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Broadway street teams prove their worth in a changing ticketing landscape

Red tights and bowler hats. Buttons that read "Ask Me About Broadway! " Flyers brandishing show logos and discounts. These are the staples of Times Square. For those who work in theater and traverse the crossroads of the world every single day, it can be easy to see these as something to avoid.

(L-R) A member of the Broadway Crew representing "Pictures from Home"; a theatreMAMA employee promoting "Chicago" (Photo credit: Jeff Gilbank / Courtesy of theatreMAMA)

Red tights and bowler hats. Buttons that read “Ask Me About Broadway!” Flyers brandishing show logos and discounts. These are the staples of Times Square. For those who work in theater and traverse the crossroads of the world every single day, it can be easy to see these as something to avoid. But the people who make up Broadway street teams, as they’re known, aren’t just bodies in a crowd — they are a crucial piece of Broadway advertising and a driver of ticket sales.

For the general public, street teams are often the first touchpoint to a theater production. As such, the people working these street teams go beyond ticket-selling. They serve as extensions of a show’s brand, contribute to the general Broadway education for potential theatergoers and provide feedback to producers and marketers about what they’re hearing on the ground from target audiences.

Street teams generally congregate in Times Square, particularly near the TKTS discount booth — though placement can vary from show to show. (If eyeing the tri-state area, the presence of street teams at transit hubs is essential.)

Tony Award-winning producer Jeffrey Richards has employed a street team on all of his Broadway shows and considers them an integral piece of the sales strategy. Currently, Richards uses the experiential marketing team Broadway Crew for his “Pictures from Home.” Founded in 2018, the Crew is now one of the prominent street team companies, currently also repping “Kimberly Akimbo,” “& Juliet” and “Moulin Rouge!”

“Pictures from Home” by Sharr White opened cold on Broadway, without built-in brand recognition. To give the Broadway Crew’s tactics a boost, Richards arranged for Crew staff to see the invited dress rehearsal and meet with White, director Bartlett Sher and star Danny Burstein to learn more about the play from the creatives’ mouths. It was the first time the Crew had been given that sort of an inside look. “The interaction proved to be an invaluable asset and enabled the Crew to illuminate the play for the consumers on the TKTS line” where the street team focuses its effort, Richards said.

While the TKTS line has long been a boon for same-day ticket sales, the significance of those day-of buys has increased since Broadway’s reopening. “It’s really competitive out there right now because, as we know, pre-sale is so slim compared to what it was pre-COVID,” said Justin Adams, Broadway Crew’s director of theatrical accounts. “The reality is that [the industry] is in the same-day ticket sphere and that’s really where our work comes in.”

Though sometimes conceived as supplemental, street teams are integral to a show’s marketing and advertising plan.

Beyond same-day sales, these companies provide on-the-ground audience development. For some producers, the question isn’t “Should I have a street presence?” but “How do I elevate it?” For “Pictures from Home,” the close communication between the creative team and sellers was the answer. For “Chicago” producers Barry and Fran Weissler, it has long been a more dramatic tack.

Michelin Hall — a founding partner of theatreMAMA, which currently provides the street team for “Chicago” as well as Cirque du Soleil, the Rockettes and more across 70 markets — considers the service a “living media buy.”

“We’re not just out here to hand out flyers. We’re an extension of the brand,” Hall said. “We want to provoke the imagination. We want to give people a little taste of the show that can entice them [to see it].”

TheatreMAMA began working with “Chicago” in 2009 — when the production had already been playing for 13 years. “We really wanted to stand out, but we still wanted it to be sexy and to speak to the style of the show,” said Hall, who devised the unique approach for “Chicago” with co-founder Timothy Wooster. This is why theatreMAMA promoters don’t just don costumes, they move in Fosse style. “Those poses [are] something that people will see who are from countries that don’t even speak English and they will recognize as Fosse.”

Over the years, theatreMAMA has created experiential marketing like this for shows like “Waitress,” where reps wore blue apron dresses and cherry pie fascinators, and “Priscilla Queen of the Desert,” featuring dancers in disco ball headdresses.

Their goal with every activation is to “provoke the imagination … create a question in the mind before [a passerby] even talks to the person who’s going to hand you a flyer,” Hall continued. “That’s what this is about.” And in the age of social media, people are content. When those passersby post photos featuring eye-catching street teamers, the live media buy doubles as a social media buy.

Overall, Hall says the company reports a 350 percent return on investment — comparing what producers pay theatreMAMA over what they earn back in sales.

The Broadway Crew revealed similar box office bumps as a measure of their efforts. “Last year, we started repping a show that was listed at TKTS, but the show never had any street team presence at the board,” Broadway Crew’s Adams explained. “After we started working with them, the numbers showed a 90 percent increase in sales from week one [no street team] to week two [using the Crew], making us an invaluable part of their marketing strategy from then on.”

Still, street teams are more than sales reps or walking logos. They are ambassadors of individual shows and Broadway at large; they build trust and relationships with consumers. “We have people that come back … and say, ‘You sent me to this particular show and I loved it. What should I see next?’” Adams shared. Because of that trust, street teams also receive honest feedback from average audiences.

“[We] can hear how many shows they’re seeing while they’re in New York. What other shows they’re seeing. What are they interested in? Why are they interested?” Hall added. “Let’s say we give out 100 flyers per hour per [staff] person. If you interact with one tenth of those — 10 people stop and have a full conversation with you every hour — you have a lot of feedback by the end of the week.”

Street team marketing asks a lot of its employees. They must know their show inside and out, and in the case of the Broadway Crew, any show the company represents, in addition to understanding what audiences to target — like groups or families — and then gather data. TheatreMAMA hires multilingual workers for interacting with the tourist audience, and auditions “Chicago” reps to ensure their dance skills. The investment pays off.

“Street teams are an appreciable asset to all productions,” said Richards, “and the more collaborative we are, the better prepared they are as ambassadors for our productions.”

As same-day and short-lead sales gain importance, the street team approach will also require innovation. “That’s one thing I would love for the industry to think more about,” Adams said. “How do we engage with people outside of just selling a ticket and them seeing a show, because we’re so much more than that.”