“Nothing in life is free” is the old saying that we all heard from our parents growing up.
“But, sometimes things are almost free,” says Jim Gillette, the president and founder of SeatStir.com. SeatStir is an online seat-filling service that has been helping venues fill their empty seats for almost four years in the Washington, D.C./Baltimore area.
“The idea is really simple,” says Gillette. “Venues don’t always sell out and an empty seat gets them nothing. By giving us the opportunity to put a warm body in an otherwise vacant spot, they are creating new customers, (and) getting additional revenue from parking, merchandise sales, drinks and food.”
Broadway theaters in New York City and televised award shows in Los Angeles have used seat-filler programs for decades. The concept is fairly new in other cities, but is growing across the country. Taking the next logical step, SeatStir.com launched programs four years ago in Philadelphia, quickly expanding to metro D.C./Baltimore and other areas such as Cleveland, northern New Jersey/New York City, Pittsburgh, and Minneapolis.
Only cost is membership
When unsold seats are plentiful, many venues privately offer SeatStir’s members free admission to ticketed events. SeatStir does not charge any fee for members to make reservations. The only cost to the member is membership dues. Government employees, contractors, and military have a special annual rate.
Being a seat-filler is like having an entertainment grab bag. You never know what will be offered next. Live theater, live music concerts, and comedy are staple offers and tickets to wine festivals, dance, college and professional sports, film screenings, and other events can also be offered. The events appeal to those who love to explore, and especially those who enjoy getting a bargain. For just the price of an average pair of tickets, members and their guest can enjoy a year’s worth of entertainment.
Bring a guest
All memberships permit the member to bring a guest along, and venues promise that the member and guest will always be seated together. The premium “Friends & Family” plan allows the member to reserve four seats and bring three more people to an event.
Making that reservation is straightforward. Dues-paying members log in at the SeatStir website and have access to the Members Only area, where available events are listed for review. When a member selects an event and reserves seats, the member’s name goes onto a list that is sent to the venue before the event occurs. To get the tickets, the member simply presents a photo ID at the box office before show time.
The system is a huge win-win-win for all concerned. It is also a great way to get people out supporting their local communities and the arts and entertainment scene.
“I sure wish there was a seat-filler back when I was doing stand-up in front of 11 people at comedy clubs,” says Gillette with a laugh. “My jokes where always much funnier when there were more people than crickets to hear them.”
SeatStir is not alone in the seat-filler market. The company has partnered with other similar firms through the Seat Filler Network at seatfillernetwork.com, which maintains a map of seat-filler programs across the country and in Europe.