Why you can’t get seats to ‘Hamilton’ and other Broadway hits

Lin-Manuel Miranda appears at the curtain call following the opening night performance of "Hamilton" at the Richard Rodgers Theatre on Thursday, Aug. 6, 2015, in New York. (Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP)

NEW YORK (CBS News) – Lin-Manuel Miranda could be describing the quest for tickets to his sold-out Broadway phenomenon “Hamilton” when, as the title character he plays belts out: “I’m past patiently waitin’. I’m passionately smashing every expectation.”

Those lacking the forbearance to wait for the release of the next wave of regular-priced “Hamilton” tickets in January must instead shell out to scalpers never-before-seen-on-Broadway sums if they hope to see the show. The “Hamilton” website advises the desperate to use reputable resellers and directs them to sites such as Ticketmaster, where seats for a Saturday night performance that originally sold for $139 are commanding nearly 10 times that, or $930. Top tickets that sold for the already lofty price of $549 are on offer for seven times their face value — a whopping $3,940.

The hyperinflation stems from scalpers’ use of “ticket bots,” highly sophisticated software programs that can inhale tickets in an instant, leaving empty-handed the consumers who are quaintly using phones or computers to secure seats. For example, one bot purchased 1,012 tickets in one minute to a 2015 concert by the rock band U2, according to a report issued earlier this year by New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.

“The software keeps getting better and better,” said Charlotte St. Martin, president of the Broadway League, the industry trade group. “You shut down one [ticket bot] and it pops up again with a different name.”

Bots are hardly the only vehicle driving up Broadway prices. Theatergoers regularly pay more for seats — often without realizing it — when they use brokers, hotel concierges and certain websites to buy tickets instead of going to the box office. That’s especially true for long-running stalwarts like “Phantom of the Opera” or “Chicago.” But regular-priced tickets are available to still-popular shows like “The Lion King,” “Wicked” and “Book of Mormon.”

Sites with names like Broadway.com and Broadway.nyc.com can lead purchasers to believe they’re buying tickets from the actual show. They aren’t.

“It’s hard because often the buyers think they’re buying through us,” said Broadway producer and blogger Ken Davenport, referring to the shows’ box office. “We really can’t do anything to interfere with the other ticket sellers out there.”

Davenport said Broadway producers and theaters are always trying to educate consumers to buy from the box office. It often doesn’t work.

For example, Broadway.com was selling two orchestra seats to “Chicago” on a recent Saturday night for $405 a pair. The musical’s website had a pair available for $319. Similarly, a pair of Saturday night orchestra tickets to the Tony-nominated “Bright Star” on the show’s website cost $154, while Broadway.com was charging $197.20.

Key Brand Entertainment, which also produces Broadway shows, owns Broadway.com. A company spokesman declined to comment. (As for Broadway.nyc.com, an email to the site requesting comment did not generate a response.)

Meanwhile, brokers and concierges claim that actions by some players in their respective industries give them all a bad name. Broadway producers allege that ticket brokers with significant inventory in particular shows will pay concierges high commissions to steer customers to those shows. Abigail Michaels Concierge provides concierges to four boutique hotels in New York City, and its employees will charge commissions of 10 percent to 20 percent of the cost they pay for Broadway tickets, according to company founder Michael Fazio.

He tells employees that they should direct ticket-seekers to box offices or the Times Square TKTS booth for shows with readily available seats. “Concierges are like auto mechanics — some are honest, some are not,” said Fazio, author of the memoir “Concierge Confidential.”

He added that some hotels have broker booths tourists may mistake for concierges. Purchasing from them could result in higher prices.

Some brokers are tired of getting blamed for high ticket prices. Jason Berger, founder of ticket broker Allshows.com, said he never uses bots and charges commissions ranging from 15 percent to 20 percent of what he pays for the seats. He said Stub Hub takes a 26 percent commission. Stub Hub didn’t answer emails for comment.

“We are a service,” Berger said, “and people pay for convenience.”

New York Attorney General Schneiderman and the Broadway League are lobbying legislators in Albany to adopt laws to blunt scalpers’ access to tickets. Ending New York’s ban on nontransferable paperless tickets, for example, would be a real blow to scalpers because such tickets require holders to show their ID and the credit card used to buy the ticket to gain entry into the venue.

Broadway’s hottest star added his voice to the entertainment industry chorus on Tuesday with a New York Times op-ed column titled “Stop the Bots from Killing Broadway.” Miranda, the leading man of “Hamilton,” told readers: “I want the thousands of tickets for shows, concerts and sporting events that are now purchased by bots and resold at higher prices to go into the general market so that you have a chance to get them. I want theatergoers to be able to purchase tickets at face value at our box office and our website, rather than on a resale platform. And if you do go to a resale platform for tickets, I want the markup you must pay to be clearly displayed.”

Until that happy day, Miranda and the show’s producers are attempting to thwart scalpers’ stranglehold on tickets. In May, The New York Times reported that “Hamilton” producers canceled tickets belonging to buyers who had purchased more than a set (but undisclosed) amount. The buyers’ money was refunded, and the tickets were returned to the general pool.

The producers also forbade would-be buyers to bring tents and chairs to camp outside the theater box office waiting to scoop up canceled tickets. Such creature comforts were believed to encourage scalpers.

Those longing to see “Hamilton” can take advice from another founding father, Benjamin Franklin, who said, “He that have patience, can have what he will.” Then again, there’s no Broadway show about Franklin.

 

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