A popular theater-ticketing app called TodayTix makes it easy to buy same-day and same-week Broadway tickets. You don’t need to wait in line, borrow a student ID for rush tickets, enter a lottery, or even call the box office. All you need to do to browse available shows is open the app, and–like an urban millennial hailing a taxi–tap your phone a couple of times to purchase. TodayTix charges a $5 fee per ticket.
It’s wonderfully convenient. And it’s about time. But if you look underneath TodayTix’s sleek interface, you’ll find that it is not quite the modern Broadway that it appears to be.
To access tickets to Broadway theaters, TodayTix relies on people like Edgar Eguia, an actor with a second job at TodayTix who spends many of his days buying your tickets.
At the beginning of his five-hour shift, Eguia picks up a company phone and a company credit card. He opens an internal app that tells him which tickets to order, and then he spends the rest of the time walking between theaters, physically standing in line at theater box offices, and buying tickets. When it’s raining, he wears Under Armour and carries a TodayTix umbrella. When it’s hot, he takes routes under scaffolding and through hotel lobbies to stay in the shade. When it’s cold, “Layers are important.” He usually buys about 100 tickets every shift. “They pretty much know my face and they know they’ll probably see me more than once a day,” he says of the theaters. “They know that I know what I’m looking for.”
Even in 2015, the easiest, most affordable way to buy Broadway tickets is to physically visit the box office. This is partly because large theater groups have relationships with existing ticket vendors. Take the Schubert Organization, which owns and operates 17 Broadway theaters. It also owns an online ticket vendor, called Telecharge, which charges a $9.50 fee per ticket. Ticketmaster, meanwhile, charges $12 and handles tickets for the 10-theater Nederlander. “In early discussions, they said, Go prove yourselves,” says TodayTix CEO Merritt Baer. “I’m sure they get pitched a new ticket idea every day.”
For TodayTix’s about 15 off-Broadway shows and 30 London shows, it partners with theaters that directly allocate tickets to the startup through an API or another digital system. It plans to do the same in four additional cities where it plans to launch by the end of the year. For Broadway, where theaters were less willing to make such arrangements, Baer says, “We came up with another system so we could still have access to that inventory.”
In rain, shine, and everything in between, TodayTix has between three to five people working at a time to buy tickets on behalf of its customers at about 35 theaters. Another team picks up the tickets at the box office and waits in front of the theater for customers, who pay $5 more for the concierge service.
TodayTix also takes on the work of finding discounts–browsing through mailers, Groupon deals, and the same discounts pamphleteers hand out in Times Square–to make sure it gives customers the best price that they could find themselves if they made the trip and did the research.
So far, this workaround has been somewhat successful. The company says it has signed up more than 500,000 people for the service, and estimates that it now accounts for about 3% of Broadway ticket sales each week.
The average age of its ticket buyer is 32, which, as theaters court young audiences, could be the most compelling card TodayTix has for winning theater partnerships that eventually get Eguia out of line.