Merritt Baer's Got the Golden Tickets
When they first met at a New York theatre camp, 12 year-old Merritt Baer and Brian Fenty dreamed of setting the theatre world on its ear. 18 years later, they have. Not as stars on Broadway, but as the co-founders of TodayTix – the mobile app that’s revolutionizing the way theater tickets are bought and sold – and who’s buying them.
Traditionally, the only options for scoring tickets to a hit show in New York or London (where TodayTix currently operates) was to order tickets weeks in advance, pay top dollar at the box office or to scalpers, or stand in line at discount ticket booths, hoping for last minute second balcony seats to become available.
But since they launched TodayTix in New York in December 2013 (and in London in June 2015), Baer, Fenty and company have changed all that. “New York and London shows have between 20-30% empty seats per performance, and Broadway shows sell 50% of their seats the week of performance,” says Baer.
With the TodayTix free mobile app, users can get discounted or full-price last minute theater tickets, booked either the same day or within a week of performance. Choices include more than 40 Broadway and Off-Broadway shows in New York and more than 40 shows in London’s West End.
Anyone’s who’s concerned about the future of live theatre may have noticed the increasingly mature age of many theatregoers, and the absence of younger audiences – who are presumably downloading their entertainment at home. TodayTix is poised to change that as well.
“The average age of New York theatregoers is 44, but the average age of our users is 32,” says Baer. The mobile app’s ease of use, as it makes theater tickets more accessible and affordable, is bringing a new generation of audience members into the theaters.
“We also have exclusive partnerships that offer free first-preview tickets to any show at New York’s Public Theater, and lotteries where users can win $10 tickets to the Broadway hit Hamilton or $32 tickets to every performance of the Tony Award-winning musical Fun Home.”
TodayTix is doing for theater ticket buying what Uber and AirBnB have done for transportation and accommodations – creating a more premium, cost-effective user experience. They’ve become a source of employment for aspiring actors as well, hiring more than 70 of them as concierges to greet users when they arrive at the theater to pick up their tickets.
The company’s rapid success has been chronicled in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Variety, TechCrunch, WIRED, and Business Insider UK among others.
The path that led Baer from theatre camp to CEO and Co-founder of TodayTix has unfolded as gracefully as the plot of a well-made play. After graduating with a double major in Drama and Economics from Stanford University in 2007, he worked in mergers and acquisitions in New York, then moved to London where for three years he led the primary inventory division at viagogo, the world’s largest ticket marketplace.
But the New York theatre drew him back. “I’d interned at the Public Theater in college and had a deep relationship with them,” he says. This led to the opportunity to produce their 2010 production of The Merchant of Venice starring Al Pacino, and then the Tony Award Winning Death of a Salesman starring Philip Seymour Hoffman.
“I’d never raised a penny in my life but I raised funds, sat in on marketing meetings, and brought my knowledge of ticketing and marketing that I’d learned at viagogo.” In 2012, he teamed up with his life-long friend Fenty, who’d been working with VCs and private equity, to launch TodayTix.
“There are a ton of passionate LGBT performers and professionals in theatre which brings a nice synergy,” says the 30 year-old Baer. “It took me until I was 25 to realize that I was gay, and about three years ago I came out to my friends and family. My parents were both great. They said they love me and want me to be happy. And I’m really blessed to be living in New York City.”
By Adam Sandel