The Broadway ticket lottery is a system where last-minute unsold show seats go for really low prices. This is different from TKTS because it isn’t merely a discount, it’s basically a fire sale. Tickets can cost as low as $30 for seats right near the front.
How It Used to Be
When I was a teenager in NYC, we’d run down to Time Square every so often trying to get into these lotteries. Each show had a specific time for it’s lottery. You would put your name in, line up, and if your name got pulled you could buy two tickets (for about $15 back then I think).
What we would do was mayhem–we created a schedule and literally run from box office to box office. We’d have priorities for who would get tickets if one of our names got pulled in that specific lottery.
I never got into Avenue Q or Wicked, but I did see Les Miserables 2,487* times.
*Might be an exaggeration.
While I loved Les Mis, it wasn’t my intention to see it quite so much.
Why It Exists
So if there’s a TKTS booth and tons of tourists in NYC, why is there a lottery?
And why can you see popular shows through it?
When my friend won (the right to buy) tickets to Avenue Q, it was a really hot show.
But shows will hold seats–especially the really good ones up front. What if the Pope shows up and really wants to see Something Rotten!? You can’t just turn him away!
Shows started creating a lottery for students at a hugely discounted rate to fill those seats in last second. (That’s why you’ll have to remove the “RESERVED FOR THE POPE” sign from your seat before sitting). Theaters started needing to hold even more seats, so they started (usually separate) lotteries for the general public and tourists who don’t mind winging it.
This ensured they had seats for really important people, but also never had an empty front row.
How it is now
My friend recently came to NYC and went into some lotteries for shows. She casually mentioned “I’ll head out to meet you, and I’ll know by the time I get there if I need to leave for a matinee in a couple of hours”.
How things have changed.
Now a lot–but not all–of the theaters have digital lotteries. The great thing about this is you can stay at your hotel/home, find out if you’ve made it into the show, then still have time to leave from where ever you are in NYC to get to the show on time.
Because this is a new technology, some shows have their own lotteries, and there are a few companies that manage other shows:
For a mix of shows (3-6 a day), go to TodayTix. Please note that it also is a TKTS type of ticket sale website, so be sure to look for the lotteries. Today they appear to have Fun Home, Paramour, She Loves Me, Long Day’s Journey. You can click lottery at the top. Everything else is a discounted ticket–so if you like THAT price, you can just straight up buy it.
These websites have corresponding apps, which makes it even easier on the go.
I’ve suggested to my parents that they just enter whatever lotteries they are interested in at breakfast on Sunday morning for the matinees. While they are having their coffee, they can know what shows they made it into (if any), then hop on the train into the city.
It’s as simple as that!
If you enjoy waiting in lines (or want a second chance), all the shows that moved to digital also have physical lines for the tickets. More on that later!