Friday, November 4, 2011

“HotTix gives theatres access to audiences they couldn’t otherwise reach”

Ryan Butts, Deputy Director at League of Chicago Theatres

The beloved, magical and “practically perfect” nanny waved goodbye, beaming as she floated over an appreciative audience during the finale of Disney’s “Mary Poppins” at the Cadillac Palace Theatre. With the thundering applause and “supercalifragilisticexpilidocious” ringing in one’s ears, the cacophony could easily drown out any remaining misgivings at having just spent over $100 on a ticket.
At least, until the credit card bill arrives.
It’s a dilemma that theatre-goers frequently face: to buy or not to buy? At such eye-watering prices, theatre can be a painfully expensive hobby. Thankfully, sites such as HotTix offer a welcome relief. Since tickets to hugely popular shows can pop up the day before or even on the night of the show, it does require some flexibility. But at 50 per cent off, it’s not a deal to be sniffed at.
The site is managed by the League of Chicago Theatres, a non-profit organization that acts as a network for over 190 theatre companies of all sizes. Deputy director, Ryan Butts, 31, talks about what makes the site a hot online tourist attraction and how audiences can have an equally great (and budget-friendly) evening out.
How did the concept for HotTix come about?
The League of Chicago Theatres is a membership-based organization where an annual fee gets them access to professional development workshops as well as HotTix. The League was founded in the late seventies and their first project was HotTix, which is a half-price ticketing outlet. There are two downtown outlets as well as our website, which began as a volunteer group project. It grew over the years and a professional staff and a board of directors who come from theatres of all sizes now help manage it.
Tickets to shows such as "Mary Poppins" can pop up
at just half the price on HotTix
Are tickets always sold at half price?
Tickets are all half the price of the face value. Because HotTix reaches a broader audience, it’s an opportunity for theatre companies to reach out to audiences that they couldn’t otherwise reach. If it’s $100 a ticket, you’ll get it for $50 – that’s our regular rate.
How does HotTix benefit your members?
We sell tickets through the website but the sales go directly to the theatre companies. There are traditional ticketing fees that go with those sales and our organization keeps a portion of the ticketing fees. While we make money from that, the bulk of the ticketing price goes back to the theatre companies.
For example, last year we had an increase in ticket sales. We sold just over 100,000 tickets, which returned almost $2 million to theatre companies. The League receives a few dollars per ticket and while it’s a small portion of the organization’s overall budget, it’s still a couple of hundred thousand dollars.
How do you manage to keep costs down?
We aren’t guaranteed a number of tickets from our member companies – it’s completely up to them. Tickets are based on availability. For example, if Broadway in Chicago has any availability, then they’ll put a block of tickets for us for half the price. However, if their show is selling really well, then we probably won’t get them (laughs). But we will get a lot of calls from people saying, “Did you get tickets for this show?” Some companies can provide us with tickets in advance; some do it on the day of the show.
With all the other ticketing sites online, how do you reach out to audiences?
We give a lot of information to hotels downtown. As you can imagine, HotTix is very popular with tourists because when they see it, they go, “Okay, what’s playing? It’s all half price!” So we do a lot of promotions with downtown hotel concierges. We have good relationships with them because they love being able to tell people that the theatres are just down the street.
What do you think makes this concept successful in a city like Chicago?
The city is creating some of the best theatre in the world. There are so many theatre productions that were in Chicago in the last few years that are now in New York or elsewhere across the continent. People are recognizing that the quality of the work here is as high as anywhere else but the spirit of it is really special.

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