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Why do shows go on sale so far ahead?

August 1, 2018

It’s a good question.

For new shows, West End theatres get reserved by producers the second the current show looks as if it might have an empty seat, more or less. Joking apart, they really are competed for – and producers must already have (or at least make the theatre owner believe they have) a viable production lined up to take the space.

Once that seems to be happening, putting a show on sale gives everybody reassurance that the thing is going to happen, and that the millions being put in are going to stand a chance of re-payment.

It’s practical, too. Aside from theatres and stars being booked way in advance, the more time to build sets and put the creative team together, the better, as well – even if we know the technical rehearsals will run until 6pm of the first preview…

Oddly, it isn’t cash-flow as such. Sure, the theatre owner and producer will haggle like crazy over who gets the interest money on the advance payments, but the producer won’t get their hands on the box office takings until a week or more after the performance has taken place – and will have to find cash to meet daily running costs and tax long before that.

Hype is a good one. It took “Hamilton” around 2 years to reach London – and tickets went on sale 10 months before it opened here. That gap between Broadway opening and London tickets being available fuelled the website-crashing demand in January 2017. Imagine how much more difficult it would have been to manage demand had tickets gone on sale just a few weeks before the show? Yes, that’s right… but who would have talked as much or for so long if they had…

There is also a school of thought suggesting theatregoers book early to be sure they can get the date they want, and plan their own lives and “big trip.” If you are the kind to plan ahead (and yes, I do have tickets for June 2019 already) that’s a fine reason too. The best things take time, so maybe they are all worth the wait.

My guess, though, is that it is also to ensure the big shows are part of the landscape before they arrive. The logo is familiar on the posters and the tube, the name is mentioned in seasonal round-ups months before. Overseas travel operators can book groups in for the coming season, and busy production companies can plan every need from cashflow to staffing far better.

When we are talking about existing shows adding new “booking periods” there’s also several answers. For a new show with good reviews, the answer is of course to “cash in” while the time is right. Keep the momentum going.

For longer running shows, the art is between ensuring future bookings – again overseas operators can plan and publish brochures far ahead – and keeping the hype that the show is doing well… but also… finding out if there is still a market. If there is still interest in tickets 9 months ahead, it’s probably worth auditioning a new cast. If nobody is even looking to see what is available, may be time to move on and thus start the whole cycle once again…

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