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How Broadway’s sole loyalty program reached $1 billion in ticket sales

Audience Rewards, the only loyalty program for Broadway, is celebrating two major milestones this month: reaching both its 15th anniversary and $1 billion in Broadway ticket sales.

Laura Benanti at an Audience Rewards meet and greet event (Photo by: Margarita Corporan)

Audience Rewards, the only loyalty program for Broadway, is celebrating two major milestones this month: reaching both its 15th anniversary and $1 billion in Broadway ticket sales.

Founded in 2008 by the Nederlander Organization, Shubert Organization and Jujamcyn, as well as the Independent Presenters Network and Broadway Across America, Audience Rewards is a loyalty program designed for Main Stem ticketbuyers. Fans buy tickets through the Audience Rewards website and earn “ShowPoints” on their purchases, which can then be redeemed for more tickets, Broadway merchandise and other experiences. Fifteen years in, the program has a membership base of 3 million.

“It all began out of a desire to reward our most loyal customers for the entire brand of Broadway,” Audience Rewards CEO and executive vice president for the Shubert Organization Charles Flateman told Broadway News of the theater organizations joining forces. “Everybody recognized then, as we recognize now, that the shows themselves are the primary draw for Broadway. We knew from the beginning that for a loyalty program to work, we all had to be in the tent together.”

Audience Rewards executive vice president Katie Dalton added, “In the past 15 years, we have really gone from an idea that is very unique in this industry of creating a collaborative program that crosses all of the shows, all of the theater owners, all of the ticketing systems — started as that idea, and we have really become a powerful marketing channel and part of the fabric of the Broadway industry.”

In addition to recognizing Broadway’s dedicated fans, Audience Rewards was founded to gain a better understanding of those devotees across shows and ticketing systems. Dalton said one of the goals of the program’s creation was to “create a marketing tool for shows that is not a discount.” On the contrary, over the last 15 years, members have spent an average of about 20 percent more per ticket than the typical non-member ticketbuyer. In fact, in the current season, they’ve been paying closer to 30 percent more than the average ticket price — but with the added incentive of receiving ShowPoints for each purchase.

“That’s a really meaningful addition to revenue that we are adding to the shows and to the industry,” Dalton noted.

When broken down, the $1 billion in Broadway ticket sales from purchases via its website equates to about 7.5 million tickets sold. “That yield in ticket price — 20 percent, which is about $20 to $22 per ticket — times 7.5 million tickets, that’s our impact on this industry,” Dalton said. On top of that, members have redeemed points for 120,000 additional tickets — free to the member but purchased by Audience Rewards on their behalf.

The program’s success stems from a series of precise steps taken over the last decade and a half.

Shortly after Audience Rewards launched in 2008, the program formed its first strategic partnership with Amtrak. This ongoing campaign allows members of Amtrak’s own loyalty program to earn points that can be redeemed for future train travel when purchasing Broadway show tickets. Audience Rewards has a similar ongoing campaign with United Airlines. “[These efforts] differentiate Audience Rewards in the industry in the sense that we can connect shows with these large national brands,” Dalton said.

In 2010, Audience Rewards began offering ticket presales to members, starting with “Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo.” According to Dalton, in the years since these efforts began, Audience Rewards has become the primary channel to announce on-sale dates of new shows thanks to its membership base. “They are people who are willing to buy early and participate in a presale to get access to the best seats before anyone else,” Dalton shared. The presale program evolved in 2016 to jointly market shows to American Express cardholders for greater reach.

What’s more, the team has drawn inspiration from other loyalty programs — like those in the travel sector — as they developed new ways to redeem points like experiences. Since 2012, members have used ShowPoints to register for hundreds of events, such as a post-show Q&A with cast members at “Death of a Salesman;” a virtual stage door with the “Six” queens; and the opportunity to attend the opening night performance of “Some Like It Hot.”

In 2018, Audience Rewards introduced a VIP membership tier. Audience Rewards develops specific marketing campaigns for these 40,000 VIPs on behalf of show partners. “While they’re a small percentage of our member base, they represent about 20 percent of the tickets purchased in our program,” Dalton said. “By creating that tier, we are giving shows the easy way to market directly to the most engaged Broadway fans.” That same year, the company introduced what Flateman called a major highlight of the last 15 years: the Tony Awards Challenge, a collaborative effort with the Awards show.

Looking ahead, Dalton revealed that a tech revamp should boost ease-of-use for members. Plus, an expansion of the Amtrak partnership is set for later this year.

“We are giving our show partners a single way to communicate and reach Broadway’s biggest fans,” Dalton said. “There are a lot of conversations in the industry, especially coming out of the shutdown, about how to engage Broadway fans. We have our arms around those people.”

Flateman said that while it’s easy to wish for another 15 years and $1 billion in ticket sales, there’s much more about the future of Audience Rewards that excites him.“After the pandemic … what we’re really seeing is the emergence of a whole new fanbase. That new fanbase loves the gamification that a loyalty program has,” he said. “What I’m most excited about is engaging our new customer base as Broadway heads right into the new, and what I think is a super exciting chapter.”