Walking past Times Square, it’s almost impossible to miss the winding lines of people waiting to purchase Broadway tickets.
It’s an odd sight to behold in the age of the internet and smartphones, and it speaks volumes about how trapped in time much of the theatre industry is.
Two former Broadway producers, Brian Fenty and Merritt Baer, took notice of the theatre industry’s overall lack of innovation when it came to ticketing.
Both men had a background in finance in addition to their work producing, so they decided to combine the two and create TodayTix, an app that lets you purchase theatre tickets at the absolute lowest cost.
“We thought about how we wanted to sell tickets and the most cost effective way to sell tickets, and then as theatre lovers, how would we want to buy tickets — what’s the easiest way to see a show?” Baer told Business Insider. “The industry generally made it harder to buy tickets. Our philosophy was the exact opposite: make it as easy as possible to get tickets into the hands of consumers, and in doing so, broaden the scope, availability, and access to theatre events.”
Of course, competition already exists in the mobile ticketing space from big players like Ticket Master and StubHub, but mobile tickets still don’t exist within the theatre industry itself due to union restrictions. So regardless of how you purchase a theatre ticket, you’ll need to pick up or print out that ticket beforehand, which is the key area TodayTix wants to differentiate itself by creating a VIP-like experience where your tickets are already waiting for you at the theatre in the hand of a smiling concierge.
With TodayTix, that means offering a service that’s lucrative to both theatre fans and Broadway producers, with the goal of disproving the idea that a night at the theatre is always an unaffordable luxury.
“Most people think, and we’ve done focus groups, most people assume that Broadway tickets are $US100 to $US150,” Baer said. “But the fact is if you look on the app, a vast majority of shows have tickets in the 30, 35, 40 dollar region.”
When you open up TodayTix, you’re greeted with a screen full of theatre artwork and showtimes. The app offers tickets for all Broadway shows, and a selection of the most popular off-Broadway shows. Tickets are only available seven days in advance, and there’s also a Mobile Lottery feature that lets people enter a random drawing to purchase tickets for extremely popular shows.
“Our app is 30 seconds or less to buy a ticket, and it’s something we really stuck to,” Brian Fenty told Business Insider.
Once you order your tickets, you don’t have to do anything but show up at the theatre a few minutes before the show starts. When you get there, just look for the concierge wearing a red TodayTix shirt, and you’ll be handed your tickets. And since the TodayTix concierge team is made up of aspiring actors, you’ll also have someone to answer any questions you have if it’s your first time.
“We’re trying to make the delivery a high end experience as well,” Fenty said. “We like to say it’s a high-touch end to a high-tech process.”
Fenty and Baer understand the business side of Broadway from the larger context of having grown up acting.
“Merritt and I met 18 years ago at theatre camp,” Fenty told Business Insider.
“We met at Frenchwood’s Festival for the Performing Arts — singing and dancing 12 year olds, very embarrassing, no videos exist — ” Baer quickly interjected, laughing.
“Actually videos do exist, and I have one on DVD,” Fenty said. “But what’s interesting is that camp has yielded some of the industry’s biggest producers, biggest stars, biggest songwriters, so it’s really this amazing melting pot.”
The two drifted apart after camp and eventually went to college, with Fenty attending The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Baer attending Stanford University. Both Fenty and Baer entered into the world of finance, but their love of theatre eventually prompted them to begin looking at Broadway from an investment standpoint, even after they each began their respective careers in private equity and investment banking.
In 2010, Baer produced The Merchant of Venice starring Al Pacino, and then went on to produce Death of a Salesman in 2012, for which he won a Tony Award. Fenty was also producing Broadway shows at 23, and the two eventually re-connected while Baer was working in London.
“It was around that same time period that Brian and I reconnected and said ‘Hey how do we take my background in ticketing and both our backgrounds in producing and Brian’s entrepreneurship, how do we apply that to the theatre industry?” Baer said. “And all this with a background of the theatre industry in 2013 where in, according to The Broadway League, .08% of Broadway tickets were sold over mobile.”
The two set out to change this, and they have.
“We launched in December 2013, and we currently are selling roughly 3 per cent of all the tickets on Broadway,” Fenty said.
With their knowledge of the industry, the two have also forged a partnership with The Public Theatre in New York, an off-Broadway theatre that now exclusively offers the first public showing of their plays through TodayTix, which offers a free lottery for the first preview shows.
It’s been a successful partnership. When free tickets for the first preview of Julie Taymor’s one-woman show “Grounded” starring Anne Hathaway were offered on the app, over 15,000 people entered for the chance to win tickets.
A year and a half after launching, TodayTix has raised $US6.7 million in two rounds of funding, and on Monday they announced they were expanding their market to London.
And the business is clearly growing — In the first third of this year alone, Baer says the company’s downloads have increased by 53% over the entire history of the company. Repeat customers are responsible for 55% of TodayTix’s transactions, too.
But it doesn’t come easily. Fenty says it takes time to build the necessary relationships, and having 20 years of experience in the theatre industry helps them succeed where others have failed.
“We spent most of our lives in this world, so we really know the inner workings, and there are other companies that have dipped their toes into the Broadway waters, and have been quickly discouraged and left the market,” he said. “It’s also about having a customer base that’s growing and trusts you. Knowing it’s best price, and knowing you’re a company that’s saving customers millions of dollars, that helps.”