Marketing / 02.26.19
Wicked’s Stuart Levy on Lotteries in Ticketing Strategy
For theatres and shows, lotteries accomplish a few things. One, they certainly can generate a lot of excitement. Two, they give cash-strapped fans an opportunity to afford shows that ordinarily would be out of their price range. And, three, they are a great way to ensure individual performances are at or close to full capacity as possible.
Access connected with Stuart Levy, Ticketing Manager for Wicked, a Broadway blockbuster that has been incorporating lotteries into its ticketing strategy for 15 years, having always had a live lottery. In addition the show has recently started experimenting with a digital lottery, at times. Needless to say, Wicked has a bit of experience with lotteries.
"Wicked is probably different from most of the other shows in that it has had a live lottery right from its first performance,” Levy said. “There are times we also do a digital lottery. Most other shows are one or the other."
Regarding Broadway shows, a live lottery is appealing to people who are local, because they can physically go to the source. For live lotteries, fans physically wait in line outside a theatre for a drawing in which they have submitted their names in the hopes of being randomly selected for lower priced tickets. Lines can extend down the block, depending on the show and day of the week. Digital lotteries, on the other hand, take place entirely online. For Broadway, digital lotteries are appealing for fans who live in the Manhattan suburbs or are visitors to New York, who may not be able to do the live lottery.
As Levy shared, there is an array of ways to incorporate lotteries into your ticketing strategy.
"The challenge for Broadway lotteries is that they’re done in different ways," Levy said. "Different organizations have their own apps. Sometimes it's a third party. You'll have people who will sign up to do, maybe, five lotteries, who will wait to see which [ones] they win. For each show, you can often then do a second wave. Given an allotment of 'x' number of tickets, if the first wave of people contacted don't use all of those tickets, you can email additional winners and reach out to them. But you have a very limited time frame to do that."
Levy has been with Wicked for three years. In his current role, he says he does anything, and everything related to ticketing "outside of working in the box office itself," from price-builds to projections to dynamic pricing. He especially likes the marketing possibilities lotteries present to him and his team.
"You can use a digital lottery to upsell people," he said. "When someone doesn't win, you can send them an email with an offer for a lower-price ticket that is certainly not the price of a digital lottery. A person can see that they can get a much better seat, and it's not that crazy based on what they thought the show was [priced] at. Because it happens on the day of, you know if you have enough seats to [fill] to make an offer or not."
"When you are trying to maximize sales and you want to bring in every dollar, doing the digital lottery can help. … A live lottery is a 'thank-you' to the fans for all the years of support. So, that's how it's often looked at."
Live lotteries became a headline-grabbing phenomenon with "Rent," Levy recalls.
"However, it peaked with Hamilton. It was actually blocking traffic on that side street! For a show to do [a live lottery nowadays], it needs to be a phenomenon. … I think [live lotteries] will probably go away for other shows, because things are skewing more toward the use of apps. It's more convenient, and it doesn't come across as favoring the people who are more local. I like that we still do the live, though. We have people who have seen our show 15 or 20 times at least and keep coming back. We still get huge amounts of people who do the live lottery, and it's still really cool to see people freaking out when their name gets called."
So, what advice would Levy have to any theatre owner, operator or ticketing professional looking to incorporate lotteries into their ticketing strategy?
"My advice would be making sure it's flexible," Levy said. "You want to be able to control the number of tickets until really the day of show — until the cut-off time. Because you certainly don't want to change the number of tickets after people have been notified. You need to have flexibility and to be able to have different types of communication with the people who don't win based on how the performance is selling. You don't want it to be just the standard, 'Sorry, you lost.' Because there are times, you'll want to make a special offer that night or in the future. If it's a subscription house, it may be an offer to preview another show coming up. The ability to customize the correspondence is a valuable tool.
"Also, if it's for a smaller house but it's for a show that's running a long time, it might be interesting to do it a certain time of the year and a certain time of the year not. You can build up the audience in the slower times. But it's a challenge. You have to test it out. Because in any market, with any theatre, you can't fully say how it's going to work."
It's also wise to ensure that people know that lotteries are true "luck of the draws." This is especially true regarding seating.
"It varies, and it's based on how the house sells. Our theatre is 1,926 seats. So, [our lottery seats] can really be anywhere. We try not to make it the worst seats if other seats are available. But there is no designated section. … I'm sure there are times where one person who wins the lottery gets a better location than another person who wins the lottery. But I'm fine with that, because that’s the whole idea of a lottery. You're playing the game to win! And if you win, the seats can be anywhere in the house."
Finally, Levy advises spacing out the various lotteries for one very important reason.
"You don't want people who say, 'Oh, I can do the live lottery, so I don't have to buy the full-price ticket.' You want it to be for people who may not be able to afford to see a show on the rise or for those people who want to return."
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Tags: Accessibility , Theater , Musicals , Broadway