Fee structure change proposed to help keep Broadway series in Great Falls

The partners who run the Broadway in Great Falls series are proposing an adjustment to the fee structure at the Mansfield Theater.

The change, if approved by the City Commission, would not change the ticket price for consumers and the city wouldn’t lose money.

The proposal came from the Great Falls Symphony’s partners for the Broadway series, Innovation Arts and Entertainment and The Roberts Group, which works with performance venues nationwide.

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The partners split any profits from the series three ways, but in recent years the series has struggled financially, causing the partners to take a step back in the 2019 season and only offer one show, versus the six that were included in the 2018-2019 season when they took a loss.

Hillary Rose Shepherd, the symphony’s executive director, said during the Aug. 3 commission work session that the other partners suggested this change to bring the Mansfield closer in line with other venues nationwide.

The proposed fee structure would only be available to promoters like the Broadway group and the Community Concern series, that have four or more scheduled shows annually. To be eligible, shows much also hit the rent cap, which is currently $4,335.

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It would create a “rebate” of up to $8 per ticket that would be set aside until after the show is completed and if the show meets the rent cap, the three Broadway partners, or similar promoters then split those proceeds.

That would help the Broadway partners increase their margin from five to eight percent on a show with 1,600 tickets sold, Shepherd said. That’s about what they consider a sell-out show, she said.

Her calculations show that under the current model, after all costs, the symphony’s cut is $2,006 on a sell-out Broadway show. Under the proposed model, their cut would be $2,306. The theater’s max capacity is about 1,700, according to the city. If a show only sells 1,450 tickets, the symphony loses $478 under the current model, but could make $681 under the proposed model.

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“That’s huge for us,” she said.

That would make the program viable long-term and as costs rise, allow the partners to keep booking high quality shows. Otherwise, increasing costs and the financial risk, makes the future of the Broadway series tenuous, Shepherd said.

The loss of the Broadway shows would also be a substantial hit to the Mansfield center’s budget, of which 55 percent comes from usage fees and 41 percent support from the general fund.

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More than 7,500 tickets were sold in the 2018-2019 season, which equated to $45,000 in revenue for the Mansfield center’s budget and represented 21 percent of the theater’s revenue and 14 percent of total Mansfield center revenue, according to Owen Grubenhoff, the Civic Center events manager.

Commissioners indicated support for the fee structure change and will formally consider the proposal during their Aug. 17 meeting with a public hearing.

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Shepherd said the rebate option wouldn’t likely be used for the regular symphony season since they don’t typically hit the rent cap for their shows so it would cost the customer more without generating any revenue for the symphony.