Ticketing Study: For Chicagoans, The Seismic Convergence of Cubs and Hamilton is Not Without Precede
Two tales. One city. For Chicagoans, it is the best of times, and it is the best of times.
If you’re a windy city resident, the turning of the calendar to October typically means the turning of autumn leaves and the turning of the baseball calendar. This October, Chicago will not only embrace autumn, they’ll brace for the convergence of two seismic events: the opening of the Broadway musical Hamilton and a possible World Series featuring their beloved Chicago Cubs. Hold onto your hats, Chicago. The weekend before Halloween could be the most in-demand, most FOMO weekend in your history, one that even Bartman or Burr wouldn’t dare interfere.
Commencing October 28–30, Games 3 through 5 of the 2016 World Series will be played at Wrigley Field. Further south from the Addison stop on the Red Line, in the loop of Downtown Chicago, Hamilton will be in full swing at the Private Bank Theatre on Monroe Street. So over the course of three days, Chicago could offer 3 World Series games at Wrigley Field and a 4-show weekend at Hamilton.
What a spooky weekend for ticket prices, you say? Yes, but Chicago has been prepared for it. And believe it or not, the Cubs and Hamilton have history on their side.
I Know What You Did Last Summer…
Baseball analysts didn’t project the 2015 Chicago Cubs making it to the World Series. Under first year coach Joe Maddon, Cubs fans expected better results from the previous year, and expected a foundation to be set that would put this team on the path for continued greatness over the long haul. Though stuck in neutral for the first half of the season, the Cubs took off after the all-star break, generating a July, August, and September record for the ages.
That same August, the Broadway musical Hamilton opened at the Richard Rodgers Theatre in NYC. Originally staged at the Public Theatre further downtown, the buzz for Hamilton was arguably the highest for any Broadway-transfer since the Public Theatre staged A Chorus Line exactly 40 years prior. (With apologies to Cats of the 1980s that arrived from London, and The Book of Mormon, which opened cold on Broadway. Both productions also opened with considerable buzz.) Ticket sales for Hamilton, ahem, shot through the roof, and the ‘road’ was salivating at the chance to book this projected juggernaut.
Back in Chicago, with Hamilton blanketing headlines, the ’15 Cubs rode a 50–25 second half record to win the NL Wild Card. After a wild-card game win against the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Cubs breezed past their archrival St. Louis Cardinals in 4 games of the NLDS. Sadly for Cubs fans, the realization of the Cubs first World Series in 71 years fell short as the little bears were swept out of the NLDS by NY Mets. Though another year past without the Cubs reaching the holy land of the World Series, the Cubs made it known to all of baseball they were a dangerous team, and success had arrived. Little did Chicago know their autumn heartbreak and their ‘wait till next year’ mantra was about to take a whole new meaning, thanks to one glorious week in December.
The Heat of December
December 4, 2015: The Chicago Cubs make their first big splash of the free-agent off-season bolstering their pitching staff with the acquisition of free-agent John Lackey. Not only was Lackey projected to fill a void within the back half of the rotation, he was swiped directly from the archrival Cardinals. Exactly 4 days later, on December 8, back down the Red Line on Monroe Street, the next big Chicago acquisition was announced. Hamilton would begin its national tour at the Private Bank Theatre in Fall 2016. The very next day, December 9, the Cubs steal the headlines back by announcing the signing of WS Champion Ben Zobrist from the KC Royals. Exactly two days after that, December 11, the Cubs trumped their own headlines with the surprise signing of Jason Heyward (of those dreaded Cardinals), the biggest free agent position player of the off-season. Within the span of 7 days, the trajectories of a typical October in Chicago changed dramatically.
Any smart economist will tell you market demand should dictate the value of said product. The ticketing industry is no different, and with the advent of dynamic pricing, baseball and live theatre are progressively listening to market demand as they set prices. After the completion of the 2015 baseball season, but just prior to the free agent splash of December, the Cubs announced plans to raise season ticket prices for the 2016 season. The average ticket price increased 10%, with some sections seeing as little as a 7% increase and other high demand sections seeing north of 35% spikes. It’s not unprecedented for teams to dramatically increase season ticket prices, especially after newfound baseball success.
After 86 years of futility, the Boston Red Sox finally won the World Series in 2004. Prior to the start of the 2005 campaign, the Red Sox increased ticket prices by 7%. In 2008, after winning their second World Series in 3 years, the Red Sox bumped prices again — up 9%. After a 3rd World Series in 2013, and thanks to the advantages of variable price tiers, the Red Sox ATP rose 4.8% from $53.38/game to $55.94/game. The incremental increases were a result of (and perhaps an attraction to) 820 continuous sell-outs of Fenway Park dating back to the 2003 season (prior to their 3-time World Series run.) Similar pricing tools were activated in San Francisco resulting in over 400 straight sell-outs during the 2010–2014 seasons when they also won 3 titles.
With key personnel in place to give the Cubs their own decade run of championship baseball, the team took a similar route, all in line with market demand. The Cubs were advantageous with pricing, but not overly aggressive. According to Statista, regular season home games for the Chicago Cubs generated an average ticket price $51.33/ticket/game for the 2016 season. The average across all 30 teams MLB teams, in stadiums of varying sizes, was $31.00/ticket/game. While the Cubs are indeed above MLB average, both the NY Yankees ($51.55) and Boston ($54.79) remain higher. Not coincidentally, last place honors went to the AZ Diamondbacks who generated a $18.53/ticket/game, a dismal .426 winning percentage, and a massive front-office overall. Team performance does indeed matter. Despite the higher ticket prices of 2016, the Cubs have announced they projecting a complete season sell-out of Wrigley Field for the first time in stadium history. Think about that. In WRIGLEY FIELD history! This stadium opened in 1914. The Cubs will finally sell out Wrigley for the first time since Ziegfeld Follies was on Broadway. Think about that. ZIEGFELD FOLLIES!
