital War Room” where conference attendees had the opportunity to take advantage of one-on-one sessions with digital pros from various media outlets and social channels, as well as expert media buyers and strategists in the Broadway industry.

There were a multitude of panels on a whole variety of topics. Below is just a sampling of a few sessions…

“’IT’S A GREAT TITLE FOR THE ROAD,’ AND OTHER MYTHS”

This was a jam-packed session that had a lot of vibrant back and forth. Are certain titles right for the Road, but not New York City? Does a tour need a celebrity and what qualifies as a celebrity really as far as someone having enough of a “name” to sell more tickets? Is the summer really not a viable time for tours, or is that one of the many “myths?” There were no hard and fast answers, but it was definitely an airing out of viewpoints and I would say that chances are good that some of discussions will remain in the back of people’s minds when it’s time to think about a possible summer booking, deciding on whether a certain name should be involved, and if a title really will be strong enough to tour.

“WHAT IS THE GP?”

This was another packed and lively session. With the implementation of dynamic pricing, the GP (“Gross Potential”) is no longer the hard and fast largest possible gross for an engagement. People generally felt that the GP was still necessary when making pricing and budgeting decisions, but in this session it became clear that producers and presenters were beginning to become more thoughtful about what this number really represented and considering it a little differently than in the past. No universal approach surfaced during this discussion, but I suspect that in a few years time there will be a more cohesive industry-wide approach on what the GP really means. Perhaps there will be a new definition, as the GP these days seems more like a threshold number that the producer and presenter agree they would like to meet, and exceed.

“THE MILLENNIAL MARKETING MYSTERY”

In this session, guest speak Cathleen Johnson, President of Cathleen Johnson Tourism Consultants, LLC presented data on the “millennial” generation, a generation she insisted we all needed to really pay attention to and understand for the theatre industry to continue to thrive down the road. Johnson pushed the importance of tailoring marketing to attract this newer generation, considered to be an “alpha influencer” in the decision-making process among their peers as well as their parents’ generation. In additional to Johnson, three millennials were also on the panel and they commented on her data. Much of what Johnson said made sense to me, as well as to the millennials on the panel, though, I also felt some of her findings also applied to me and I am definitely NOT a millennial! That said, I think the overarching point was that it was important for marketers of theatre to be aware of the purchasing and social habits of the members of this group when implementing marketing and ticket pricing and discount message strategies.

“MEETING OF THE BROADWAY LEAGUE’S LEGISLATIVE COUNCIL”

This was an exciting and informative session where the panel and several presenters in the audience described recent accomplishments in the political realm, including opposing legislation intended to prevent venues from thwarting deceptive broker practices and advancing tax credits that encourage investment in theatre. These major strides notwithstanding, the big takeaway from this session was how important is is to begin having relationships and dialogue with local, state and federal electeds BEFORE a major issue presents itself, so you don’t have to start from scratch getting these politicians to pay attention to you when a challenge comes up related to your theater or theatre enterprise, and you need them most!

I only touched on a few aspects of the conference here. To really get a feel for this conference and its exciting vibe you must experience it first-hand! If you are a new producer, presenter, marketer, or booking agent looking to learn more about the Broadway and commercial touring industry and to meet the professionals who work in it, I highly recommend that you gain the credentials to join The Broadway League and attend this annual conference. League membership and the conference may seem pricey to some, but if you plan on being in this industry for the long haul, then it’s definitely a worthwhile investment!

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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!

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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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Today was the first full day of the 2013 Spring Road Conference. I am a big fan of this annual conference, as it provides the chance to meet up face to face with Broadway Across America colleagues and BAA partners from all over North America who I usually only get to interface with on a virtual basis, as well as reconnect with others in the industry, and meet new people as well. This conference is also a time for all of us to check in regarding where the industry stands, how far things have come, and how far we still need to go.

Artist: Ken Fallin

Artist: Ken Fallin

Today’s first panel, for instance, covered the continued lack of diversity of theatre audiences. Panelists from different touring markets and different areas of the commercial theatre industry introduced some exciting programs they are currently instituting to try and address this issue.

Sue Frost, Producer at Junkyard Dog Productions and member of The Broadway League’s Education and Community Engagement Committee presented a moving video about The Broadway League’s exciting, new internship program for high school students that introduces the participants to the many different jobs in the theatre industry, and Megan Riegel, President and CEO of The Peace Center for the Performing Arts showed footage of a program called Peace Voices, an outreach initiative that encourages both youths and adults from different socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds to write poems on particular themes and perform them publicly for their family, friends, teachers, and peers. While not directly Broadway-related, Peace Voices is an empowering experience that encourages both youths and adults to believe in themselves, connect with who they are, and express themselves freely in a performance setting.

These presentations were moving and inspiring, and hopefully these and other initiatives will connect with people who are unfamiliar with theatre and Broadway to make them feel welcome and turn them into regular theater-goers, as well as expose them to a whole new world of career options.

Looking forward to bringing you another update in the next day or so!

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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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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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