Broadway and the magnificent shows that are performed there represent a comfortable, established industry. Suffice to say, there’s little innovation executed off the stage because people continue to pay severely steep prices, hustle last minute or wait in long lines. Defying this is Broadway Roulette—a tech-enabled consumer-facing company (which happens to be developing further in a Morgan Stanley technology incubator) that’s disrupting current statistics. Some 70% of Broadway tickets are sold to tourists, with 30% going to locals. This makes sense, of course, but of that 30% of locals, 95% of tickets are sold to people who see 12 or more shows per year. Many New Yorkers simply do not see shows. And that’s not for lack of desire; there are simply so many blockades that restrict time-strapped New Yorkers.
Elizabeth Durand Streisand had an idea that many on Broadway simply couldn’t wrap their heads around, despite the fact that 25% of seats are empty every single night—once you remove the biggest five shows on Broadway. She went theater to theater (closing her first deal in 2016) and convinced ticket-sellers that she could get these unsold tickets to people who wanted to incorporate Broadway into their lives but didn’t have the time for decisions. Broadway Roulette was born—a service that allows users to secure tickets, at a reduced cost, up to three months in advance of the evening of their theater night. The catch: you don’t know what show you are going to see. You can remove a series of shows you do not want to see from the list, but the rest is a surprise. And surprise is what we need.
Where’d the idea come from, or rather, what made you want to do this?
When I thought about why I didn’t go to Broadway shows, it wasn’t money preventing me. I didn’t go because it was such a pain—just so time-consuming—and I was a never a theater kid, meaning I didn’t have all of that up-to-date knowledge it takes to figure out what to see. You spend an hour doing research for a show that is two hours long itself. If you don’t love it, something feels wasted. We all know the feeling of bringing a friend to a show or a movie and feeling stressed over whether or not they like it. Getting a group of friends to a show, or doing something cultural, it’s always a challenge and no one really wants the responsibility. The idea for this is not we sell Broadway tickets, it’s that we are price-lined for experiences. We make the decision. You’ll get something you didn’t see before. You’ll pay a reasonable amount, and you’ll get a good enough seat. There’s no risk.
How did you make the relationships that allow your company to exist? You are making deals with each and every theater, correct?
That’s me and my 10 years of celebrity reporting. There’s nothing you can say to me that will make me go away. There’s nothing that a person at Nederlander ticketing can say to me that will make me give up. It’s thick skin. Nobody that was already in the industry has done this because, first, it’s so hard. I did not understand the Montague and Capulet situation happening among Broadway theater owners. Second, anybody who is working in that space is so in the forest that they can’t see beyond the trees. In the first year, when I went into meetings and said to people we are going to sell tickets to people who didn’t pick their show, everyone’s heads exploded. They thought noone would ever see a show they didn’t pick.
So where was the start?
We had no staff, no logo. It was me, walking around to box offices, with a site built on WordPress. Nobody wanted to be the first. Getting the first deal took 16 months. There were a lot of meetings that went nowhere for a long time. Everyone is very territorial about ticketing, but I went in and said, “I am a theater fan and I never go. I would go if you make it easier!”
Can you explain your cost structure?
Our pricing is flat to the consumer, so people are not buying through us because they’re getting a discount. They know they’re getting a huge discount but it’s not like a coupon that says “THIS SHOW! 80% off!” with a giant slash through it. They just get their ticket and it has whatever price we paid for it right on it. They go see the show and sit in a seat that feels great for what they paid. It’s about discovery. It’s about experience. We aren’t the cheapest tickets. There’s lottery ticketing out there—we aren’t that. But we also include Hamilton and Dear Evan Hansen, and this is valuable for all of our show partners because it further shows we are not a discount service.
What are you ultimately trying to deliver?
So many of us are stifled by how curated and algorithm-operated the world is. There’s some robot running around at all times trying to figure out what you like and why you bought what you bought. It’s always serving you ads based on what it thinks you need or like. I think there’s something to be said for surprise. I miss surprise. We are about discovery and surprise.
What’s next for Broadway Roulette?
Off Broadway, we are launching that in September, maybe sooner. I think it’s super-cool. We go and check everything out to maintain quality control and curate a selection. There are performances like the magic show at the Nomad, which is impossible to get tickets for. Users will get a random choice out of this group. They know it isn’t going to be terrible. We’re also launching a VIP roulette in September. It will be the same system we operate now but at a higher price point that allows users to eliminate more shows. We will also be partnering with bars and restaurants soon. You can do an add-on where we package in for you something cool, and special—more than just the show. There will be a membership program, as well.
If you are paying the premium to live here then it makes sense to try new things. We are equipping that.
How would you motivate someone who simply doesn’t know anything about Broadway?
We pay this crazy premium to live in New York City. One of the reasons we pay this is because there are so many cool things to do. That’s what’s different than living somewhere else. But if you have no time because you’re working so much then you can end up doing the same four things all the time. This happens to most people. But if you are paying the premium to live here it makes sense to find new ways to try new things. We are equipping that.
Tickets are available online, where they range from $49 to $59 each. There’s a small service charge, as well. As mentioned, during the purchasing process, users can block off four shows they are certain they do not want to see. The rest is up to chance.
Images courtesy of Broadway Roulette