How much? The Stage’s annual West End ticket survey

Alistair Smith
Alistair Smith is editor of The Stage. Having joined the publication on staff in 2004, he has also held the roles of reporter, news editor, opinion editor, deputy editor and print editor at The Stage and has written for publications ranging from The Guardian to Hello! Magazine. He is also the author of two major industry reports (the London Theatre Report and the Theatre Workforce Review) and a founder of the My Theatre Matters! campaign.
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Welcome to West End ticketing: the sequel. After its inaugural outing in 2012, The Stage’s annual survey has returned and this year there are a few changes. Not in our methodology – which remains precisely as it was last year so that we can compare like-for-like – but in terms of results.

The two big ticket items, so to speak, are the sharp rise in the most expensive tickets and the simultaneous fall in the price of the cheapest seats. Perhaps, one might be tempted to conclude, the one is balancing out the other.

Many will react in shock that the new average price for the best seat in the house is £81.05 (up from £72.12 in 2012), but if we are concerned about attracting new audiences to the theatre, then the bottom price tickets are equally important and their average price has fallen from £21.91 to £21.07. In the commercial sector, the drop is even more steep – down from £23.85 to £22.57. In fact, the survey results underline what a wide variety of price points are on offer in the West End – with tickets ranging from £12 to £127, sometimes on the same show (The Audience offers both these prices).

One other trend to note – last year, there were three commercial shows that were not yet offering premium tickets. As of this year’s survey, all commercial West End shows are now offering these new top-ticket prices. Whatever you might think of it, premium pricing is here and it is here to stay. And, one should stress, it is preferable to touting as the money stays within the theatre industry as royalties and profits for producers and investors.

[pullquote]There are far fewer nasty surprises for ticket buyers when they get further along in the booking process[/pullquote]

Last year, the most shocking statistic thrown up by our survey related to the quite staggering extra booking fees being charged (for example, £12.25 by We Will Rock You and its ticket agent Ticketmaster). I’m glad to report that, on this front, the situation has improved dramatically.

A lot more shows are now wrapping up the booking fee in the initial price quoted for the ticket. This means that there are far fewer nasty surprises for ticket buyers when they get further along in the booking process. As Jonathan Brown from the Society of Ticket Agents and Retailers rightly notes opposite, this does not necessarily mean that the booking fees are lower, just that they are being included earlier on in the process. The result, though, is that the extra fees (those after the initial price) have nearly halved across the West End. Overall, this has resulted in a much clearer and more straightforward booking process and should be warmly welcomed. In the case of We Will Rock You tickets purchased through Ticketmaster, it has resulted in the extra fees being charged dropping from as much as £12.25 to £1.50.

Lastly, I’ll leave you with a quick glance into my crystal ball – the average price for the best seat in the house to a West End musical was up to £95.09 this year. I’m willing to stick my neck out and say that, by 2014’s survey, it will break the £100 mark for the first time. Whether that’s a good or bad thing, I’ll leave up to you. But, I would point out that so far there doesn't appear to be too much market resistance.