Broadway Tickets, for the Price of an Economics Lesson

As premium ticket prices have soared, many buyers have responded with outrage, accusing theater owners of price gouging and bemoaning the emergence of Broadway as one more exclusive preserve for the ultrarich. Both themes were prominent in reader comments on the Times article.

But guess what? There was also one “Hello, Dolly!” ticket for $194 on Wednesday evening available from an online reseller, albeit for a balcony seat. And there were more than a dozen seats at prices well below $750.

And if you’re willing to forgo the potentially once-in-a-lifetime experience of seeing Bette Midler as Dolly Levi, TodayTix, a relatively new purveyor, was offering seats for future performances starring the critically lauded Donna Murphy — for $39.

The venerable TKTS booth in Times Square had 22 Broadway shows on offer for Wednesday evening, nearly all at 50 percent off.

“People have been whipped into a frenzy by the top prices,” said Thomas Schumacher, president of the Disney Theatrical Group, producer of the current, dynamically priced hit musicals “The Lion King” and “Aladdin.” “If you’re a regular person who wants to see a Broadway show tonight, you can. There are tickets for $29. You may be priced out of the best seats at the hottest shows, but the same is true of a deluxe suite at the St. Regis or a restaurant on New Year’s Day.”

Even at hit shows, relatively few seats sell at headline-making prices. Mr. Schumacher noted that the average price of a ticket for “Aladdin,” one of the five top-grossing shows on Broadway, was $112 last year.

Average Broadway ticket prices last season rose to $109 from the prior season’s $103, a 5.8 percent increase. That’s more than the rate of inflation but still not exorbitant considering the disproportionate impact of a few megahits like “Hamilton.” (The higher prices compensated for — or perhaps contributed to — a decline in the number of tickets sold.)

As more transactions shift to the internet, consumers will have to get used to a world in which dynamic pricing is increasingly the norm. They’ve pretty much accepted it for airline fares; airlines pioneered the concept years ago. It has since spread to hotel rooms, sporting events, concerts and designer clothing — and is likely to be used for just about any highly differentiated product where demand may at times far exceed supply.


Theater patrons waiting in line to purchase tickets at the TKTS booth in Times Square.

Mark Abramson for The New York Times

“At the most basic level, all pricing is about allocating scarce resources,” said Robert Phillips, the head of marketplace optimization sciences at Uber, the car service that has pioneered surge pricing in…

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