No Butts In Seats? Cut The Price!
This week had lots of press lamenting the drop in attendance at Major League baseball games and Broadway shows. Almost none of it discussed the rising cost of tickets. For baseball, it was "rainy weather" or "interleague play is no longer the novelty it once was." For Broadway, it was "hits too late in the season" or "diminishing star power" or "not enough powerhouse shows."
Read my lips: It is ALL about the cost of the experience. The last time I took just one of my kids to a Yankees game, it was a $500 hit. It now costs over a grand for my whole family to get tickets for a decent Broadway show. That doesn't count parking, dinner and the annoyance that there apparently has never been a Broadway show in history that could elicit a simple, grateful "That was great!" from moody teens who could find fault with “West Side Story” or “My Fair Lady.”
Moreover, there is never a guarantee that having spent an enormous sum, the experience will live up to expectations or expenses. Who among us hasn't been to a Broadway show that one of our neighbors "absolutely LOVED!!" and wondered throughout "What in the hell where they thinking? This just sucks!" Even the majesty of a baseball stadium under the lights on a 70-degree night can't make up for a dull game that produces not so much a pitcher's battle, but a low-scoring affair with no real action except at the concession stand. Who wants to see guys getting paid tens or even hundreds of millions go 0-4, or sent to the showers after four innings?
Broadway will argue that if a show is "good enough" (read: “Book of Mormon”), people will gladly pay the ever-growing cost of tickets. Perhaps, but they will think twice about telling their friends that the show is worth that kind of money, and will be highly unlikely to go see it again.
Still, there are only a few and increasingly far-between hits that sell out months in advance. God help you if you don't have a major star in your show, or it gets a tepid audience or critical response.
There was a time when, if you lived anywhere near New York, you saw shows that were not Big Hits because you liked live theater and you could get in for about $35 or $40. You didn't feel like a schmuck if the show wasn't great, because you didn't spend a fortune on it. These days, after paying at least $100 a ticket, you had BETTER be entertained, by God.
What parent doesn't want to treat his kid to a day or night at a big-league stadium? But when you go, you can't complain in front of Junior that you paid $250 per for seats well down the line, that parking costs as much as the tank of gas it took to get there, and that everything at the concession stand is now nearing $10 per. A couple of hot dogs, sodas and peanuts can quickly hit $50. You do the math on the margins.
Here's an idea I’ve proposed for the movie industry that they have ignored -- odd, since theater owners claim they make their money on concessions and not tickets. When they have a marginal attraction in the house, then cut the price of the tickets. Lots of folks who won't go for hundreds of dollars might go for $50 or less to sit in a decent seat in a ballpark, or to bask in the AC at the movies. They will still spend on concessions, perhaps even MORE than normal since the tickets are deemed to be a bargain.
Every other industry is moving to variable pricing. This can't just be on the upside; it has to work on the downside, too, so that patrons keep an eye on pricing trends and pull out their wallets when they like the price.
I used to see nearly every movie that came out. I see only about one a month now. For $5 a seat, I'd think about a second and a third one.