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'Hamilton' ticket prices are a lesson in supply and demand
Actor Lin-Manuel Miranda of "Hamilton" performs at the Tony Awards at the Beacon Theatre on Sunday, June 12, 2016, in New York. - photo by Jim Bennett
Prior to Hamilton sweeping the Tony Awards, Hamilton creator and star Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote a piece for the New York Times called Stop the Bots From Killing Broadway. Miranda laments that many people who want to see Hamilton cant. He also initially and correctly attributes the problem to simple economics: The demand for tickets exceeds the number of seats in the theater on a given night. But he then proceeds to undermine his own basic premise in a futile attempt to repeal the law of supply and demand.

Miranda is concerned that ticket bots buy up all of Hamiltons tickets the instant they go on sale and then resell them at vastly inflated prices, sometimes at more than 1,000 percent of their face value. This is already illegal, but since third-party brokers are happy to pay the requisite fines as the cost of doing business, Miranda proposes that this practice be made even more illegal. While this may feel like justice, it wont solve the basic problem that many people who want to see Hamilton cant. And even if Miranda were able to put every scalper on the planet out of business, they still cant.

Consider Cagney, another musical about an American icon thats playing just down the street from Hamilton. I went online and found good tickets available for the following nights performance for the face value of $75 each. Why havent ticket bots bothered to gobble those tickets up, too? The answer, of course, is that theater owners cant fill the house at $75 a pop, so StubHub isnt going to have much luck attempting to repackage the Cagney experience at a 1,000 percent markup. The reason they can get away with that for Hamilton is that people are willing to pay $3,500 to see Miranda in action. Call them any name you want, but StubHub and Vivid Seats are, in the rawest, most practical terms, nothing more than capitalists responding to what the market will bear.

Thats an undeniable, harsh reality of life, particularly in Manhattan, where a modest two-bedroom apartment is likely to cost 10 times more than a palatial two-story home in Omaha, Nebraska. No matter what someone thinks a price should or shouldnt be, actual prices are ultimately determined by what people are willing to pay. Things cost what they cost. Artificial attempts to alter that reality are inevitably doomed to fail.

So there are two solutions that present themselves. One is that the Hamilton box office raise the price of Hamilton tickets to the same premium that the scalpers can command. There would be a great deal of complaining about expensive seats, but under the current system, StubHub sells a primo Hamilton ticket for thousands of dollars and keeps all the profit. Wouldnt Broadway be better served if that money were poured back into the production instead?

Yet Miranda would likely never agree to this, as it would make him look like the bad guy. OK, then heres a better solution if you want to meet demand, increase the supply. Have productions of Hamilton running in four Broadway theaters at the same time. Yes, I know, Miranda cant be in all of them, but its a poorly kept secret that he and most of his original cast are leaving the show in July. So why not? Surely people would fill all four theaters, and many may see all four versions to compare and contrast. Punishing StubHub may feel good, but making more Hamilton is the only way to make sure that people who want to see Hamilton actually can.
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