Hamilton envisioned similar success for 2016 as well. As the hottest ticket on Broadway since August 2015, Hamilton has crossed a one news-cycle line rarely seen for Broadway shows. Not only was it the talk of the town, it has become a pop-culture phenomenon with celebrities and non-celebrities clamoring for tickets. Rightfully, Hamilton listened to demand and pro-actively raised ticket prices to meet the needs of the high-end buyer on the secondary market. Lead by its lead producer, Jeffrey Seller, and writer-star, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Hamilton has made significant strides to address the illegal use of ticketing ‘bots’. You can read more about that here and here.
Shortly before the Tony Awards in June 2016, and around the same time the Cubs had already built a commanding lead in the NL Central, Hamilton announced it was raising prices at the Richard Rodgers Theatre on Broadway. The press (and chat rooms) made significant noise about Hamilton’s decision to raise premium prices from $475 to $849. Earlier this week, BroadwayJournal.com reported that a new block of premium tickets for peak Thanksgiving and Holiday performances are on-sale for $998 — a 15% increase from the June 2016 increase. But there is more than meets the eye. The increase was only applied to 200 premium locations (or roughly 15% of total available inventory) and was strategically priced to combat the re-sale market. Hamilton is not the first show to make a large premium increase leap — the original $475 price point was first introduced by The Book of Mormon for a smaller quantity of seats in 2013 following the in-demand status of that mega-hit. Other seats at the Richard Rodgers also benefited from an increase, with non-premium locations increasing roughly 13–29%. Other blockbusters, such as The Producers and The Book of Mormon also drive big leap jumps in non-premium locations during peak sales cycles. Star-driven (Broadway shows — with the likes of Hugh Jackman, Denzel Washington, Julia Roberts — have been implementing this practice for years and you may soon see similar leaps with the white-hot Hello, Dolly! starring Bette Midler and the upcoming Broadway productions of Frozen and Harry Potter.) Hamilton producers also made available 46 tickets per performance at $10/ticket — an almost unheard of low price on the primary market — available via online lottery. (Most Broadway productions offer entry-level lottery or rush tickets.) While much was made about the $849 increase, Hamilton was certainly within the borders of standard business practice for in-demand live events, as evident by the increases with other Broadway shows and MLB teams. With only 1,300 seats available per performance at Hamilton, very little opportunity exists for incremental increases similar to baseball over the course of a season.
Hamilton in Chicago has also generated high demand since it first went on sale. Last month, producers announced a 6-month extension through Sept 17, 2017. That said, ticket prices in Chicago are well within local market range for Broadway blockbusters and live entertainment. Hamilton in Chicago is offering tickets between $64-$180. If you want to sit in a premium location, that will only cost you $500. Prior to it’s Chicago opening, Hamilton announced they also would be offering $10 lottery tickets in Chicago, similar to Broadway. As for the peak Thanksgiving and Holiday performances? Sold out.
You may say, wow, it’s expensive to see Broadway compared to MLB, and you may be right. According to The Broadway League, the trade association for Broadway producers, presenters, and venue owners, the average ticket price for a Broadway is $100. That figure covers nearly 9,000 performances, to-date, for the 2016 calendar year. The average ticket price for a touring Broadway show is $70/ticket. This spans about 4,000 less performances so far than Broadway. The average MLB ticket (previously reported above) is $31.00 for the nearly 2,450 home games. With less supply and higher demand per event, Broadway is naturally going to a higher priced ticket that satisfies the economic realities of a Broadway production. But there’s more than meets the eye. The cost of a regular season bleacher ticket at Wrigley? $16. The cost of a lottery ticket to Hamilton? $10.
Every once is a while, a confluence happens centuries in the making. The similarly timed and uncanny courses the Chicago Cubs and Hamilton both took in 2015 could intersect at the fictional corner of Clark and Monroe on Oct 28th. On that date, Wrigley Field will host their first World Series since 1945. As such, speculative tickets have popped up on the secondary market beginning at $3,000/seat (SRO will get you in for $2,500/ticket.) The next evening, October 29th would present the first opportunity to bear witness to the Cubs first World Series title in 104 years. On that night, listings are popping up at — are you ready for this — a cool $1 million. And what about those same $16 bleacher seats from the regular season? $3,000/each. Further south at the Private Bank Theatre, Hamilton is available for $270-$950/ticket on the same night (but the lottery will be available for $10 through the show & venue.) News outlets this morning are reporting a ticketing trade — those with Hamilton tickets in hand would gladly barter with you, for Chicago Cubs World Series tickets! Who says Broadway is more expensive?
Any other year, the weekend before Halloween in Chicago is filled with crisp temperatures, turning leaves, and kids prepping their Bartman costumes. Come this weekend, Chicago could be the leading player in a story that neither Lin-Manuel Miranda nor Terry Cashman could envision writing. With an unprecedented month ahead in the windy city, Chicago is not without precedent.
Two unforgettable events, intersected at the corner of Commerce and FOMO.